How to fund a conference with donations - part 1
It's called Italian Agile Day (yes, the website needs updating, working on it for next year...) and it's:
a free one day conference about all aspects of agile software development. The conference focus is on software development methods that follow the Agile Manifesto including: eXtreme Programming, SCRUM, Feature Driven Development, DSDM, Crystal and Lean Software Development.
The conference has organically grown:
- Milan, 2004 -> 100 attendees
- Milan, 2005 -> 150+ attendees
- Milan, 2006 -> 180+ attendees
- Bologna, 2007 -> 260+ attendees
- Bologna, 2008 -> 400 attendees!!
Funding models: commercial sponsorship vs donations
For the first two editions (2004 and 2005) I went to usual route for free conferences: commercial sponsors + an Agile Alliance contribution. It worked well and let me kick this off concentrating more on other aspects (logistics, speakers, program, marketing and so forth) rather than worry about funding. That was relatively easy because it was a very small conference - and I became and expert in low-budget conferences :-)
In 2006 though I felt like making a community experiment: this is a conference for the community by the community and instead of looking for commercial sponsors I opened up a PayPal account and started accepting donations. Real donations as in no minimum amount required and more importantly people don't have to donate in order to participate.
Granted: to make this work I personally guaranteed that regardless of the total amount collected the conference would happen. I didn't want people to think "what if I donate and then money isn't enough?". It did work, we got € 1,698.25 in donations and spent € 1,500. Although the numbers were low everyone was happy: there was a community and it was able to support itself!
I've always limited the number of attendees, closing registrations when 150% of the capacity was reached to factor in the natural drop rate - that for a free conference is higher than for other models - and managed a waiting list moving people around as soon as someone canceled his/her registration.
Do donations scale?
This year I decided to go big and booked a place for up to 400 people but I wondered whether the donation model would keep working, I had a feeling it wouldn't scale and here is why: every year something like 50% of the people attending the Italian Agile Day are new, they have never been to the conference before and I imagined that they wouldn't blindly donate. If I were in them I would attend the conference the first time and only after decide whether it is worth a donation or not.
And in fact this is what happened. Now that I have 3 years worth of data I'm going to do some analysis and publish all the numbers in this series of posts hoping it will help others and for the sake of transparency.
Some numbers: costs and money collected
Let's start from each edition's cost and donations collected. Because PayPal takes a percentage of every donation I'm using the net numbers, afterall this is what I have available:
The first two things that jump at me are:
- I became really good at organizing a conference with a low budget :-) those costs include venue and coffee breaks
- This year edition broke even thanks to the money left over the previous year
If you prefer a chart here it is:
I'll leave it here for now. In the next post I'll disclose all the other numbers: people registered, people effectively attending, number of donators, average donation and so forth. Stay tuned :-)