Guidelines for Speaker Thank Yous

We’re often fond of saying that the primary benchmark for WordCamps is the quality of our content, and a large part of our content is our speakers. Even though speakers are WordCamp volunteers, the same as everyone else who works on a WordCamp, it makes sense that the organizers do something special to say thank you.

We have found that speaker dinners and speaker gifts (let’s call them ‘Speaker Thank Yous’) have become commonplace components of the WordCamp model. The origin of the speaker dinner was twofold: to ensure that all speakers were in town and ready to speak, and to thank them.

When setting up WordCamp Budgets, we have one guideline that affects the entire event: Is this a responsible use of funds, and does it benefit the attendees. We’ve never had a rule about what amount you can or should spend on speaker thank yous, and that has led to vast differences in how WordCamps acknowledge and thank their speakers. There is some concern that this sometimes large discrepancy in spending on speaker thank yous from event to event causes more competition than collaboration. Financially, that competition can have further reaching consequences than might, at first, be apparent.

With that in mind we’d like to propose a practical guideline for how much is appropriate to spend on speaker gifts, and also what is appropriate to gift to speakers.

Deciding the amount to spend is not about how much can we spend, the question is how much should we spend. Even if the Camp has funds available, and that camp can afford to spend $100 on a speaker gift, there are programmatic considerations to be made here. What do we mean by that? WordCamps that are able to charge higher amounts for sponsorship and raise more sponsorship funds may be able to afford more for Speaker Thank Yous than camps that cannot. There are many valid reasons for certain camps to raise more money from sponsorships. The only venue available for the Camp may be super expensive, or have a caterer that must be used thereby charging a king’s ransom for a box lunch. A concern at the WordCamp Program level, is that Camps having larger Sponsorship Goals for discretionary items rather than event necessities could be taking sponsorship money from others. While we have increased the total number of unique sponsors over the years, we must recognize that sponsors are not a bottomless pit, and each sponsor will have a budget they can spend on all camps. So, if WordCamp Camelot raises a ton of money and can afford to buy custom leather bomber jackets for their speakers not only could it be taking money from the smaller, less financially stable WordCamp Knottingham event. It’s also setting a precedent with speaker gifts that other, smaller or more financially responsible events can’t meet.

While we’re looking at what we should spend on a speaker gift, we should also have a discussion of what makes an appropriate speaker gift. We don’t want to suggest a list of items that should be forbidden, instead suggest that we keep in mind the inclusive and family friendly attitude of WordCamps when selecting a gift. We would therefore discourage gifts with a gender bias, items that directly correlate to drinking or smoking, and anything that would encourage illegal activities.

WordCamps are intended to be welcoming, low-cost events accessible to and appropriate for everyone who loves WordPress. With that in mind, we ask that organizers are transparent with their spending, and that they keep budgets lean, focusing their spending on what will benefit attendees most instead, of competing to see who can do the coolest thing. We are not proposing a hard monetary limit, that would be arbitrary (due to price differences and world currencies a limit is not practical). A good practice to follow would be that if the Speaker gift exceeds the price of a one day ticket, this should be reviewed by the organizing team, and discussed with your mentor and at your budget review.

How do you feel about the guideline of the per day ticket price for speaker gifts? Are there any concerns or ideas you’d like to express? Please share in the comments.