“Meeting Planning: More Than a Hobby”
By Bob Andelman
Religious Conference Manager Magazine
Hobbies? Who needs hobbies when you spend your free time planning meetings and conferences?
If Harry Schmidt has free time — when he’s not in his professional capacity as president of Christian Life College in Mount Prospect, Illinois — he likes doing nothing better than reviewing site plans, sifting through contracts, and bringing order to chaos.
“Everybody has hobbies,” Schmidt says with a chuckle. “Some enjoy golfing; others, boating. I really enjoy the dynamics of meeting planning and helping organizations get the right fit.”
Schmidt’s meeting planning truly is an act of service.
“I don’t accept remuneration,” he says. “I know it’s a great livelihood for some meeting planners on the professional side, but I have always done it as a volunteer. Hotel people are always surprised when I don’t ask for a commission. Then they’re a little suspicious of my motives: ‘Why do you do this? Does the organization pay you? Do you get a per diem? A kickback? A rebate?’”
And why does this gentle soul take on so much additional responsibility with no personal benefit?
“I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a good event,” Schmidt says.
He believes he can make a difference for church groups.
“Many times, religious organizations and churches don’t understand their buying power,” he says. “They have an opportunity for getting a much better product that will showcase their meeting better than they’re used to. Without understanding their own power, they may relegate themselves to a third-tier hotel property, for example. I’ve enjoyed showing religious groups that the dollars they generate can upgrade their event and image by getting them into a better hotel or convention center for the same dollars. There’s a right place and a right venue, for the right organization.”
With his devotion to meeting planning, it’s no surprise to learn that Schmidt believes wholeheartedly in RCMA’s mission.
“Becoming members of RCMA provides many meeting planners a ‘Wow!’” he says. “My first RCMA conference was in 1988 in Milwaukee. What I so appreciated about it was the way it brought together the entire industry. It was a fantastic opportunity under one tent to network with hundreds of suppliers all at one place. I was thoroughly energized by it.”
Over the years, Schmidt became a big fan of the conference tutorials as well.
“The tutorials provide entrée to meeting planners with little or no experience,” he says. “And, at the same time, depending on the length of your service, you can still be challenged by them. I have been a meeting planner a long time, and I still walk away feeling inspired.”
Christian Life College (formerly Chicago Bible College) is a small religious college with 135 students all studying a single major: a bachelor of arts in church ministries.
Schmidt graduated from the college in 1972 and went into the world as a church planter, initiating and establishing — as its pastor — Gateway Church in Momence, Illinois, a congregation that is now 30 years old and thriving.
“Being in the Chicago area, I kept a relationship with the college,” Schmidt says.
After 11 years with the new church, he became administrative dean at Christian Life College, eventually advancing to executive vice president before being named president in 1996. The college itself hosts Ascension Convention, an annual conference that attracts 2,500 young people over Easter weekend.
“You can’t be in this environment without hosting conferences and seminars,” he says. “And in doing that over 25-plus years, I got connected with other religious organizations in the Chicago area. People found out that I enjoyed doing meeting planning and hotel negotiations. I would receive phone calls: ‘Would you lend us some expertise?’ So I just expanded that.”
Getting to Know
Background: Born and raised in Davenport, Iowa
Family: Schmidt met his wife, Donna, when they were 10 years old and growing up in Iowa. They both like to travel and antique. “As we travel, we have to hit an antique shop once in a while. How can you not like early Americana?” The couple has one child, Jennifer, who is 21 and a junior in college.