Reviewing a WordCamp budget

Why we review budgets: Why we review budgets:

Budget reviews serve two purposes: first, it’s the point when WordCamp Central and a local organizing team come to an agreement about what expenses the global program will commit to paying for. Anything on the approved budget is a guaranteed expense, meaning we’ll pay it whether or not the local organizing team reaches its attendance or fundraising goals.

Second, a budget review can help a deputy understand exactly what event organizers have planned for their WordCamp, since we go down the list of expenses line-by-line and discuss each one. If an organizer is planning something that doesn’t fit within the WordCamp model, or something that has caused stress or trouble for other WordCamp organizers, we frequently discover that in this deep discussion of the plans for the event. So a budget review can help us avoid issues before they become problems.

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When does a budget review happen? When does a budget review happen?

After an organizing team has been approved for pre-planning, but before they announce their date or we sign a contract with their venue, we ask the lead organizer to schedule a budget review. During the review a deputy will discuss the budget with the lead organizer (or organizing team). The budget it reviewed line by line with changes suggested if necessary. Once the deputy and the organizing team have arrived at a budget that they’re both comfortable with the preliminary event budget is marked “approved”. At that time the organizing team can send their venue contract or agreement to WordCamp Central for signature. Once the contract is signed and the required fields in the WordCamp’s page on central.wordcamp.org are completed a deputy moves the event to “scheduled” and the organizing team is free announce their date and move into the active planning stage.

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Budget philosophy Budget philosophy

We’re not a non-profit organization, but we do our best to act like one. We advocate lean budgets for a number of reasons:

  1. Fundraising takes a lot of organizing team energy away from speaker selection and event logistics. The more money local organizers have to raise, the less time they can spend making sure the event has carefully chosen content, well-prepared speakers, smooth event logistics, strong outreach, and engaged volunteers.
  2. Complex events are complex to organize. The more you spend money on, the more tasks you have to manage. Everyone on the team is a volunteer and you never know when life might get in the way of their commitment to WordCamp work. You can still meet all the goals of a WordCamp without spending lots of money on “nice to have” items; in fact some of the most simple events get the most positive feedback.
  3. Simpler events are more easily replicable. Setting up the precedent of holding a highly complex, expensive event with lots of moving parts in a certain community can make it difficult for community leaders to pass the baton and open up leadership opportunities to new community members. We frequently find that the organizers of more complex events have a harder time recruiting new organizers, because the learning curve is so challenging or intimidating.
  4. Higher costs bring higher risks. Typically our community leaders are not professional event organizers, and every event carries a certain amount of risk. We love trying new things, but we prefer to iterate in small measurable ways.

Reviewing a budget, step-by-step. Reviewing a budget, step-by-step.

Here’s a useful budget review checklist! Use it, it’s really helpful!

Number of attendees: Number of attendees:

First WordCamp? Try to stay at or under 300, unless the community has been meeting with more than 30 people every month for 6 months AND you have a kick-ass inexpensive venue AND your team has conference organizing experience.

Second/repeat camp? How many tickets sold last year? Doubling attendance from last year because you sold out is usually unsuccessful — we recommend teams try to increase 25% per year, not 50%.

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Ticket price: Ticket price:

If in US: $20 per person per day is the maximum; generally understood that price includes lunch and a piece of custom swag. If not providing lunch or a t-shirt, preferred to reduce per day cost by about $5 if the budget allows.

If outside the US: use the Big Mac Index to assess ticket price, not a straight dollar-to-local currency conversion. The ticket price should be roughly the equivalent of a cheap dinner and a movie for one, as culturally appropriate. In very expensive cities/countries, a ticket price on the more expensive scale can be offset by providing a good chunk of scholarship/student tickets (this works especially well in European countries).

Another important thing to ask if the event is not in the US or Canada: how do they want to run the money? If they’re not in the US or Canada, it’s not required to run the money through WPCS, and actually not recommended if it will result in the organizing team having trouble. In non-US/Canadian countries where wire transfers to pay caterers and printers are uncommon, then the local organizing team might find it easier to run the money themselves. We can still run ticket revenue through WPCS and send that to the organizing team with their global sponsorship grant via wire transfer to an organizing team member. If an organizing team is not running the money through WPCS, the team is expected to hold to a very high level of public, financial transparency.

It’s also good to know what kinds of payment processors are common in a country. If Paypal is not common or popular, then the local team can write a payment gateway plugin so they can still use Camptix (this is important to us, as we want ticket selling transparency and access to those metrics), and we’ll activate that on the wordcamp.org network. We’ve done that in multiple other countries, and it’s worked very well.

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Total Expense per attendee: Total Expense per attendee:

This is a good “quick check” to see if the WordCamp budget is skewed to the high side. If the expense per attendee is under $40/pp/day for a one day camp or $30/pp/day for a 2+ day camp, then the event budget is usually lean and manageable.

If the expense per attendee is double $40/pp/day for a one day camp or $30/pp/day for a 2+ day camp, then there should be some very good reasons to support that budget, as it’s out of scale with other camps worldwide.

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A note on cultural/regional/community variations: A note on cultural/regional/community variations:

All communities are different (just like all people are different), but very few WordPress communities are *that* different. 🙂 While cost of living and cultural expectations may vary, all WordPress communities should share the same *open source* culture, in which the community has leaders rather than owners, changes are iterative rather than drastic, and everyone works together for the common good. While just paying someone to do XYZ might be easier on the lead organizer, recruiting volunteers to help do XYZ will help build community while it saves money on the budget. Sometimes repeat organizers prefer to take the “just pay someone” approach; it’s good to gently remind them that asking for more community help will help them identify new/future leaders in the group so they don’t have to do everything on their own, forever. A good reminder is that WordCamp organizing is *community* organizing, not simply event organizing.

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Reviewing Expenses Reviewing Expenses

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Ask questions about the venue: Ask questions about the venue:

  • Where is it located?
  • Does it have a religious or political affiliation?
  • What’s the capacity of the room(s)?
  • Does the venue require that organizers use a certain caterer (locked-in catering), or spend a certain amount of money on food (food & beverage minimum)?
  • Are organizers getting a special deal that requires them to do anything?
  • Do organizers have to rent AV or video equipment from venue management?
  • Is it accessible to physically handicapped people?
  • Does it have wifi?
  • Is there free parking available or will attendees be required to pay to park?

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Ask about the catering arrangements: Ask about the catering arrangements:

  • What do they plan on serving for lunch, if anything? (If they don’t plan to provide lunch, ask about how attendees will get lunch.)
  • Can this caterer handle vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free/lactose-free/kosher food, or do they plan to use a different caterer for people with dietary restrictions?
  • Does the catering number include tax and service charges?
  • Where will lunch be served?
  • Will they provide an afternoon snack?

This is a good time to talk about having coffee (or the locally appropriate caffeinated drink) all day, including dietary questions in the event registration flow, how breakfast is rarely necessary, the wisdom of providing a protein-rich afternoon snack, and other food/catering-related recommendations. Remind them that often the last time they will have the attention of attendees prior to the event is during the registration process.

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Ask about swag estimates: Ask about swag estimates:

  • What are they planning to provide for swag?
  • If t-shirts, remind them to provide both men’s and women’s cuts, not just unisex.
  • How many prints is this for (one chest print, a chest and back print, a torso print, etc) and how many colors? (1 color is cheapest)
  • If they’re planning on a different swag item, have they priced it out?
  • If they’re planning on a speaker gift, what is the plan for that?

It’s ok to plan for t-shirts and then choose a backup (usually cheaper) item like a travel mug, pint glass, hat, scarf, etc, in case local fundraising doesn’t go well.

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Ask about party estimates: Ask about party estimates:

  • Have they identified an after-party venue? Is this venue all ages? What is the after-party plan?
  • If they’re planning on having a speaker event, what is the plan for that?
  • Will sponsors be included in the speaker event? What’s the count?

This is a good time to encourage people to hold a happy hour instead of a sit-down dinner for a speaker event (cheaper and more socially fluid). It’s also a good time to talk through the smartest ways to handle serving alcohol at an after-party, talk about giving attendees something to do that takes the focus away from drinking, and to remind the organizer(s) to post a closing time for the party as a way to indicate when the code of conduct is no longer in force.

It’s ok to budget for an after-party and then have a few party back-up plans, in case local fundraising doesn’t go well.

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Ask about videography: Ask about videography:

  • How do they plan to video record the sessions? (volunteers or professionals)
  • How do they plan on handling post-production for the videos? (volunteers or professionals)

Videography is another good “contingency” expense — it’s ok to put some money in the budget for professional videography and then decide to go with volunteers if local fundraising doesn’t go well.

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Ask about printing: Ask about printing:

  • What do they plan to have printed? (badges, banners, wayfinding signs, etc)

This is a good time to recommend to newer events that they print banners that do not have the event year on them so they can be re-used. Discuss the advantages and disadvantage to printed schedules, and costs involved in different badge styles.

Ask about other expenses as well.

Some examples of other things you might see on a WordCamp budget: accessibility services (like sign language interpreting or simultaneous translation), child care services, security, permits, office supplies, power strips, …

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Some things we never pay for: Some things we never pay for:

  • design services
  • event organizing services
  • personal assistants
  • special perks or gifts just for the organizing team
  • special perks or gifts for sponsors
  • speaker perks of gifts for vendors
  • bribes
  • emcees
  • photography

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Some things we very, very rarely pay for: Some things we very, very rarely pay for:

If you see these on a budget you’re reviewing, let the organizers know that it’s extremely unusual to pay for these things, and find out how much they really need them. These expenses should be approved on a case-by-case basis by an experienced deputy:

  • advertising
  • speaker travel
  • vehicle rental
  • stock photos
  • membership fees
  • bank fees or taxes (for events not running money through WPCS that will have to pay taxes or expenses on income)
  • door prizes

 

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Reviewing Income Reviewing Income

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Tickets Tickets

Make sure the ticket revenue figure is either offset by an expense line item for comped tickets for speakers/sponsors/volunteers, or reflects that lack of income. If a community is trying to double the size of their event in a year, or might be over-estimating the number of people who will buy tickets, adjust the ticket revenue line item so that they’re not required to sell out to break even on the budget.

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Fundraising Goal Fundraising Goal

Now that you’ve determined a good number for how much the event should cost, and you have a good estimate for how much money they’ll bring in via ticket sales, you can calculate the fundraising goal. For example, an event that will cost $5,000 and should sell $1000 in tickets has a fundraising goal of $4000.

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Sponsorship packages: Sponsorship packages:

Review the size of each local sponsorship package as well as the ways the org team plans on acknowledging sponsors. All WordCamps should follow the sponsorship guidelines; no speaking spots for sponsors, please. Make sponsorship packages easy to fulfill! We don’t want organizing teams to have to spend more than about 20 hours on fundraising. We now have this nice list of suggested means of acknowledgement: https://make.wordpress.org/community/handbook/wordcamp-organizer/planning-details/fundraising/local-wordcamp-sponsorship/

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Community sponsorship grant: Community sponsorship grant:

Depending on the size of the camp and the “age” of the WordCamp, offer to provide at least 30-50% of the fundraising needs, based on the approved budget. Ideally, we don’t want WordCamp organizing teams to spend more than 20 hours, over the life of the project, on fundraising.

If a community has had many years of WordCamp and is very optimistic about fundraising, 25-40% of the fundraising goals can be pledged as the global sponsorship grant. Please don’t pledge less than 25% to any camp.

If the WordCamp is brand new, 40-80% of the fundraising needs can be pledged for the global sponsorship grant.

Don’t forget to leave a note on the WordCamp’s listing in WordCamp Central confirming the Global Sponsorship Grant amount!

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In Conclusion In Conclusion

Make sure the organizer(s) understand the next steps in the process. They’ll need to complete all required fields in their WordCamp’s listing on WordCamp Central and provide a venue agreement or contract. If the venue is free and does not provide an agreement, they will need to provide some form of written verification that the venue has confirmed they will host the event on their chosen dates.

Before you end the meeting, ensure the organizing team understands they should talk to their mentor every 2 weeks and deal with challenges to fundraising sooner, rather than later.