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PASS Update #16

A one topic post this time. As a candidate for Vice President of Marketing for PASS this year I asked to submit ‘a written statement about your strategic vision for PASS’. By the time you read this the interviews will be complete, so I thought I would share with you what I provided to the officer nomination committee to meet that request. In my experience strategy involves a bit of dreaming, trying to think a couple steps beyond that seems immediately possible. Smaller dreams are easier and quicker to achieve, larger ones have the chance of really transforming something once everyone seizes the vision. Of course, it’s often hard to tell whether you’re dreaming small, big, or undoable…until after the fact!

More pragmatically, I think you could also call this my ‘fix PASS’ list. Aside from the sturdy growth goals for membership and Summit attendance, if we could do the rest today – I’d be thrilled and proud of the change.

Let me know what you think.



Strategic Vision for PASS by Andy Warren

I spent some time thinking about what my vision for PASS is and writing down some goals related to that, at the end of that process I saw I focused on three key areas:

  • Governance
  • Sustainability
  • Membership growth worldwide

I think those are good areas to focus on, but in practice they are too high level to be useful, so I’ve included the more specific goals I had in mind, all written with the view of what I think PASS should look like in 2014:

  • Directors spending 80%+ of their time on governance, spending tactical time on problem areas or new projects only
  • Full time staff and executive director employed by PASS rather than a management company, and a succession plan in place for the Executive Director
  • Membership of 250,000. Membership defined as having a deliverable email address on file
  • Solid system for growing and measuring new speakers and authors to insure that the Summit stays vibrant and relevant
  • PASS Summit defined equally as learning and networking, attendance of 4000 paid members annually, and a virtual attendance option
  • PASS cash reserves increased to 1.5 million
  • PASS presence at 200+ local and regional events annually
  • PASS Summit rotated in a three year cycle from east coast to mid west to west coast, making it accessible with limited travel to all of our members once in three years, and providing a fresh venue for those wishing to combine the event with a vacation
  • Officers elected directly from sitting board of directors for a two year term, eliminating both the officer nomination committee and the quasi official process of holding each officer position for two years on the path to President
  • A culture of transparency, where the default is to share with the members
  • Chapters monitored and incented to grow, and a process for encouraging turn over in chapter leaders every 3-5 years
  • Marketing efforts increased and diversified to put more emphasis on non-Summit related activities
  • Increase in the PASS Europe Summit to 750 attendees and new Summits in India and Australia
  • PASS program for certifying training for the purpose of earning continuing education credits and for certifying members for having maintained their education each year
  • A PASS Hall of Fame that recognizes 2-3 people each year for long term and substantial contributions to the SQL Server community/product
  • A strong but equal player in the eco-system of SQL Server online communities, with a well understood mission of focusing on people, relationships, and career growth
  • Potentially a multiple language/culture presence, but there is a lot of work to be done to see if that is relevant and sustainable – we should at least well understand the possibilities in each area by the end of five years
  • A solid IT infrastructure that supports the mission of PASS across the board; conference registration, conference planning, virtual events, bulk email to members, membership management, etc
  • Reliance on volunteers only for tasks that require SQL Server knowledge, or for which clearly is appropriate for members to own the tasks rather than HQ


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by jeremiah.peschka on 22 October 2009

I like the ideas for growing membership, marketing effectively, and having more cash in the bank, but there are two things that bug me in particular.

A membership list of 250,000 email addresses doesn't do a lot if only 5% of those people participate at the local level and only 5% of *those* people participate at the international level. As far as metrics go, I'd love to see something more meaningful than just a raw figure of email addresses.

I also don't see how the burden of employing and managing people our own event staff is helpful to PASS. It's sort of like owning your own building - why incur the cost and liability when you can rent and make someone else deal with it. If PASS, as an organization, directly employs the HQ staff, you're incurring the job benefit costs directly. Not to mention that we're now incurring all kinds of other hidden costs, which are currently rolled into our yearly fees and, no doubt, aggregated over all the current firm's customers. Ultimately, I don't see what problem this is solving.

Posted by jcrawf02 on 22 October 2009

To Jeremiah's first point of measuring participation, apparently only 578 votes were cast total? Mine was not one, since I'm too new a member this year, but I watched the proceedings with interest, and although I know not everyone likes to vote, that number seemed awfully low to me. Curious what other standard you would use for membership, if you based it on participation? Funnel attendance lists of chapter sessions through the PASS site? Measure the number of PASS members who present at PASS events?

Posted by Jack Corbett on 22 October 2009


You make good points.  Although if PASS does grow I think Andy is right that PASS may need to have full-time staff.  Right now, maybe not, but as we grow?

I'm definitely with you on the metrics.  I think PASS should measure success from the bottom up.  More people involved at the local level will naturally lead to more people involved at the national/international level.  I think PASS needs to provide a path for growth in the organization with chapter leaders growing into a regional leadership structure and then to the board level.  There's currently a defined path at the board level, but not to get to the board level.

jcrawf02 (I know I have your real name somewhere),

I can say that voting was up 68% over last year when only Summit attendees were allowed to vote.  The number is still way too low.  We should be shooting for 80%+ of eligible members voting.  I've asked for that number as well for this year's election.  If the raw numbers go up, but the percentage doesn't we still have a problem.

Posted by Jack Corbett on 22 October 2009

Just for perspective, according to Blythe Morrow at the PASS office there were 30,000 eligible members, 1806 completed the survey to be able to vote, and 578 actually voted. That would mean 6% of eligible members opted into the voting process and just under 2% of eligible members actually voted.  I think we need to do better.  

Posted by Andy Warren on 22 October 2009

Jeremiah, right now email address is really the definition of a member. That's an unintended consequence of changing to free memberships (which in turn was to drive higher overall membership). Increasing the mailing list creates more value for sponsors, greater reach for chapters, and potentially more Summit (and similar) attendees. It's also important to have a large list to be able to speak to a large sample of SQL professionals.

Would I like a better definition? Sure, and we can work toward that. The lack of a solid identity causes all kinds of issue around voting.

Posted by Andy Warren on 22 October 2009

Next, on the subject of full time staff - we already have it. We are the sole client of our management company, and we run thin on resources. If you work out what it costs to hire people to manage the Summit vs just hiring them full time, as far as I can tell it's cheaper/more effective to just hire them. The problem I'm referencing in my plan is that all our eggs are in that basket. Ok for now, not good long term.

Note, I'm a huge believer in a small but capable full time staff.

Posted by Andy Warren on 22 October 2009

The problem we have on voting is just like anywhere else, getting voters interested, heck, even making sure they know there is an election. We tried hard to open up the election to a much wider audience this year, and as you can see from the numbers above only partially successful.

I'd love to do better, and have been banging the drum about voting/participating, but it's going to take a lot more work, and even then, for many people the elections just aren't that important.

Posted by Jeremiah Peschka on 22 October 2009

I hear you, just not enough people are voting and we need to find more ways to engage volunteers at every level. I'm looking forward to working with everyone on the board and at HQ to engage the volunteers and build a thriving community.

As far as members go, I feel weird saying that our local chapter has 200 members on the mailing list when I know that only 15 of them regularly attend UG meetings and we get a smattering of the others. We definitely need to find a better way to define "member" than just an email address.

I'm looking forward to having these discussions going forward. It's going to be a fun couple of years :)

Posted by Andy Warren on 23 October 2009

I'd caution against defining members as only attendees. Lots live too far out, or are shy, or make the time/value calculation and only attend when really beneficial for them. It's not the same 15 each time that attend.

I think of it just like catalog wish books. I subscribe to a few and do look at them, but only order here and there. If they didn't contact me, maybe I wouldn't order/participate. Same on any daily newsletter from your favorite SQL site - not all get read on any given day.

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