PASS, C&C and Financials

  • Comments, questions, discussion about the PASS organization structure and their relationship with the management company, C&C. The cost, value, etc. for the cost of the services provided.


  • I'd like to see a few people dig into the financial reports and try to determine what we think here. I have no idea of the size of C&C, but I do know I've leaned on various people to get things done.

    At the same time, I question the IT budget, especially in line with the costs of contracted services, the importance and reach of SQL Sat, etc.

    This cost isn't insignificant, but I do think that the 1:1 relationship with PASS and C&C means they de facto employees. They either should be or we should not assume we provide all their revenue. I have no idea how to change this, or what the effort would be to change to a new company, but with the next live Summit being > 1 year, now is the time to think about moving.

  • Well, nothing beats a very thorough financial analysis made by Steph Locke few years ago -

  • In order to run a 330,000 member organization that does all the stuff we do, we have to have a management company. About 12 years ago we were with one of the large management companies. The service was awful and extremely expensive. So, we went with a smaller, boutique organization, Christianson & Company. They are a for-profit organization. I literally have no problem with that. I also work for a for-profit organization. They make a profit off our organization. Same as the other management company. Same as many, many other not-for profit organizations do. We're not unique in this relationship. It's very common.

    Currently, the PASS organization currently has 94% of our income from a single source, Summit. The Board and C&C have been working on changing that and expanding our sources of revenue. Sadly, Covid hit us extremely hard. See, our income from that one source is distributed across the year. We make money all year long from registrations and then there's a big bang in the last two weeks before the event. Registrations disappeared with the lock-downs. We had no income. Now, we have reserves. We go through an audit each year with a third party auditing organization, and they assured us that we had the right size reserves for a not-for-profit organization. Also, by the way, our annual audit, with a 3rd party agency (and yes, all this is published on the web site, you can look it up), also checks on how much profit C&C is making. It's all very within standard norms. We, and they, pass the audit every year (so far, we'll see what it looks like this year). We were facing using up all our reserves.

    C&C decided, all on their own, to take pay cuts rather than burn through our reserves. They keep the lights on at PASS year round. Now, they are literally saving the organization. If we were still with the monster management company, I'm pretty sure we'd be out of business, either right now, or shortly. I think they're heroes.

    Not only have they managed to get us out of our live event in Houston with as minimal a set of losses as possible, but they're switching us over to a virtual event that's going to be as close to a Summit experience as we can make it. At the same time, they've helped switch us to virtual SQLSaturday events, kept up all the advertising, online meetings, more and more. They meet 8-15 times a week with Microsoft to help get us maintain the relationship there.

    And they're doing it all for less money.

    We can certainly discuss what, how, where, when we do things with the management company. And yes, we MUST diversify our income. But I have to stand by C&C and very vocally let you know that they are doing our organization a great service and, maybe I'm alone, I truly appreciate it.

    "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood"
    - Theodore Roosevelt

    Author of:
    SQL Server Execution Plans
    SQL Server Query Performance Tuning

  • The problem was never in hiring a management agency: It was failing to hire an Execute Manager who reported solely to the Board and kept costs and profitability in-check so a group of community volunteers didn't have to. Today PASS has an Executive Manager whose financial motive is to bill as much money to PASS as possible. Whether that person is nice or believes in the community is beside the point. This is exactly why the Summit is 94% of PASS's revenue, and why it has no reserves or creative expertise on how to weather the 2020 storm.

    What does the C&C contract look like? Is it on a yearly renewal? Do they get paid by the hour? By the project? By the employee? You say they've cut staff. That's a start, but any company is going to cut staff when they have fewer billables. That's how a services business works. Not once in 12 years has the C&C contract come up for review (that anyone knows of).  Now PASS is going through a tough time because of its inability to diversify its revenue streams and add value beyond a conference. This isn't a failure of the Board. It's fundamentally an organizational structure issue. A group of volunteers should not be on the hook to go toe-to-toe with a management company whose expertise they have simply outgrown. Yet here we are. I don't envy the current Executive for the decisions they'll have to make this year, but if there was ever a time to make them . . . .

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 12 months ago by  SQLGroupie.
  • With all of the concerns over C&C, I think maybe the following would help - at least IMO, because I don't know enough to really point fingers in any specific direction.  Also I was involved with a few non-profit groups and we had to have an external audit every year as well as do reviews of vendors we worked with, so....

    comprehensive list of what we expect C&C to accomplish each year

    Breakdown of C&C employees and what tasks each accomplishes

    How many hours a week each employee spends on PASS-related work

    Breakdown of cost per task (can we do without some of this stuff?)

    Also, I think a regular review of management companies would be a good idea, maybe every two years. Even if it turns up that we're with the right company, this is something that should happen fairly often.  And, as a few folks have pointed out - a chance to fix sins of the past. The only thing that is consistent about any company I've ever known is that they change. Leadership, employees, etc. A company can look very different in the space of 12 months.

  • Personally, I don't want to look back. I have no idea whether C&C gives value for the charges they bill, and it's a sunk cost.


    What I don't quite know how to evaluate or even express is what should the future of PASS be. If we sit and look at exactly what the org does, and what needs a management company, we can start to debate how to move forward.

    For me, I think PASS does this:

    • Runs a large conference, and does it pretty well. I think lots of room for improvement here, and better choices on the event.
    • Supports SQL Saturday, though I would argue the rules, restrictions, and overhead they create cause work that is not necessarily something I think they need to do. To me, this could cost less, require less effort, and also be smoother for organizers.
    • support UGs (physical and virtual) -  I don't know what goes on here, but I'd like to know. Really, I question that this is much effort, or really, much benefit for some groups. Maybe few, maybe most, but I'd like to hear from chapter leaders about this.
    • Work with MS - I don't know how much value this really provides, v the cost in resources, v the support from MS. Honestly, I just don't know how much value I place on this, especially given how MS supports other events, often those that are completely part time volunteer driven.
    • What else? I seriously don't know what else PASS does, or what I want them to do. The latter is slightly more disturbing to me.


    Given this, it really feels like the org exists to run a conference and support C&C. This isn't completely C&Cs fault, and likely some sort of management company is needed if we continue the org, but I don't know if that purpose is still there, what we change, and what level of resources we want to continue here.

  • I still think you need an executive manager whose job it is to decide these things, allocate resources, hire external resources, and make sure the organization is healthy and aligned to its purpose.

  • Given this, it really feels like the org exists to run a conference and support C&C. This isn't completely C&Cs fault, and likely some sort of management company is needed if we continue the org, but I don't know if that purpose is still there, what we change, and what level of resources we want to continue here.

    This rings very true to me.

    At a previous company I worked at, we were having some struggles with the marketing company that ran our website, helped us blog, created other collateral. They tried to be strategic and recommend a direction for how things should work, I'm sure based on something they read. But it felt like they were a bit tone deaf. We would tell them who we are and what we want and they would say "I know, but..." and suggest we do something that was clearly not aligned with our goals. One of my smart coworkers had us go through an exercise (we used Excel, but it could easily be turned into a survey) where we listed the activities we we wanted help with. We then used a 1 - 10 scale to rate both the level of skill/effectiveness we needed in that area and the level of skill/effectiveness the marketing company was providing in that area. I know the rating is a little squishy, but it was really helpful for us to determine what needs weren't being met and whether we thought that company could change to help us meet them. I liked it because it acknowledged that a company can't be great at everything, and that there were some areas that were simply less important to us.

    It looked something like this (I just made up the tasks, names and numbers, so don't get caught up on that). Rating Matrix

    I would love to see the board and the community be able to give feedback in a similar manner.

    Edit: But spend a lot of time on the Level Needed part. I'm not interested in rehashing the past and assigning blame. I want to talk about what we want to be going forward.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 12 months ago by  Meagan Longoria. Reason: added last sentence
  • Steve - I'd like to touch on your point of:

    support UGs (physical and virtual) -  I don't know what goes on here, but I'd like to know. Really, I question that this is much effort, or really, much benefit for some groups. Maybe few, maybe most, but I'd like to hear from chapter leaders about this.

    For me, as a former UG leader, the biggest thing they did was offer an easy to use platform for building up a website that had a nice uniform look across all UG's.  That was the biggest benefit they had for my group when it ran.  I found my regional mentor was  a lot more help than PASS for meeting more of the community and experts as well as helping with speakers.

    That being said, Twitter works well for finding speakers or even just reaching out to any of the experts.  And finding an expert is fairly easy to do - ask on SSC/Twitter and wait for the recommendations.  The SQL Community as a whole is really good at coming up with presentations and providing content for free to the user groups! And setting up a website is not that complicated to do and sometimes just posting a link on twitter to the RSVP link (meetup for example) is all you need to get people interested.

    The above is all just my opinion on what you should do. 
    As with all advice you find on a random internet forum - you shouldn't blindly follow it.  Always test on a test server to see if there is negative side effects before making changes to live!
    I recommend you NEVER run "random code" you found online on any system you care about UNLESS you understand and can verify the code OR you don't care if the code trashes your system.

  • I can't speak to what they do for chapters. I asked at a few of the PASS Summit Board Q&As, but vague answers that had me still unsure of what.

    Honestly, I don't quite know what to think without more transparency on specifics, like this. What items have happened, how often, for whom.

  • What I get by way of running a chapter - association with other ug leads and a brand name that is known mostly. And in most places sql saturdays are also run by the user groups so that is sort of a nice tie in that you get. That tie in allows you to let people say they can speak at ug and then graduate to a bigger event and then perhaps the summit - like offer them a path although you have no real control over how than will pan out technically.  You can also explain other volunteering opportunites for them and enable their efforts to be an MVP, if they choose to. I know several who have. So basically, like Grant was explaining on another thread, the tie in to so many things that is fairly hard to do as a standalone user group, although you can do it. I am very much on the fence about if or not the affiliation to PASS for a user group actually continues to mean something to chapter leads as well as attendees. It is a lot of thin threads to pull together and seems like something, but also otherwise.

  • I blogged on this topic here

    There's a lot to dig into, but the first step is to analyse the data in a way that doesn't bring bias or values to the table. It's easy for people to try and swing an analysis by throwing numbers around and claiming it meets their hypothesis but it has to be done in a dispassionate way as Financial statements should be approached.

  • Thanks for the write up, Jen. It was good to see some of the ratios, as I hadn't thought about those in terms of solubility.


  • IMHO here is what PASS does for an on-going Local User Groups and SQL Saturdays

    Local User Group:

    • provides a web site under a subdomain of
    • sends a monthly PPT with PASS Community news
    • sends a promo code for PASS Summit 3-8 months before PASS Summit

    SQL Saturday:

    • provides access to website
    • reserves and schedules the event
    • creates a new event page
    • creates a logo with a unique number
    • creates a new event email distribution list

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic. Login to reply