An Open-Source Look at the Cost of WordCamp Dallas

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WordCamp-DallasI’ve had many people asking about what it takes to actually put together WordCamp Dallas, and there have been a lot of questions specifically involving the costs associated with the event.

I’ve been hesitant to share all the details up to this point for a variety of reasons including:

  • Confidentiality for our event sponsors.
  • No desire for second-guessing from the bleachers. (aka – I could have done it cheaper!)
  • Privacy for myself since it involved cost I picked up.

However, I’ve decided that in the interests of the community I will share as many details as possible so that others who are looking to put on an event of this kind will understand what it’s going to take before they attempt to do it. The last thing we need are surprises, especially where money is involved.

Keep in mind that the costs outlined here were to cover around 350 attendees, plus live streaming of the event to a few hundred more around the world. Also know that WordCamp Dallas 2008 had a similar outcome, but at around 65% of the values here.

Significant costs:

  • Food: $8,750 – Lunches, morning coffee & muffins, and afternoon snacks.
  • T-shirts: $3,500 – Two sided, two color shirts, plus filled requests for sizes to 5XL.
  • ASL Interpreters: $1,600 – To provide sign language for the deaf.
  • Venue Costs: $1,500 (est.) – Misc. costs associated with the venue.
  • Welcome party: $1,200 – Friday night bowling party for about 90 attendees.
  • Speaker’s Dinner: $1,000 – Saturday night dinner, as a thank you to our speakers.
  • Speaker Travel: $900 – To cover speaker expenses only where necessary.
  • Name badges, etc: $500 – Badges, signs and supplies.
  • EventBrite / PayPal: $500 – Fees for processing transactions.
  • Power cables, etc.: $350 – Venue specific needs.
  • Other: $1,000 – Miscellaneous stuff that adds up quick.

Total: $20,800

Income:

  • Ticket Sales: $8,970
  • Sponsors: $6,600 ($2,000 received so far)

Total: $15,570 ($10,970)

So, as you can see, there is about a $5,000 shortfall from the event, plus another $5,000 that needs to make it’s way through from the sponsor’s Accounts Payable departments. This can be handled a few ways:

  1. Plan the event much farther in advance and give sponsors a hard deadline for payment.
  2. Be willing to float the deficit until sponsors come through with payments (what I opted for).
  3. Charge more. A ticket price of $50 would ensure that the event was closer to break-even.

The point of the math here is that an event of this magnitude needs a benefactor. There must either be a company or an individual behind it for decision making purposes, financial responsibility, and accountability. Attendees, sponsors and venue personnel must have trust in the entity standing behind it.

Alternatives

Meet-Ups!

It doesn’t require a huge weekend long venue to get people together for a common interest. MeetUp.com will allow you to organize small groups of people and you could have Meet-ups at a home, restaurant, park, or some other reasonable venue.

There is no need to feed people, or by T-shirts, and indeed you can avoid the majority of the costs from this event. Assuming you can get enough folks together you should be able to attract a few speakers who are willing to come share their experience.

BarCamp Style

You can also always go the BarCamp route. If you’ve got a group of folks who can go with the flow, and you can forgo most of the niceties such as WiFi and power for everyone, professional A/V recording, tables and chairs for meals, etc. then you can put together an event at any old place that offers to accomodate you, and invite sponsors to contribute whatever it takes to handle the event without any money changing hands.

People have events like this quite often, but keep in mind that someone still has to take responsibility. So if you are going to organize the event you will be on the hook from a liability standpoint. I highly recommend an Umbrella policy from your insurance provider.

Other Costs and Notes

This year we didn’t have to do it, but last year we had to provide event insurance to cover the city for providing the venue. Event insurance for around 200 people ran about $500-600 as I recall. Be prepared to provide this for just about anywhere you go if you are planning on an organized event. For an example, see the Sacramento State University’s requirements.

Often times, certain venues will require that you use their catering service. This can really increase the cost of an event, so double check to make sure you want to go that route.

Finally, you are going to need a LOT of volunteers. You will need people to do all sorts of labor, otherwise you are going to have to pay out the nose for it. These things include:

  • Creating / printing / assembling nametags and signage.
  • T-shirt / poster / banner designs and creation.
  • Organizing pre or post event parties
  • Registration duties
  • Q&A (running mics) and Time keeping for speakers
  • Event setup and teardown
  • Staffing a Genius Bar (to answer WordPress questions for free)
  • Videography / Photography
  • Webmaster duties and inbound question handling
  • Registration management and accounting

That’s just the top 10. You may come up with more.

The End

So, this post is not meant to scare anyone from taking on the challenge of organizing a WordCamp, but rather to serve as a sort of blueprint from with to start the planning. You can scale the various elements up or down as needed depending on the size, budget and type of people who will be attending.

As always, I’m happy to answer questions, or if you need someone to give a lecture and my schedule permits I’m always up for a good WordPress party. Cheers!

Article Written by
John P.

John P. is CEO of Livid Lobster and co-host of Geek Beat TV. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Comments

  1. Jeff says:

    Hmm all this fuss over accessibility for deaf people like me would be a non-starter if most (if not all) educational institutions (schools and colleges) include ASL as a foreign language option. This will ensure that much more people would then be able to use ASL when they encounter a deaf person and communicate effectively without relying on an interpreter. This is what I call true inclusion as well structured and established ASL courses include deaf cultural issues so that everyone will understand each other.
    However the reality is that this is not even considered by the establishment. Perhaps by redirecting energies expended here from arguing against each other, we refocus these against the educational system. ASL is an American language and should be freely available as an educational subject.

  2. Windy says:

    I would caution people on both sides of this argument to consider the other person’s viewpoint for a minute, seriously, and to know their laws. The ADA exempts private clubs from providing accommodations, except in certain cases which are explicitly listed in the law; however, the blending of a private club with a public venue creates complications that allow for the law to be interpreted differently, and you could very well end up obligated to provide access, either individually, or in cooperation with the conference center, depending upon several factors which only an ADA lawyer is qualified to fully understand, let alone explain. But setting aside the law for a minute, how do the hearing people here think Deaf people feel about being routinely excluded from community events that interest them just because the community does not have to include them? And how do Deaf people think this hearing person feels to be insulted and chastised after he paid for services out of his own pocket even believing that he didn’t have to?

    I’m in the middle; I’m hearing, but I’m an active participant in Deaf culture. I can see both sides, and in my view, the very best solution is not to dig our heels in and cling to our own stance. A creative solution can usually be found if we work together and try to empathize with the other side. There’s a book on negotiation called “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In”. I had to take a business leadership class for my degree, and I hated the class, but I really liked that book. It talked about the concept of sitting on the same side of the table, as allies, with the problem — your different needs and wants — in front of you, as a problem to be mutually confronted until satisfactorily resolved. It’s a pretty stellar concept, and all it requires for success is a level head and a little bit of empathy on both sides. In other words, you’re both playing on the same team, and the opposing “team” is the conflict; when it’s resolved, you both win, because you’re on the same team. Two heads are better than one; if you’re both working on the same problem — how to resolve the conflict instead of how to get your way — then you end up with two people looking at the whole picture, rather than one person on each side of the table seeing only half of the picture.

    I can’t imagine what an effort organizing all of this was. I applaud John for being willing to pay for the interpreting services the way he did, instead of immediately defaulting to “we can’t afford it”, the way many seem to think he should have. Clearly he agrees that it is not right to exclude people in favor of bowling night (which cost almost as much as the interpreting) or free t-shirts (which cost twice as much). If I were planning this event, building on his experience (which he has graciously shared), I think I would investigate the possibility of charging $10 more per ticket, which most people would barely miss, and breaking even (more or less), or possibly charging $5 more per ticket and selling the t-shirts, rather than giving them away. There might be problems with that solution that I’m unaware of, but if we tried the “Getting to Yes” technique, I bet we could find solutions for those, too.

  3. Lana says:

    No, I have not been to your event, but as a deaf person, I share my feeling with other deaf readers who posted their comments there. I have had to fight for my accessibility for many mainstream events myself, and I am sure so have been the other 36 million of deaf and hard of hearing people.

    It is your attitude that is the problem – whinning about “significant costs” for accessibility services and trying to tell everyone to get away from the FEDERAL law. It is not appropriate to quote those fees into our faces, either.

    There are ways to get your expenses covered – by seeking a sponsor, for example. It is very common for conferences to get them. I have been to some conferences that had sponsors who cover for parties and alcohol. It would make them look much better if they had spent money on accessibility for more people, for example, than getting more people wasted all night.

    There are also other services for the deaf and hard of hearing, called CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) that would have benefited not only them, but also non-native English speakers, those learning to read, those in noisy or quiet environments, not having speakers, etc. Also, transcripts from the CART could be put online to share with more people – that way killing two birds with one stone by solving the problems of getting transcripts for the increasing number of videos and podcasts.

    You said it is not an “educational” event. Well WordCamp happens all over the country in different cities. If people are free to attend, then would you say that hearing people are free to come but we deaf and hoh can “only if” a host thinks they “can” provide communication services to us? No wonder why deaf readers here are really upset – this got me upset, too.

    To wrap up this, I would like to mention that of all the expenses you mentioned, it’s the t-shirts were the major expenses at your conference. Actually, they cost about twice as much as interpreting services did. Hmm.. It makes me wonder if it was really worth to spend $3,500 for those shirts? I personally think it was not necessary and even a waste of money since not everyone is interested in shirts or “need” them.

    I write this also because I am a fan of WordPress, its commitment to open source and accessibility. Therefore, l would not tolerate attitude of event organizers like yourself who are not sensitive to people with hearing loss.

  4. John P. says:

    Lana,

    Clearly you’ve failed in your research prior to making these comments:

    1. “We” provided interpreters at this event. In fact, it is the only WordCamp on Earth to ever provide them as far as I know. Ever. This one. We had two. Did you see them? Were you there? What exactly is your problem?
    2. I personally paid $1,600 out of my own pocket for this service. And I was only thanked by one person. One. Hint: it wasn’t you either.
    3. WordCamp is NOT an “educational event”. It is NOT an “entity”. There is no organization behind it. It was a purely voluntary gathering that I personally organized. People were free to attend, or not. Don’t mistake the fact that I throw one hell of a party to be anything other than a well-done informal gathering with only ME personally behind it.

    What in the HELL do you want from me? And why did you decide to attack the only guy who ever subsidized interpreters for one of these events? You think I’m ever going to do that again now?

    John P.

  5. Lana says:

    I agree completely with comments from other deaf people – there’s a lot of education needed to be done to spread more awareness to hearing people about us and make them more sensitive to our frustrations with oral communication barriers by providing the fully accessible services to us in forms of CART and/or interpreting services.

  6. Lana says:

    P.S. This conference is also considered as “educational” and there are laws requiring full accessibility to educational resources:

    http://www.nad.org/issues/education/other-opportunities

    Entities that provide educational opportunities, other than public schools, colleges, and universities, also have a responsibility to make sure they are accessible to deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Deaf and hard of hearing consumers want to – and have rights to – participate equally in these educational programs. Use the information in this section to inform others or advocate for equal access to a wide range of educational opportunities.

  7. Lana says:

    Dear John P.

    How insensitive of you to dismiss us deaf and hard of hearing people from those events. How would you feel if you or your family wakes up one morning to find out you or they no longer hear anything? And experiencing all those frustrations every day for the rest of your lives? Hearing people babbling and laughing and leaving us out of their conversations? Missing announcements about subway diversions or flight changes? Hearing employers not hiring highly qualified workers with hearing loss or some of them firing them to “resolve” communication issues? Trying to educate hearing people that hearing aids are not like eye glasses? Being asked stupid questions such as if we can drive or if we can lipread (with our hands extended with a paper and pen). It is not fun.

    And how dare you to compare this educational event with a “private party” at home! Not just this event is educational, it provides valuable network with many specialists in the same field. It is even more valuable for people with hearing loss.

    As for the law, you overlooked this part:

    http://www.nad.org/issues/civil-rights/ada/trade-shows-and-exhibitions

    Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability in places of public accommodation. Public accommodations include hotels, convention centers, stadiums, and other places of exhibition, entertainment, or public gathering.

    In compliance with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Trade Show, Exhibition, Employment Fair, or Other Marketing Event Operator (hereinafter “Trade Show”) is committed to providing individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in Trade Show events and equal access to the services, facilities and accommodations offered by Trade Show at the events. Trade Show will not discriminate on the basis of disability in connection with the operation by Trade Show of Trade Show events.

    Probably it won’t be until you or someone in your family gets stuck in a wheelchair or loses hearing or becomes blind that you will finally understand all those frustrations we go through.

  8. Joe says:

    Thanks for a nice observation on make the event break-even. I would strong encourage you to be more careful what you just said. “…cut the interpreter out…” It is an oppressive statement. Please remember this in future or you will be slap with civil rights/disabilities discrimination legal.

  9. John P. says:

    5-6 people.

    However, we only confirmed the interpreters less than a week before WordCamp. One important learning would be to either commit to doing this from the very beginning, or forego it. We did not give the deaf community enough notice to make everyone aware of the availability.

    John

  10. Matt says:

    There was a nice WordCamp down there last year, here’s a link:

    http://www.wordcamp.co.za/

  11. Matt says:

    How many people were using the interpreter at WC Dallas?

  12. Billy Koch says:

    I do have to really applaud Wordcamp for providing accessibility for the deaf community. This is the first open sourced organization that I have heard that have gone that way and provided opportunities to allow the deaf community to get involved. Now granted some are offended by certain comments, but do keep in mind that the deaf community has been oppressed for many years and they want to be contributing members of society. So its understandable that we would feel that we can’t be contributing members of society if we are not granted accessibility.

    Now off to another point – I do agree if the admissions was only $30.00 bucks I would have charged higher. Some other events from some other open sourced events charge even 100% more than what was charged so it would be feasible to charge alot more. I mean heck if I was getting a shirt and a couple other freebies to go along with it – then $75.00 to $100.00 would be alot more feasible. But it is all a learn as you go type of experience.

    Now in regards to the interpreter situation, I hope it becomes a learning experience and in the future that ways can be found to help to meet in the middle ground where we all can benefit from this.

  13. John P. says:

    Jac3q,

    South Africa would be awesome! I’d love to come down and help put on a WordCamp! :-) But there have to be a group of willing organizers there, and the ability to spread the word to the local community…

    John P.

  14. John P. says:

    Jill, et. al,

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (aka the ADA) has a very, very specific set of circumstances in which it applies. For God’s sake people! If it normally would apply to you I would think that you would study it and understand it!

    Here is the link. READ IT! Especially before you talk about it as if you were an authority…

    The ADA:

    … prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.

    WordCamps are absolutely, unequivocally, and without question, NONE of these. And in case you want to quibble about the definition of any of those – don’t bother. If you follow the link they are all spelled out quite clearly.

    As I’ve stated before on numerous occasions, the ADA does not apply to privately held events. Think about it logically. If I wanted to have a party at my house and invite a bunch of friends over, you expect me to pay for an interpreter for my deaf friend; install ramps for my wheelchair ridden friend; have the invites interpreted to braille for my blind friend; etc.? Impossible! No matter how much I love them all.

    I believer that Hare had the best suggestion for us all. While the ADA is there to protect disabled people from discrimination in the PUBLIC, it is up to the community to find creative ways to be accommodated in private settings.

    Deaf people specifically need to get organized, form local groups on Meetup.com, pool resources, and reward people who accommodate you with your business and goodwill. Being nasty and making idle threats with laws that do not apply will get you nowhere, fast.

    Good luck,

    John P.

  15. Jill says:

    Here’s a rational argument: The Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s Federal law. To refuse accommodation is a violation.

  16. Jac3q says:

    Putting an event together is no joke. I would love to do something down here in the far south of Africa, as there isn’t much going on here in terms of search marketing and other internet / tech events. Would you be interested in a South African Safari working holiday at some stage, John?

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