FNPS conducts an annual conference to fulfill its mission. This conference provides educational programs and field trips for the membership and the general public. This is Florida’s premier annual event focusing on the preservation, conservation and restoration of our natural lands, ecosystems, native plants and plant communities. The conference moves around the state in order to highlight different regions of the state and to provide members an opportunity to attend a conference close to home. The Conference Committee encourages regional chapters to participate and show off their local native plant projects and local native plant communities. The annual conference provides a key opportunity for members to connect and share information and collaborate on the activities of the Society. Additionally, the Society recruits new members through reduced conference fees and is offered as a benefit to existing members. The conference can also provide critical training opportunities for conservation and restoration practitioners, ecologists, biologists, landscape architects, and land management professionals. Several central FNPS activities occur each year at the conference, including a board of directors meeting, the annual membership meeting, election of new officers, and announcements of the recipients of the Society’s grant awards and landscaping awards.
Schedule & Venue
The conference typically is held in May on the weekend between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. Dates are somewhat dependent on availability of conference space in the region. The official conference begins with fieldtrips and workshops on Thursday, offers plenary sessions, concurrent sessions and social events on Friday and Saturday, and ends with fieldtrips on Sunday. Throughout the conference, vendors offer participants access to native plants and nature-themed books, arts and crafts.
The conference venue is identified at least one year in advance to ensure availability and time for contract preparation. Conference venues have varied. However, the ideal venue is at a university interested in partnering with the society for the sharing of information. The university can present their research to an interested audience and the Society provides an engaged audience that appreciates the benefits of the reduced venue fees. It is a win-win situation for all. Alternatively, conferences have been held in convention centers, hotels, community colleges or other public venues, depending on fiscal or logistic issues. The venue selected must offer sufficient space for plenary and breakout sessions and exhibits. As an added benefit, universities can offer low-cost housing in the form of dorm rooms. If dorm rooms are not available, then a nearby hotel offering rooms for under $100 should be arranged. Holding costs down is critical to a successful conference and for fulfilling the Society’s mission.
FNPS bears the ultimate responsibility for the annual FNPS Conference. The Society is responsible for all programs, finances, and contracts. The Society is also liable. The Society provides insurance for the conference, and is responsible for payment of expenses related to the conference.
The chair of the annual Conference Committee also sits on the Society’s Board of Directors. The Society’s Executive Director acts as a “Conference Planner” to assist and coordinate with the FNPS Conference Committee, and reports to the Society’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors. The Chairs of the Society’s Science Advisory Committee, Education Committee, Conservation Committee, and Policy Committee also sit on the FNPS Conference Committee and assist with design of the conference program. The Science Advisory Chair has primary responsibility for the “Research Track” of the conference. Other members of the Conference Committee are the FNPS elected officers.
Regional Chapter Participation
The Society encourages regional chapters to participate in the planning, organizing and implementation of the annual conference. The benefit to the regional chapters is a spotlight on conservation and policy issues in their region, current projects, and local natural areas.
The conference budget is developed with the FNPS Treasurer and must be approved by the FNPS Board of Directors. This is normally accomplished with the approval of the annual FNPS budget. The conference budget forms a major component of the FNPS budget. The Conference Committee Chair, Executive Director and Vice President of Administration must approve the major contracts (such as the venue and/or hotel contracts). The budget is developed by the Conference Committee with assistance from the Executive Director. Key revenue areas include conference fees paid by participants, grants, conference donations, sponsorships, vendor tables or plant sale plots, rebates from the hotel, and proceeds from specific money-generating activities such as a silent auction or merchandising. Revenues do not include non-monetary, in-kind donations. Expenses primarily consist of meeting space rental, food and beverage, audio-visual charges, honorariums, scholarships, and contractor fees for registration and planning services. The goal of budget planning is to maximize revenues so that the conference contributes to the FNPS operating funds for the next budget year while keeping costs as low as possible while fulfilling the Society’s mission.
Sponsorships are solicited from Chapters, individuals, member businesses, organizations and businesses locally and statewide. The Conference Committee reaches out to local entities and sponsorship opportunities are advertised on the FNPS website and in appropriate conference materials. Benefits for levels of sponsorship are determined by the Conference Committee, and range from advertisement space in the conference program to complementary registrations, vendor space, or custom sponsorship opportunities.
Fundraising & Merchandise
Conference planners often plan creative ways to raise additional revenue for the Society during the course of the conference. The silent auction has become an FNPS tradition. Items are contributed to the silent auction by Chapters, companies and individuals throughout the state, and are put on display throughout the conference where participants may log their bid and follow the progress until the auction comes to a close. Items have included photography, artwork, jewelry, rare books, equipment for the field, and consumables such as local honey. FNPS may also offer conference merchandise, such as conference t-shirts, hats, license plate holders, etc., for sale at the conference. FNPS chapters may also sell chapter items and merchandise at the Chapter Table with each chapter retaining the revenue.
Registration typically begins by February 1st. In March, a full advertising push begins. The early registration discount generally ends a couple of weeks before the conference begins. The conference section of the FNPS website is populated with current information by a member or members of the Conference Committee or a designated webmaster. Registration will be online, but forms should be available for download. A conference postcard is sent to the postal address for each member to indicate registration is open and when early registration ends. The postcard should also direct members to the FNPS website. Registration is managed and developed by the FNPS Conference Committee.
Scholarships and Waivers
The FNPS Board of Directors may provide for reduced fees and scholarships for the conference as follows:
- Members who volunteer at the conference at least a half day shall receive the remainder of the day for free.
- Generally speaking, everybody must pay to attend the socials.
- All speakers receive complimentary registration for the day that they speak.
- Full time students may attend the conference sessions for free. Applicable field trip fees apply for any selected field trips.
Scholarships consisting of conference registration fees and/or shared hotel/dorm space may be available for university students. The number and cost associated with scholarships shall be in the budget. Priority for scholarships will be given to students who are Endowment Award recipients presenting the results of their research at the conference. Generally speaking, scholarships are handled by the Science Chair.
Speaker compensation will be handled on a case-by-case basis. When necessary, honorariums should be limited to travel expenses. In any event, the expenses must be included in the budget or approved by the Board of Directors. It is expected that the majority of speakers and field trip leaders will be conference participants who will be thanked with free registration for the day they speak or lead the field trip.
The annual conference is a major undertaking and requires ongoing planning and troubleshooting to ensure a successful event. In addition to fiscal planning, program elements must be planned and supported adequately to provide a high-quality experience for participants. Many skill sets are necessary.
Volunteer roles are central to the success of the conference, both before, during and after the event. While the FNPS Conference Committee shoulders much of the burden, volunteers will include members from throughout the state, capable of lending their skills and energy to ensure a successful conference. Those wishing to volunteer should contact the FNPS Conference Committee Chair well in advance. Key roles include, but are not limited to:
- Field Trip Coordinator
- Speaker Coordinator
- Plant Sale Coordinator
- Silent Auction Coordinator
- Vendor/Exhibitor Coordinator
- Chapter Table & Membership Coordinator
- Social Event Coordinator
- Author signing Coordinator
- Game Night Coordinator
- Plant ID Contest Coordinator
- Volunteer Coordinator
- Merchandising and Fundraising Coordinator
- Conference Printed Program Coordinator
- CEU Coordinator
- Conference Photographer
Participation of students in the annual conference is strongly encouraged as a means to promote and continue fulfilling the FNPS mission long into the future. Marketing, therefore, should include relevant departments of colleges and universities throughout the state, as well as elementary and high schools near the conference location. The Science track often features student papers, and hosts a poster session for student work. Students often offset the expense of participating in the conference through volunteering, seeking scholarships or sharing lodging. Creative ways to increase the involvement of students include offering free conference registration with a paid student membership. Elementary and high school students can also participate in mini science tracks at the conference, art contests, and workshops.
Depending on the community, there may be individuals who can be invited to the conference to strengthen their relationship with FNPS, or to provide the opportunity to communicate their endorsement to participants. The mayor or other elected official, for example, may provide a greeting at the opening session. The directors of local parks and preserves may receive special invitations that highlight conference activities of special interest.
Workshops and CEUs. Special workshops by experts tailored to professionals or amateurs are often offered in addition to conference sessions, and might require pre-registration and an additional fee. These workshops are typically held on Thursdays. The Conference Committee strives to offer Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) for specific professions, such as landscape architects, , Florida nursery growers, , pesticide applicators, and arborists. Attracting and influencing these professionals is in line with the FNPS mission. Therefore, no additional fees may be required for these, although that is at the discretion of the Annual Conference Committee. Workshops and eligible sessions are identified, and processes put in place to meet the documentation requirements of these programs.
Youth Conference/Public Outreach. To facilitate family attendance and to take advantage of the select group of scientists and academia at the conferences, youth, family or public outreach events are encouraged on Friday and/or Saturday. Activities should be varied and participation should be low-cost or free.
Keynotes (Featured Speakers). At least one, keynote (featured speaker) addresses are offered in plenary sessions. These speakers are usually individuals of some celebrity, sometimes from beyond Florida’s borders, that provide inspiration and novel insights regarding native plants. The annual conference committee invites keynote speakers and negotiates the fees. Again, the money must be in the budget or approved by the Board of Directors. When speakers are authors, they may participate in book signing as part of the program.
Research Track. The Research Track is devised and managed by the Science Committee, and it offers presentations that expand the research base on Florida’s native plants. This track generally consists of invited papers, project reports by past winners of Endowment awards, and submissions resulting from a call for papers sent to university departments and researchers across Florida. A science poster session is also offered giving emerging researchers an opportunity to discuss their projects. The poster session should be located near the Science Track, but away from through traffic.
Other tracks may include:
Conservation. This track offers presentations on conservation and restoration projects and pertinent issues. These talks range from the political to practical; that is, from trends in Florida’s policy to best practices in land management. This track is likely to highlight successful restoration projects, as well as examples of threats to pristine ecosystems.
Horticulture. These sessions are typically related to use of native plants in human landscapes, and are often of great interest to the general public. Topics include cultivation, landscaping, butterfly or bird gardening, etc.
Current Issues. These sessions highlight major issues, projects, or events of special note.
Society Operations. The annual conference offers an opportunity for members to network and share information. FNPS standing committee chairs will host committee meetings and/or give presentations to highlight current projects, policy issues, and land management monitoring. The Council of Chapters hosts a workshop for chapter representatives and chapter members. Depending on the pressing issues of the Society, training may be offered for Treasurers, guidance for advocacy, or discussion of membership recruitment. Because members may not want to miss exciting conference information, these sessions may be held on Thursday afternoon or during lunches on a programming day.
Social events are offered each evening during the conference, and often are held at a local facility of interest to participants, such as a history museum, a preserve, etc. The first evening welcoming get-together is typically a casual one; on Saturday night there is a banquet, sometimes with a program. Friday night’s activities vary from year to year, both in elaborateness and cost. Every year there is an immensely popular plant ID competition during an evening social. Participants can compete for prizes at different levels, team up, and generally learn a lot about the plants of the region.
Structure. Many participants say that field trips are their favorite part of the annual conference. Selected and planned by local chapter members, field trips offer the opportunity to experience new places and ecosystems with expert guidance. Field trips address a variety of interests, from scientific to horticultural and range from strenuous to easy. Some last just a few hours, some are all day.
Given their popularity, field trips are offered on a first-come, first served basis once registration opens, and popular ones soon fill. Field trips may have separate fees that must be pre-paid. Some may have fees payable at the time of the field trip. Most field trips and workshops are suitable for families with children 12 and older. Some trips may not be; the conference field trip descriptions will allow parents to decide. Participating children must register for the conference (either Youth Conference or regular conference at student rate). Family/household memberships entitle children to register at student member rates
Liability. FNPS provides insurance to cover the conference and conference-associated activities. Additional insurance is required for the renting of vehicles, etc. That said, participants at the conference, on conference field trips, and at workshops are ultimately deemed responsible for their own well-being. FNPS will provide liability release forms which must be signed by participants in field trips and field-based workshops for the registration process. Each field trip should have its own version, edited as appropriate, with signatures of all attendees.
Each conference features a host of vendors who sell native plants, nature based art and books on topics of interest to participants. Local Chapters invite popular vendors from previous years and consider applications of new ones. Each vendor signs off on an agreement detailing fees, set-up times, and other specifics pertinent to that year’s event. Vendors pay a set fee for their space. Only Florida native plants are offered for sale, and growers typically represent the region where the conference is held. Each conference sets aside an area for plant sales, and positions vendors where conference participants can take a break from sessions for some shopping.
A manual has been developed to assist the FNPS Conference Committee and others assisting with the annual conference. It is customary for this manual to be passed from one conference Chair to the next with suggestions and comments being added over time. NOTE: the Conference manual is currently being revised.