Rock and Mineral Show Hosting: 6 Key Questions

A well-run Welcome Booth with friendly and knowledgeable volunteers is essential during setup and throughout the show.

Rock and mineral show hosting is something that amateur rockhound clubs often do on the local level. Here’s what to know about hosting a regional or national show. Some 600 amateur rockhound clubs span the U.S. promoting fellowship, holding field trips and helping members build collections and craft jewelry and lapidary wonders. They also often serve the community via scholarships and educational outreach.

Local clubs have banded together within seven regional federations, which in turn joined forces in a national alliance: the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (AFMS). Each region holds an annual show and convention hosted by a local club, and AFMS has a national convention that gets tagged to a different region each year. This year, that combined show has circulated to the California Federation of Mineralogical Societies (CFMS) and will be hosted May 24-26 by the Ventura Gem & Mineral Society (VGMS) (

Regionals have faced the same issue in recent years: a reluctance of clubs to host a big rock and mineral show compounded when the national convention is added to it. Having served on show committees for eight regional and/or national shows in the past 25 years, I can assure all clubs: that if you host a local show, you can host a federation show. Just ask and explore five questions.

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1. What Does the Job Entail?

Many clubs believe they don’t have enough members to pull off a “big” show. But if you run a local show, you have ample hands for a national federation rock and mineral show. Just extend the schedule a couple of days and secure a larger venue for federation activities. I’m simplifying, but really, that’s it!

Trust and build on your experience. A local show includes publicity; hospitality; exhibits; dealers; demonstrators and money-makers. A federation show involves these plus some extras that likely require adding a couple of committee posts.

You need a committee to oversee social functions and line up facilities, decorations and other niceties like arranging details of a welcome reception, an awards banquet, and a Presidents’ luncheon. Also, provide listings of local lodging for folks coming from afar and try arranging discounted rates. A final duty is establishing a welcome and information booth during set-up and throughout the show. Many local shows have a Hospitality Committee, so this is all an expansion of an existing function.

Rock and Mineral Show Competitive Exhibits & Lectures

One function not normally seen at local shows is competitive exhibits, but here you have help. The regional federation is responsible for soliciting competitive exhibitors, corralling judges, and conducting the competition via its Uniform Rules Committee (URC). You’ll help by providing URC meeting space and possibly display cases. If providing display cases, you can charge a modest fee for exhibitors who aren’t bringing their own, but most competitive exhibitors do bring their own to ensure liners fit perfectly and lighting is just right. Most local shows have noncompetitive exhibits, so competitive exhibiting is—again—an expansion of an existing function for which your club has good experience.

Unlike most club shows, a federation rock and mineral show features several lectures. You’ll need a Program Chair to line up a slate of speakers and a suitable room with equipment. Aim for topics of popular interest like gold or precious gemstones. This helps in promote the show to the general public.

Finally, consider sponsoring a field trip. Your normal club Field Trips Chair should know of a suitable spot and can make arrangements. Or do as we’ve done for the 2024 CFMS-AFMS Show. Rather than trips during the show (which takes customers away from dealers and club members away from helping), for those who may want to take a trip before or after the show we’ve posted self-guided trips to our show website, including nearby fee digs.

In 2024, Ventura welcomes the nation in hosting the CFMS-AFMS Show & Convention.

2. When to Hold the Show?

Most clubs would prefer to host a federation rock and mineral show during their usual show dates and just expand in size and duration, but this isn’t always possible. A unique aspect of national shows is contests. AFMS shows often occur in summer or fall because of Bulletin and Webmaster contests and All American Club contests. These AFMS contests draw from winners of regional contests, so a national show isn’t usually held until regional results are final.

Show Date Options

If your normal club show falls early in the year, you face two options:

Option One: Cancel your normal show for a year and put all your efforts into a summer or fall national show. However, if you use a specific venue on a fixed date for your normal show, you may get bumped and it may prove hard to get it back. Preserving your local show venue is not to be undervalued. Plus, you might lose dealers who end up signing with other club shows in the future on your show date.

Option Two: Host both your normal show and a separate federation rock and mineral show. The downside? It’s a lot of work to host any show, and you can burn out members and run through resources. The upside? You retain your date for your venue and the expectations of regulars at your normal show. You also stand to double your show income for the year, and for many clubs, show income is a cornerstone of the annual budget. (As an aside, no CFMS show in recent years has posted a deficit. One club did so well, they were able to establish a workshop in a trailer on their county fairgrounds.)

Optimal Hosting Time

In most instances where I’ve served on a federation show committee, we opted to host both our local show on our normal date plus a federation show in the summer. Each time, we profited with both income from two shows and an increased profile within our community. My advice? If your local show is normally scheduled for summer or fall, add on the regional or national show and extend it a couple of days. If your local show falls in the first half of the year, host it during its normal date then host the federation show later that same year.

Creative financing can get you free use of golf carts to ferry folks and supplies.

3. Can We Afford to Host a National Show?

Hosting a federation rock and mineral show involves securing a venue both large and affordable. If you hold your normal show in a church basement, you’ll need a much bigger venue. When my Ventura club hosts federation shows, our dealer number quadruples and we need an entire building just for them. We also see twice as many exhibits and need to provide rooms for federation functions.

All this requires more space, ergo more expense. The Ventura club hosts its normal two-day show at the county fairgrounds using just one modest-sized building. When we hosted the 2013 CFMS and 2017 CFMS-AFMS shows, fairground costs quadrupled what we normally pay because of extra days and the use of four buildings. CFMS provides seed money to help cover initial deposits. We covered other extra costs with the expanded number of dealer tables and an entrance fee for the general public not normally charged at our club show. Also, having a three- or four-day show gives extra days for earning income via your money-makers. In short, a larger show equals larger revenue to offset larger costs and still yield healthy income.

Enlist a Hospitality Chair to oversee banquets, luncheons and similar special functions.

4. What to Consider in Budgeting?

Realizing healthy income involves crafting a realistic budget and remaining within it. The biggest drag of any business (and that’s how you should approach hosting any show) is going over budget, either in buying materials or paying for expensive advertising that doesn’t yield a return on investment. VGMS has followed four cardinal rules.

1. Respect your demographics

Some think a federation rock and mineral show means regional or national attendance. Not so! If your club show sees 2000 attendees, don’t expect attendance to double. You’ll get a modest bump from members coming from across your federation, but the whole nation won’t turn out in droves. Budget on known knowns. A national show may be a big deal within the rockhounding community, but within your local community, it’s just another show. Budget accordingly.

2. Choose money-makers wisely

Cost concerns and the potential to lose big money hold many clubs back. When a federation rock and mineral show ends, the local club splits profits with the regional federation, as well as losses should the show prove a bust, which it rarely does. In addition (at least, within CFMS) you get to select three “own-account-ventures” for which your club keeps all profits. To maximize this, consider which aspects of your club show post highest revenues. Go with those. For the 2024 CFMS-AFMS Show, we’ve opted for silent auctions, a kids’ booth (which brings in families), and a raffle. We’ve solicited rock donations from members to minimize costs.

3. Pursue Creative Financing

For our 2017 CFMS-AFMS Show, VGMS secured the use of golf carts to ferry workers and equipment, free wine for social events via a local winery and other great services. How? By seeking corporate sponsors we labeled gold, silver or bronze based on the size of their donations. Different status levels were recognized with banners at the show, a listing in the program, and/or in show publicity. Start early and focus on businesses locally owned and operated.

4. Seek To Generate Free Publicity

Given cutbacks in local newspaper staffing, we frame press releases in ways that can be easily reprinted as news stories. And we’re inviting our mayor to a ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Politicians are notably media-savvy.) We’ll also issue a press release focusing on our demonstrators since our local news outlets exhibit a bias toward the arts. Rather than shout “Rock show!” we’ll describe local jewelry artists plying their crafts. Instead of a shotgun approach targeting every media outlet, focus on those you know are receptive.

For 15 years at our club show, we’ve had sign-up sheets for people to request show notices as well as sign-ups asking teachers for email addresses at a teacher station where we give free rock samples and educational packets. These efforts have resulted in a list that now numbers 1,500 contacts. If you haven’t crafted such a list, start at your next show. Finally, if you aren’t pursuing free publicity via social media, you’re missing out.

Frequent show planning meetings keep all on track and Zoom makes them easy to arrange and attend.

5. How to Motivate Members?

Consider that hosting a regional/national show comes with member engagement. The Ventura club has fanned enthusiasm with contests to develop our “Seaside Gems at Ventura” theme and our show poster featuring a gem-wielding mermaid. We’ve had rock-sorting fun at our clubhouse and threw a potluck at my own home to stuff grab bags for our kids’ booth and to hold an in-person show meeting. I used to spout high-minded ideals like, “Hosting a federation show is a service and a duty.” I was young and foolish then. Older, and wiser, I now cut to the chase: it’s just a whole lot of fun! Go for it!

This story about hosting a rock and mineral show previously appeared in Rock & Gem magazine. Click here to subscribe. Story and photos by Jim-Brace Thompson.


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