Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: How to Organize Events and Meetings, Invite Speakers, and Attract Sponsors

Have you ever attended a career fair? Have you ever wondered how much it cost, or how many people were involved in setting it up? How many phone calls, meetings, and approvals had to take place? When you see free stickers, t-shirts, bags of goodies and pens, did you wonder where all that came from and why companies would hand these things out for free?

Or worse, have you tried to plan an event only to be completely overwhelmed and want to quit because you feel the task is overwhelming or insurmountable?

For most people, this is a mystery. They simply attend, and reap the benefits. However, there are many things happening behind the scenes. Like a well orchestrated play or musical, there is a tech crew that is working to make sure that the stage is set for the actors to perform on. And, somewhere, there is a person fretting about the budget, organizing donations and volunteers, and reserving the building.

If you have ever tried to coordinate a large group of friends to get together at the same time while trying to manage everyone’s schedules, you may have an idea of all of the planning that goes into a two-hour event. For every minute of the event, there is about 30 minutes that goes into planning it. The amount of time and money that go into this is staggering. According to Amy Nichols, a professional event planner, a wedding takes on average about 200 hours to plan! Her big three tips on saving time:

  • Be organized: Disorganization is the biggest time waster of all; not only do you have the time lost from duplicating efforts, but you have the cost of time lost to rework.
  • Make decisions and stick to them: Trust your gut. When you make a decision, stick with it. Don’t change the day, the venue, or (and I am guilty of this) the scope of the event, unless absolutely necessary (meaning the event will absolutely fail unless you make the change).
  • Learn to delegate: Share your vision, and communicate it clearly. Then, assign tasks to be accomplished. Always set a deadline, and then follow up to make sure that the task is on track. Don’t assign too much, or it becomes harder for both the volunteer and the coordinator. Celebrate the little victories, and don’t forget to pay them in gratitude.

This is not to discourage you from hosting an event, but it can be a bit overwhelming at first. An event that I am working on right now will probably take nearly close to 500 hours of work. It will cost nearly 20 dollars per attendee, and our goal is to reduce that by half. I would make it free if I could! If one hundred people attend, the event will cost nearly $2,000 – and that is using volunteers and getting huge discounts!

For that reason, I highly recommend that your club fund raise, collect dues, and ask for sponsors. Let me talk about dues first. Dues are actually central to a club because it allows you to separate a club from a hangout. Hangouts are free, (except they usually aren’t – someone is paying for the space, and putting hours into organizing and promoting it). Some student organizations are free as well, but here is where I make the case that your club shouldn’t be.

You may be able to make it on random donations of chips and sodas, and maybe a potluck at the end of the year. Your school may provide the space and may even give you a small budget. Everyone volunteers, student and faculty as well. The hard truth is that your club will never have the means to host your own event. Volunteers can be unreliable and money can dry up quickly.

However, when you pay dues, it increases member participation. People want value for their money, and if they pay a membership they are simply more likely to show up each week. They are more likely to show up when they feel valued and a large event helps focus the entire club on a goal.

There is one more option, and that is asking for sponsors. This one is really hard for me. I feel like Oliver Twist asking for donations (“Please, sir may I have some more?”) However, you should not feel like you are begging. By the time that you approach a sponsor, you should be close to 90 percent done with planning (at least that is what CryptoKait says, and I trust her!)

Quick note from CryptoKait who is reading this blog:

Here is why I say this. If you go to a sponsor, get funding, and then fail to deliver the excellent quality you described, you won’t get funding for your events in the future. Make sure that you have already done all the things you need to do to KNOW you have the time, resources, and ability to succeed. At that point, the sponsor should be able to see the value of your work and know their investment will be put to good use. That being said, if you get a sponsor too early, you better bend over BACKWARDS if that is what it takes to deliver on any promises you made.

– Kait’s life experience. Also, John’s. He’s seen me make magic happen to live up to promises made to a sponsor.

Sponsorship should be an equal value for both the sponsor and the club. Many sponsors have advertising budgets, or encourage their members to volunteer time in the community. Putting their name on flyers, shirts, and programs helps them as much as it helps the club. Allowing them to meet people that might become employees or partners at future events is also important. Try to approach the sponsor with a giving mindset, not a taking mindset. Be clear about what they are getting for the money, and what your actual expenses are. (Do NOT inflate the cost of things just to get more money!)

When it comes down to it, hosting an event feels great. The shared satisfaction and pride of pulling off a successful event is indescribable. In the end, you are leaving a legacy for the club, increasing the school’s reputation, and leaving an impact in the community. The first event is the hardest, and I recommend that you keep it small. As you build on each success, you can build it bigger! Focus on doing one event well before planning the next. Taking on too much before your club is ready is one of the many pitfalls new clubs could fall into.

Sponsors are also much more likely to work with a club that has a proven track record of success. This means the first event is the hardest. Expect to double your costs in terms of time and money, due to inexperience. Start with inviting a speaker to come out, or visit another college and exchange ideas. Eventually, your college will be the place that others want to come to for the next big event!

Thanks for following this series! If you missed a post, here are the links to the other posts:

Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: How to Create and Run an Effective Cybersecurity Club

Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: How to Create a Statement of Purpose and Draft a Charter for a New Cybersecurity Club

Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: Leadership Methodologies for Running an Effective Cybersecurity Club

‘Mako’ McGill

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.