This post started as a comment on Tony’s post about the discrepancy between WordCamp budgetary rules. Also, check out the subsequent comment threads/posts on WPTavern and WPCandy.
I organized WordCamp St. Louis 2011, which was a smashing success in its first year of existence. With over 200 attendees, a speaker dinner at a nice restaurant, an expensive catered lunch, the best WordCamp t-shirts ever designed, and an awesome bowling after-party, I managed to keep the budget pretty tight at $4,500.
The event itself was very successful, partly due to the fact that the entire Happiness Team (or whatever they’re called nowadays) was around – as well as Matt, who gave a nice little mini-keynote at the end of the day.
I ended up purchasing a sponsorship for UpThemes at one of the higher sponsorship levels and Automattic chipped in $1,000 to cover the bowling afterparty. We ended up finding some awesome local sponsors to fill out the rest of the lower-end sponsorships, so we came out pretty well in the whole thing.
The one thing that felt just plain wrong was the fact that WordCamp Central had extremely strict guidelines (which turn into rules if you go against them) on ticket prices as well as raising money for the event. The recommended ticket price for a one-day event was (at the time) $20. We sold early-bird tickets for $20 and then bumped it up to $25 to help cover the cost of food and t-shirts per attendee.
Here’s the Problem with Setting the Exact Same Budget Limitations Across the Board
If they’re going to set guidelines, they should be based on the location and scale of the event you’re trying to put on, not one fixed rule that applies to every WordCamp. It just doesn’t make sense. While I don’t think $42,000 for a WordCamp sounds right, because we did it much cheaper than that – if you’re hosting the event in an expensive city and have three or four times the average number of attendees and plan to go all out to make people love WordPress even more, then the organizers should be empowered to make it happen, not forced to follow guidelines they can’t work within to provide an awesome experience for all attendees.
Here’s the Problem with Having The Biggest Sponsor of Local WordCamps Setting the Sponsorship Cost Limits
It’s no secret that Automattic spends thousands of dollars sponsoring WordCamps around the world, and it’s much appreciated for organizers like myself, who wouldn’t have been able to throw an awesomely fun after-party without it. But the same guy that sets the limitation on the cost of sponsorships for each WordCamp is also the guy who runs the company that consistently pays for one of the top sponsorships. Conflict of interest much? That’s like printing money and then deciding how much its worth. Hello, Federal Reserve.
Remember the Housing Market Explosion and Subsequent Bust?
In 2004, banks were giving out loans like candy, not properly qualifying homeowners before giving them loans they would eventually default on. Let’s look at a lending scenario real quickly: If potential homeowner #1 earns $142,000 per year, has been at his current job for 6 months, and has a credit rating of 480 and potential homeowner #2 earns $75,000 per year, has been in his current job for 13 years, and has a credit rating of 750, who would you feel more comfortable about giving a $250,000 loan to? The right answer is homeowner #2.
WordCamps are becoming more complex and more diverse. By qualifying all WordCamps using one set of criteria without first understanding the needs of each WordCamp, you’ve set a pre-defined set of expectations, regardless of considering what the organizers are truly capable of. If things continue like that, I can guarantee that there will be a “WordCamp bust” and organizers will stop organizing WordCamps because the limitations are too strict.
There are already a growing number of new WordPress-oriented conferences and events, all differing in name and focus, but building in terms of visibility and potential for success. We’ve already begun to see it with WordUp, PressNomics, and The Business of WordPress. There are also a few WordPress Meetups that have grown to a place where they could be considered a WordCamp that happens every single month, but the organizers would never consider it with all the red tape associated with running a WordCamp.
Where do we go from here?
I agree that in the past when WordCamps were just getting started, organizers had no idea what they were doing. That’s why WordCamp Central should be educating them and learning about their local community before they start imposing budgeting rules that seem poorly thought-out. I’m not knocking Automattic, WordCamp Central, or the WordPress Foundation here, I’m just saying the way that WordCamps are governed needs to be changed.
We need a formula for calculating the estimated cost of a WordCamp based on the market, community interest level, and influence of potential local sponsors.
After all, if the sponsorship levels are so high that the revenue far outweighs the expenses, the money gets donated to the WordPress Foundation anyway, so what’s the big deal? Capitalism is a great thing, so let it happen and let’s see what comes out of it.
If the WordPress Foundation doesn’t start making decisions that benefit WordCamp organizers and the WordPress community at-large, they are forcing us to run out of options.