Volunteer vs. Professional Management of Academic Conferences: A Comparison of Five Meetings
Academic conferences operate under a range of models from nearly all volunteer to a mix of volunteer and professional event management. This paper compares the event management practices of five conferences: The Organizational Behavior Teaching Conference (OBTC), The Western Academy of Management (WAM), The North American Case Research Association (NACRA), The Academy of Management (AOM), and The Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management (IBAM) The analysis will examine the mix of volunteer and professional management used to organize and operate the annual meeting of each organization separate from the program content; such as reserving the hotel, ordering meals, and offering special group events. Along a continuum, OBTC uses the least professional event management and IBAM uses the most. The other organizations fall somewhere in between. Professional event managers who organize conferences on a repeated basis have a distinct advantage over volunteers who change jobs every year, thereby losing large amounts of experiential learning. The all-volunteer organizations justify their choice of amateur event managers on the basis of lower up-front cost and "preserving our culture," but neglect to account for the wide variations in performance, lack of accountability, and burnout that can come with use of volunteers.