New Challenges to Selecting NCFR Conference Locations

Diane Cushman, NCFR Executive Director
/ NCFR Report, Spring 2023

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Annual conference planning often comes with huge challenges. In previous NCFR Report columns, I’ve detailed how NCFR conference locations are determined, and the financial costs and considerations that go into conference planning. For this column, I wanted to provide a bit of an update on newer challenges NCFR faces when selecting conference locations. First, a bit of history.

Historical Challenges

Every year since 1938, except for two years during World War II, NCFR has invited members to an annual conference. The first meeting took place in a large room in the Hotel Pennsylvania, New York City in September 1938.

For the next four years, the conference was held between Christmas and New Year’s Day in hotels in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City (again), and Cleveland. Now 2-3 days in length, early NCFR conferences explored these themes: The Role and Function of the Family in a Democracy, Trends and Resources in Family Living, Family Preparedness, and Marriage in Wartime.

In 1950, the conference began a 14-year run during the waning days of summer. Hosted by universities, attendees were housed in vacant dormitory rooms. In 1964, the annual conference returned to hotels, and except for 1971 when it was held at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park Center, Colorado (with accommodations in nearby campgrounds), the conference took place in various hotels across the nation from mid-to-late October through mid-November for 59 years.

Weather, discrimination, terrorist attacks, and a pandemic have been just some of the challenges in finding conference locations. Imagine sleeping in an unairconditioned dormitory room in the heat of August during the 1950s and 1960s; discrimination most likely prevented full access to sleeping rooms and restaurants for People of Color. Or imagine that in 2001, just two months after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and shortly after air travel resumed, the conference was held in Rochester, New York.

In 2012, a late-October hurricane ravaged the east coast of the U.S., interrupting air travel throughout the country. This led to the cancelation of flights and hotel rooms which lowered attendance at the NCFR conference in Phoenix. That’s when organizers realized that bad weather anywhere in the country could have a devastating impact on the annual conference.

And just when conference organizers thought they had experienced all that could challenge them, in March of 2020, they were faced with a global pandemic that halted all travel and contact with others. What ensued was an extreme learning curve as NCFR staff scrambled to deliver a virtual conference in November 2020 and again in November 2021. With health concerns persisting, a face-to-face conference with mask and vaccination requirements was planned and executed in Minneapolis in November of 2022.

Current Challenges

Currently, the conference is booked through 2025. Ideally, NCFR would already have dates and hotels contracted through 2027.

However, during the search processes for 2026 and 2027 conference sites, additional political and current-events issues — beyond extreme weather, public health emergencies, and other global economic factors — have continued to come to the fore, creating an even greater challenge in finding an affordable conference location where all members and all families feel safe and welcome. Increasing concerns about access to full health care for pregnant women; the safety of cities; the cost of accommodations, air travel, and food; political unrest; and state-mandated travel boycotts make it an almost insurmountable challenge to find a suitable location for the NCFR conference.

For example, California has prohibited travel by faculty in response to state legislation that discriminates based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression in the following 23 states:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia

NCFR has historically sought conference locations throughout the United States (and twice in Canada) where high numbers of NCFR members reside. The 10 states with the highest number of NCFR members are: California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.

Overlay the California-restricted travel states with the states highest in NCFR members, and you have a total of five remaining states where members employed by state institutions in California may travel: California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. All but one are in areas where the weather is cold in November. Additionally, hurricane season in North America runs June 1 through November 30, but as we have seen in recent years, hurricanes can strike before and after this date range.

One final point: the most recent data posted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (in 2021) indicates that there are a total of 733 various hate groups throughout the United States with at least one hate group in every state ranging from a low of one in Alaska to a high of 65 in California. All of this is to say that no U.S. state is perfect.

Your Feedback as an NCFR Member

What are your thoughts?

  1. Should NCFR consider having regularly scheduled virtual conferences?
  2. Should we consider moving the conference dates to another time of the year so that we can take advantage of good weather in places like Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania?
  3. What creative thoughts do you have about where to hold NCFR conferences in the future?


Your comments and feedback on these questions are welcome. You can reach out to me via email at [email protected].