Three Ways to Find Diverse Meeting Vendors

If you’re putting on an event and you’re not a local, hiring with DEI in mind can be difficult—but a little legwork can ensure you’re bringing diverse vendors into the mix.

This might sound familiar: Your organization is focused on meeting its DEI goals, and hiring diverse vendors for events is a part of your strategy. But when you’re hosting an event in a different city for the first time, you may not be sure where to start.

However, this can be less of a hurdle than it seems. Here are a few ideas to build a diverse supplier base away from your home turf.

1. Ask a Local for Help

When it comes to finding diverse vendors, keep in mind that selecting vendors is more than simply getting on a website and picking someone who sounds good. The quality of the work is paramount.

Chivonne Hyppolite, the chief experience officer of the Atlanta-based event planning agency Abstract Elements, says it’s important not to get caught up in an attractive digital sales pitch.

“Some people or some organizations may look good on social media, their website might be great, but they may not be capable of execution,” she said, adding that concerns about overpricing or even bad business practices could also emerge.

If you have a poor understanding of the local landscape, you’re asking for complications. A quick check of your contacts list for people with ties to the community could set you on the right path.

But what if you don’t have a network that reaches to that specific area? It can help to lean on convention and visitors bureaus—but it doesn’t have to end there. One strategy Hyppolite uses involves reaching out to local small businesses and learning who they work with, which helps expand the pool of potential suppliers.

“You don’t necessarily always have to go with the big, pricey, known names,” she explained. “Sometimes you can work with smaller organizations or businesses that still pack a great punch.”

2. Make Direct Connections With Potential Vendors

Hyppolite says that asking around can help identify potential partners, but the challenge is making sure that those vendors are actually a fit for your needs. A little face time—or at the very least, a little FaceTime—can help you figure out whether things can successfully sync up.

Hyppolite emphasized the importance of meeting with your suppliers individually, which can uncover opportunities that bring more to the table than just a service, and can even help ensure that a potential relationship has ample depth.

“At the end of the day, yeah, I can always rent a venue from a random person,” she said. “But if my association is big on helping, let’s say, homeless teens in the city, I want to find a venue or a supplier who also may share that same passion.”

Shared values are often important when trying to meet a goal around suppliers. Hyppolite pointed to the way her organization helped Habitat for Humanity, which uses volunteers to help build housing. Abstract Elements needed 150 volunteers for the conference, and found a community nonprofit in the region that uses diverse groups of university students as volunteers—meeting all of the charity’s goals for the event on a tight deadline.

Hyppolite says that when starting a relationship of this nature, it’s crucial to come in with an open mind—and by doing so, your organization can find a strong match.

“There’s always an opportunity to find out people’s ‘why’ and then connect their ‘why’ with what we’re trying to accomplish to go ahead and produce greatness,” she said.

3. Use a Vetted Supplier Community

Another option for finding suppliers that can work well for associations looking for diverse sourcing options is the use of dedicated vendor communities that highlight diverse options. The most popular of these, OurBLOC, brings together minority-owned suppliers in cities across the country.

Hyppolite’s company is one of many listed with OurBLOC.

“I would like to think of it as, ‘We’re a smaller Amazon of vetted professionals for whatever you need for your events,’” she said. “Those are important because you have to be a qualified professional to be a part of them.”

A big benefit of this approach is that most of the homework of vetting has already been done, so there’s less guesswork than might happen when simply looking for suppliers on the web.

No matter how you source your vendors, it’s essential to ensure a contractual agreement has been put into place.

“You always want to, as a business owner or as an association representative, protect your organization, as well as protect the people who you’re working with and working for,” Hyppolite said.

(Mario Arango/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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