Minicon is by fans, for fans
If you're new to fandom, you may have only heard of "science fiction conventions" that are run by large corporate bodies, such as the Star Wars Celebrations put on by Lucasfilm. These events generally feature a door charge plus various other charges once you're inside. The focus is seeing celebrities; people spend a lot of time standing in line for autographs.
This has its place, but Minicon and other fan-run conventions are a whole different animal. Our focus is bringing fans together. You're not just attending a show, you're a member of a convention. Of course, we do have guests of honor and they will (typically) sign your book, but they won't charge you for it and anyway we prefer them for their company, insights and humor.
Once you are a Minicon member, you don't need to pay us anything extra to attend any part of the con. Ok, it's true, we will charge you if you want a t-shirt and of course the dealers and artists want money for their stuff, but the food, drink and events are free.
Minicon has a wide variety of scheduled activities, but many people come primarily to see their friends — and meet new ones. That's why a major feature of Minicon, and other fan run conventions, is the consuite. It's the social center of the convention and some people spend more time there than in any official activity.
Minicon is volunteer run
Everyone who works on Minicon is a volunteer. None of us are paid for our time and all of us buy registrations just like any other member. This goes for everyone, including the chairs, concom, panelists, presenters, musicians, artists, and gamemasters. (The one exception is guests of honor.) If you've been to professional conferences that run in the hundreds of dollars, you'll appreciate how this policy helps us keep our cost down so that all fans can attend.
(The other major way we keep costs down is by promising the hotel that we will bring them business. The cost of our function space is determined by how many rooms Minicon members get. If we rent out enough, it's free! So we'd love if you reserved yours today.)
Minicon is run by MN-stf, a non-profit organization. Proceeds from Minicon go towards funding other club activities around the year, including bi-monthly parties, a picnic, a pool party, and our relaxacon (currently known as Conjecture), as well as publishing the Einblatt, a science fiction newsletter.
So what Star Trek character are you going as?
We often hear this question from people who haven't been to a con yet. Perhaps you're thinking of going to one, but you're worrying about how you don't have a Klingon outfit and might stand out like a sore thumb for being only human. Never fear! Most of our members do not come in costume. (Those who do come in a wide variety of outfits, including, but hardly limited to, Star Trek related ones.) Now, plenty of the non-costumed members do wear odd things, but usually this means only t-shirts with geeky jokes. Come as you are. If you want to come in costume, you'll be in good company. If you don't, you'll be in good company.
How Minicon Comes to Pass
Read on for the nitty gritty details!
The Minnesota Science Fiction Society (MNSTF, Minn-stf, etc.) is the non-profit group that runs Minicon. Minicons are authorized on a year-to-year basis, with each Minicon being a financially separate entity under the auspices of MNStF. The MNStf bylaws make no mention of Minicon in particular, but rather only that the Society may authorize "one or more conventions each year for the enhancement of the Society's educational, literary and charitable purposes" (see bylaw VI — Conventions).
When the board creates a convention, it authorizes a chair or executive committee to run it. Nearly all aspects of how the convention is run is then up to that person or people, with the board only setting some basic financial rules and having the power to intervene in extreme circumstances.
As it so happens, Minicon has been authorized each year since 1968, with two Minicons each in 1971 and 1974. You can see the entire list here. Many years, Minn-stf also authorizes a small convention in the fall; these are similarly catalogued. So the last five conventions run by Mnstf have been, in chronological order, Conjecture 1, Minicon 46, Conjecture 2, Minicon 47, and Conjecture 3. As of this writing, there are three upcoming conventions: Conjecture 3, Minicon 48 and the 2073 Worldcon (the last contingent on also being selected by the World Science Fiction Society).
Legalistically and financially, all of these conventions are on an equal footing with respect to each other and none have any special connection to each other, even if they have similar names. Practically speaking, there is a large overlap between people who work on Minicon N and Minicon N+1 as well as a significant amount of multi-year planning that goes on for Minicon. However, all planning for future Minicons is non-binding for Minicons that have not yet been approved by Minnstf.
This is why Minicon has no standing policies, but many standing traditions. As an example, each Minicon for many years has offered free memberships to anyone who was a guest of honor at a previous Minicon. But this is only a tradition, and any future Minicon can unilaterally choose not to do it. As a corollary, no Minicon should promise a GoH future free memberships except possibly at the immediately following Minicon, provided that it has been authorized and its chair agrees.
Things like this are true even for much more seemingly-fundamental aspects of Minicon. Since the MINNSTF bylaws specify so little about how conventions must be run, even the basics of what we expect from a Minicon are up to each year's chair or committee. A future Minicon could, in theory, be run entirely by paid staff, or be closed to minors, or require a fee to attend each panel. However, it's unlikely that the community would go along with any of these, so even though there's no official policy against any of these things, there's not much danger of them coming to pass either.
Similarly, while the Minnstf board is free to let there be or not be a Minicon from year to year depending on whether anyone steps forward to run it, in practice it often actively recruits Minicon chairs and generally works to maintain the long term health of the series of Minicons.
Committee and Meetings
The primary organizational tool for Minicon planning is roughly-monthly general concom (convention committee) meetings, announced variously in the Einblatt, on the events mailing list, our LiveJournal community, and our Facebook page. The Einblatt is the official source, but only comes out once a month.
These meetings are open to the public and we encourage you to come if you have an interest in helping organize Minicon, or even just in learning more about how it is organized.
Current Minicon practice is to have freeform concom meetings, using no formal structure such as Robert's Rules of Order. We operate roughly on a consensus basis, but with no formal consensus procedure, either. The best description might be "consensus-driven dictatorship" (with the chair as dictactor), or perhaps "consensus with dictatorial veto". In other words, most decisions made in committee are reached when everyone stops arguing, or, if people keep arguing for too long, the chair makes a ruling. We generally do not vote, although it occasionally happens.
Minicon chairs of recent years have generally kept a hands-off approach to how departments are run. Since Minicon is a small-to-mid-sized convention, only a few departments consist of more than one person (for planning purposes; most also use some volunteers during the convention). The largest department, programming, holds some of its own meetings in addition to the general concom meetings. Naturally, other department heads do a lot of planning on their own, on the phone with other department heads, over e-mail, etc.
Generally the same person runs a department for several years running. In fact, they generally run the department for more years than they intended because finding people to commit to department-running is hard. Thus, we are always looking for bright new volunteers willing to apprentice themselves to existing department heads.