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The ROI of SQLSaturday for PASS & Decreased Event Funding

Returning to the post about Making SQSaturday Sustainable (see also a follow post  about addressing concerns) it mentioned two topics that I wanted to look at more; the ROI for PASS and the decrease in funding to events.

For the past few years the standard has been for PASS to sponsor each SQLSaturday at a mid-level amount, typically $500. The post reduces that to $250 and seems to say it will be only for events that need it and/or first time events. I’ve always considered that sponsorship an important part of the formula. Holding a SQLSaturday isn’t a requirement for a Chapter and it’s certainly a lot of effort. Contributing funds whether needed or not is a way to incent Chapters to hold an event. It was a part of the legal dance that sets up these events as separate entities, done so that any agreement signed by a local leader isn’t in any way binding on PASS. Providing funds made PASS a sponsor and gave them a fair (I’m not a lawyer) way to interact with attendees and to gather names. The game has changed somewhat since the beginning as attendees are automatically added to the PASS membership list (they can obviously then opt back out if they want). This leads to my first question about the change: if PASS doesn’t provide cash, do they expect an automatic sponsorship and at what level? If so, is that unfair?

Let’s say we have 120 events a year at $500 each. $60,000 out of an $8 million dollar budget. That’s noise, about 1% of the budget. To be fair that is in addition to the cost of having an evangelist on staff and supporting the SQLSaturday website and any revisions needed.  I question that we need to reduce the spend in this area. If we doubled the number of events as I hope we do, it’s still a trivial number in the scope of the budget.

Now the flip side is that many events don’t need the $500. Most accept the funds – we do here in Orlando – and use it in some way to further local goals, but most years we would survive just fine without it. I’m not opposed to giving more money for first time events as a way to get them going.  I don’t mind spending differently, I mind spending less. Off the cuff, what if we said:

  • First time events get a guaranteed $500 sponsorship, plus  a dollar for dollar match up to $1000 in collected local sponsorship fees (excluding the $500 from PASS of course). I think few of us have really worked on the local sponsorship angle and that’s something we should incent.
  • Repeat events (to keep this simple) can opt-in for the $250 sponsorship if they need it. If they don’t, then that money goes to some kind of rollover fund, not back into the general budget. I suppose we could make this a rule based on the budget – make events automatically ineligible if they collect more than $5k or $10k, but I suspect if the money went to a good purpose (see my last bullet point) events would cheerfully forego the funds
  • Events that repeat five years in a row get a bonus contribution of $1000. This would reward sustained effort and be a more substantial chunk of cash when received. I think that supports the goals of PASS.
  • I’d also like to see PASS give SQLSaturday speakers a gift for speaking at some number of events on a sliding scale. Maybe it’s a $100 or equivalent for speaking at 25 events (goal #1), $250 or equivalent for speaking at 100 events (goal #2), etc.

Those are ideas, I’m open to a different approach, but I think it’s important that PASS put money into SQLSaturday. Not discounts to Summit, not something that only benefits one person, but real cash. If that cost grows because we’re successful, well, then we’re down to talking about the ROI.

What is the ROI for PASS? Not just for sponsoring the events, but having them at all –  sponsorship, web site, staff? It adds up to I’m a guessing a $300k-$400k total annual expense. Not trivial if so. The simplistic way to look at it is to measure how many new members generated from SQLSaturday eventually attend the Summit. In sales terms, how many conversions? I haven’t see the number, but I bet it’s not large. Free and local is easy compared to $1500+ for registration and $1000+ for travel. If we guess that the “profit” on a Summit registration is $1000 (it’s probably less) we would need to generate 400 new registrations for Summit each year – an unrealistic goal.  Of course that doesn’t count the advertising value or  the sense of PASS being a successful community that might eventually lead them or a colleague to attend the Summit. Or we could measure success as new members (new email addresses!). A useful measure, but one that is going to decline somewhat year over year as the event organizers gradually reach most of the local potential attendees.  None of that is bad, but it can’t be all – not for organization that is supposed to be grass roots.

I’d like to see those numbers – how are we doing about converting SQLSaturday attendees to going to paid events? Or to chapter meetings? Are Chapters more or less effective at driving paid registrations? We should look at the per event. What could we locally do to improve those numbers?

There are other measures we could use – one is cost per hour of technical training delivered. I’d like to see someone work on those numbers.

PASS does what a not-for-profit type business should do – it has an annual fundraiser (the Summit) and then uses any “profit” from the fund raiser to do do good for it’s intended cause, in ways large and small. It’s incredibly important to not just be all Summit all the time. We have to make investments/out right spend to support various efforts that do good. I’m a fan of spending on things that benefit many such as improvements to the tools, but that only goes so far – you can’t buy the pizza with web tools. PASS can’t just pay for everything everywhere, it’s not scalable. It can use the available funds in ways to incent behaviors and try new things. SQLSaturday is in turn a membership drive (that benefits PASS too) and a fund raiser, and then any “profit” from that can then be used to do more good. Maybe it’s a free pre-con, or giving a speaker that comes in from out of town a gas card or a good meal, or just buying the pizza for the chapter when the sponsor falls through. If we’re going to talk about whether every SQLSaturday team spends it’s funds in the best possible way then we should have the same conversation about how PASS spends it’s money.

I can see trying to make better use of the funds PASS has, and I think my suggestions above are just a variation of what they are trying to do. That might be the right thing to do. I think it merits discussion with the event teams along with wider member input before a final decision. I think it’s equally important to say we want to reduce spend here and increase spend there. If we’re just reducing the spend, blah. If we’re going to do something better with it, I’m very interested.

I’ll close with this – I’m frustrated that decisions are being made without hearing from those affected, or at least appear to be. How would asking for input hurt? At the least it might mean that the final message of change makes a better case for why the change is being made.

SQLAndy

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.

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