The WordCamp San Francisco Budget, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Spreadsheet

We’ve just dropped the last number into the spreadsheet for the 2013 WordCamp San Francisco budget and wanted to share it with you: take a look at what goes in to making WordCamp San Francisco happen.

Transparency in WordCamp planning and fundraising is helpful no matter the size of your WordCamp, and doubly so when you’re planning the Uber WordCamp — aside from being the first WordCamp there was and the official annual WordCamp conference, WordCamp San Francisco features Matt’s State of the Word address and just happens to be in the (really expensive) tech capital of the world. We want to be model WordCamp citizens and use an organizing process we’d be proud for any other WordCamp to follow.

Sponsorship options for WordCamp San Francisco are a bit different than those for most other WordCamps; if you’re wondering why, take a look at the budget. It’s all in the name of giving you the most awesome WordCamp experience possible while still keeping tickets priced at the WordCamp standard $20/day.

If you take a look at the breakdown, you’ll see that renting a large enough venue for 800+ WordPress fans with good public transportation options is over $30,000. Throw in costs for the A/V , food, and swag that keep 800 attendees and 500 live stream participants engaged and happy, and it’s not surprising that the WordCamp San Francisco budget looks a little different than most other cities’.

That being said, we’d love to bring the budget down! If you’ve got ideas for ways to reel in the numbers — a low-cost or donated venue, a friend who has a t-shirt printing factory, whatever — let us know!

8 thoughts on “The WordCamp San Francisco Budget, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Spreadsheet

  1. Tony Perez

    Hi Austin

    Awesome, always great to get this level of insight. Maybe something all camps should consider.

    I do wonder though, being that I’m sitting on the WordCamp Guidelines review committee I think I see where the issues might lay in your current plans.

    It seems you’re trying to leverage an expensive private venue, in the place of the recommended venues listed in the plans documentation here:

    This in turn is having huge impacts to your food and beverage responsibilities. If you use the recommended, and encouraged locations, found in the guidelines, that could have a much more favorable impact to the essence of what WordCamps are.

    This is if this even is being run as an official WordCamp under WordCamp central.

    Also, in turns of streaming, the official recommendation, and preferred approach, is to use the provided video cameras and to leverage things like what WordCamp Miami did which allowed for free streaming and marginal costs compared to your current streaming budget.

    That seems to be another are to consider as well.



    1. andreamiddleton

      Hi Tony, and thanks for your comment. I’m working with the organizing team of WordCamp SF – as I do with every WordCamp, really – to help them understand the guidelines as well as best practices. For anyone who is curious, WordCamp SF is running the money through the Foundation, and this is an “official event.” 😉

      On the subject of venue, I started working with lead organizer Rose Goldman in October of 2012 to try to find a venue that was cheaper than Mission Bay but had the other qualities they needed for a successful WordCamp SF: 800-1000 person capacity, close to public transportation, wifi. We worked for about 5 months and investigated 27 possibilites – they’re listed on the Venues tab of the budget – to find a place that did not require a catering contract. We couldn’t find one, to my enormous frustration.

      When other cities’ organizing teams run into this nasty situation – when the community has investigated all options, and then gotten creative and investigated those options too, and they still don’t have anything but a stinking expensive venue (Montreal, Sydney, and Birmingham come to mind) – my perspective at WordCamp Central is that it’s always better to have a WordCamp at an imperfect venue than no WordCamp at all. And smack-dab in Imperfect Venue Land is where you’ll find WordCamp SF. We’re hoping that one side effect of publishing the budget and the list of venues will be that someone will emerge from the community with a sweet deal like Miami or NYC have and offer us a cheap/free venue for 2014, w00t!

      The organizing team is still agonizing a bit about the cost of the videography; this is where WordCamp SF being the annual WordPress conference, and thus being responsible for the recording and streaming of sessions like the State of the Word, makes it seem more reasonable to pay for professionals to record and stream the event. Last year WordCamp SF sold about 500 livestream tickets, and most people think it’s pretty cool that WordPress fans from all over the world can take part in WordCamp SF that way. With that attendance figure in mind, it feels pretty important to have the most reliable livestream the budget allows. But as you and any other WordCamp organizer knows, budgets change as the event organizing progresses, so who knows – SF might just be recruiting videography volunteers yet!

      I’m really excited about WordCamp SF having an open budget this year, and I hope it encourages WordCamps all over the world to try the same thing.

  2. Tony Perez

    Hey Andrea

    Thanks for the great insight. Think it all makes perfect sense, and it’s enlightening to see the thought process that went into the selection process openly shared. Think it also provides many of those folks that have not organized a camp before the ability to better understand how things work.

    I think a lot of what you mentioned is what is to be expected all around the world and something we’ll have to work hard to think through when we get to that pain point.

    Look forward to attending this year. I too hope other camps follow suit and openly share their budgets, this is a good approach I think.


  3. Greg Turner

    A couple of months ago Ben Metcalfe, co-founder of WPEngine, at the East Bay WordPress meetup spoke to the audience about understanding the value of things, specially in regards to understanding the value that one gets when signing up with the more expensive WPEngine web hosting service.

    I think Ben needs to talk about this concept of value to the organizers of SF WordCamp. I mean, $20 for a day is not only very inexpensive, it is cheap. And when I use the word cheap, I mean that in a negative way.

    Compared to the value that one gets from attending the WordCamp, the ticket price should be a lot more! I would gladly pay a higher price to attend. And with a higher price, the organizers could find a venue that better matches the needs with a lot less effort.

    Instead of expending huge amounts of effort scrounging around for freebies and el cheapo venues, with a higher priced ticket the effort could be better spent on vetting applications from individuals who need help with the expense of the ticket.

    All talks and articles about business and knowing your value talk about charging accordingly. Why is SF WordCamp not following the same philosophy?

    Going the el cheapo route does not speak very highly of WordPress and the business of WordPress, IMHO.

    1. andreamiddleton

      Howdy Greg! Thanks for your comment. The logic behind ticket pricing at WordCamps – and this is for every WordCamp, not just WordCamp San Francisco – is that attending a WordCamp *should* cost the same as downloading WordPress – free! 🙂

      However, we’ve found that when you don’t charge any money for an event, you end up with a lot of RSVPs but only a fraction of that number in attendance. That, in turn, wastes a lot of sponsor money, food, and resources. Therefore we charge as little as possible, so that ticket price is not a barrier to entry for anyone, but then enough that people will have enough “invested” in their ticket purchase to actually show up on Friday/Saturday/Sunday morning.

      We totally agree that the value of attending WordCamp is much higher than $20, but then we think that the value of WordPress itself is pretty high, too. As long as WordPress is free, we’re going to keep pricing WordCamp tickets as affordably as we can.

  4. Amanda Blum

    As a conference (and WordCamp) organizer, the budget allotted for SF is still shockingly small for a conference of this size and particularly of this geographic area. Put it into perspective, because 160k seems enormous as a number. Per attendee, based on 1000 attendees, that is 160$/pp for a 2 day event. There isn’t a single professional conference in the country that can accomplish that, even in far more rural areas. Professional conferences routinely have a 2,3,400+/pp.

    I think it merely speaks to the efficiency of our WordCamp organizers that so many camps manage to accomplish so much on so little (probably 50-100$/pp).

    Everyone wants SF to be a superb event. I am left to wonder, as so many of are, why SF insists on calling itself WordCamp and why it doesn’t just stake the claim of being separate and different instead of trying to find a way to justify itself and its costs each year. Its NOT a regional camp. Its NOT mostly local speakers. Its NOT mostly local attendees. Its not a culmination of that year’s SF meetups. No one wants it to be. Its a huge Con for the global WP community with the best speakers, regardless of where they’re from, drawing attendees from all over the world. .

    Seems dramatically less work and controversy to just be a con instead of a camp.

  5. Jason Kemp (@dialogCRM)

    Very interesting to read these comments on the true costs of running wordcamps.

    As someone who has organised a number of wordcamps in 2 cities over the past 5 years the venue arrangements are crucial to being able to make the budget work. Even with partial sponsorship deals & discounts the $20 target is lucky to cover the venue costs.

    Add AV costs and (if you can) some video and from our experience with smaller size events it is very easy for costs to get into the $80-100 range. SF is expensive but so are lots of other cities – especially the smaller ones.

    This doesn’t mean it can’t be done – but having the target so low in comparison to the real costs does force organisers to get sponsorship. The best sponsorships are from developer attendees who are usually happy to pay 100-200 and because they understand the community they are happy with simple recognition.

    Larger sponsors expect more in the way of signage, promotion and branding and a generally higher level of commercial visibility. They can still work out but given the number of other IT related events they can often get brand leverage elsewhere – and really we don’t want wordcamps to be over commercialised so that is ok.

    In our country we stopped doing T-shirts and lunches because a $10* t-shirt is not doable and for a smaller event catering is either tied to the venue (at $30+) so it is easier to encourage attendees to eat nearby if your venue is near some food outlets.

    Last time we did t-shirts we used ethical suppliers because we thought that was important. It did add costs and complexity but was not achievable inside the ticket price target.

    From the 10 wordcamps I have been at I do think providing a lunch on site is very much worth doing as are the various after parties as that is important for community building so given a choice I would provide lunch – and excellent coffee as key elements.

    None of this will be news to other wordcamp organisers who all have similar trade-offs to make.

    As it happens I work on TEDx events and these are also open source style events however a key requirement is for broadcast quality video. Even with the larger scale of TEDx the current rules there allow events to charge up to $100 per attendee and for certain cities and events even more.

    I also work in the education space and conference style events there are a bit less expensive than the big tech events but it is still very easy to pay $200-$300 per day for those.

    I do understand the thinking behind the ticket prices but when the local price of 1 coffee & 1 lunch is at least $20 it would make sense to raise the ticket price and take some of the fundraising pressure off local organisers.

    1. Rose

      Hi Jason! Thanks for your thoughtful comments. The main issues surrounding the high cost of the current WCSF venue are food. We could get a venue that would be much less expensive, allow outside food (which is so much less expensive), however we would likely have to cap attendance at less than half of what we currently do. For a venue that can accommodate 800-1000 people it’s proven to be impossible to find. I think people would be pretty upset if we only allowed 300-400 attendees to come to WCSF. We could also look for a cheaper, larger venue outside of San Francisco to meet all our requirements but we felt it was important to have the event in SF. We may take another look at that for next year. Ultimately, we opted for the large venue in SF, with great public transportation options, good wifi, and plenty of space for all our attendees at the cost of expensive food and beverages that we are required to use. It’s always a compromise. In the end we hope to produce a great event with engaging speakers and interesting content.

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