I attended the morning portion of the volunteer/chapter meeting today and got to put some names with faces for some of the groups we do hosting for (note, if you need to host a sql chapter and you can live with what you see at www.opass.org, email me). Good sized group present, and was interesting to see a lot of them had been involved since the early years. Greg Low did a quick presentation on User Groups and it was the best part of the day for me. He pointed out some lessons he (and I!) had learned the hard way and a few things that were useful. For example, he said that just personalizing emails sent out to group members increased the attendance rate. Easy enough to do, but we haven't been doing in Orlando. Worth trying. I haven't read his book but at about $17 at Amazon I think its worth getting (Building Technical Communities
We also got some updates on the various areas of PASS. One interesting tidbit is that the move to a new management company is projected to reduce annual management costs by 50%. Substantial. The new company seems competent and helpful and PASS gets them on a dedicated rather than time sharing basis. I think its been a painful transition, but post conference hopefully we'll see more timely replies on chapter and other misc business. An unfortunate side affect - I think - is that PASS is not going to provide liability insurance to chapters for at least the short term, perhaps longer - changing mgmt companies they no longer get the super discounted rate that made it possible. I suspect most venues have insurance, but still, in this day, who wants to run the risk?
We got a high level look at the financials and while interesting, it wasn't the line item level look that I think would have been helpful. PASS is still primarily supported by the conference, and obviously the conference is it biggest expense. Lots of questions about wanting more detail because many members/prospects ask. Just to be clear, no one is questioning the integrity of anyone at any level of PASS, but in the lack of disclosure many tend to jump to conclusions. I think the leadership sees the need for transparency but in my view are being overly timid about making more detail available to the general membership. I can see where it will suck; people nitpicking your spending decisions and have to include some kind of narrative about big points, but I think it will be mainly a one time exercise and then we can just look at year over year numbers. Why does it matter? Well, for example they announced that they were funding the Speaker Bureau sufficiently to provide 20 speakers, but sadly there are about 40 chapters. Said entirely in the absense of detailed knowledge of other requirements, I would have cut something else to get the additional - and fairly small - amount of money to make sure each chapter could get one PASS paid for speaker during the year.
One of the best parts of the conf is running into all the people I only see once a year, or meeting people I only correspond with. Lots of great people and I should have tried to write down their names! I was thrilled in particular to see my friend Michael Lato is presenting a topic on Fri - good luck Michael, and go see him if you get the chance.
I spent some time at the PASS reception, but its just a bit noisy and crowded, not the best environment for talk, then headed over to the SSC reception. Steve did his usual great job of getting it all set up, getting the shirts and books and all the details that make it work. For once I could just relax and talk to friends old and new and that was a nice change. Still, dont we think Steve should come up with a new theme for next year besides gambling - he needs a challenge!
And one not quite on topic comment. Saw Chuck Heinzelman (now the managing editor of the SQL Server Standard) and Steve & I teasing him a bit about being from Wisconsin. One thing led to another and I ended up promising to send him $50 if he would send me a video of him joining the polar bear club. He needed a laugh or two after a busy time, and besides, it would be worth $50 if he does it - ask him if you see him.