Based on limited but practical experience I believe chapters typically work hardest to find speakers and sponsors, the latter being the main (often only) way that funds are raised for the chapter. Sometimes the sponsors give cash, sometimes they just provide the food. Many chapters have close to zero cash on hand, in part due to a reluctance to manage (or even have) a checking account or money at all and in part due to not seeing a need for cash. SQLSaturday was designed to be a membership drive and fund raiser, and some chapters do bank (figuratively at least) funds to support chapter operations, and we can think of that as a variation of meeting sponsors. Seminars (“Pre-cons”) that precede SQLSaturday can also be an effective fund raiser.
Do you need funds at all? That’s a good starting point. What are funds used for? Or what could they be used for?
- Providing food for attendees. Nice service, whether it’s pizza or home made tacos like they have at Magic PASS. It means attendees can go direct to the meeting and not have to rush through a meal beforehand (or eat when they get home, 9 pm or later)
- Facility fee. Most chapters find a free place, but sometimes there’s a fee.
- SWAG. Ideally it’s from sponsors, but it’s also nice to have chapter branded items to give away, or at least one prize if nothing showed up from a sponsor
- Speaker gifts. Chapters can’t typically afford to reimburse for expenses, but it’s nice to offer a gas or coffee card, or a chapter polo.
- SQLFamily events. Maybe it’s a death in their family, or even the death of a member, or maybe a wedding or something similar. It’s nice to be able to send a small gift or just a card.
- Support items. Many chapters need a projector and screen, plus signs, a “chapter kit” of stuff for the meeting that includes extension cords, extra mouse and presentation remote, etc
- Banking/accounting fees. If you’re organized enough to have cash there is a cost that goes with keeping track of it
- Deposits/liquidity towards the next SQLSaturday. Not all events get free space and if it’s not free, it may require a deposit. Even without a deposit it requires a personal commitment, it’s nice to have that amount of cash on hand to remove the stress (not everyone is able to guarantee a $1000+ commitment personally)
- Guarantee speaker travel costs for a seminar. Here in Orlando we guarantee travel/hotel costs, then we take all the costs off the top and split with the speaker. We typically plan for about $800 in travel expenses. It’s nice to have that on hand (and ideally more because there is almost always a facility cost)
There are probably more than that, but you get the idea.
There are typically two funding models. Many chapters use a hybrid
- Funds for each meeting come from a sponsor in cash or equivalent.
- Funds raised once a year at SQLSaturday (and seminars)
It’s worth noting that it’s not uncommon for the chapter leader/team to pay out of pocket for food/expenses because they didn’t have time to find a sponsor.
It’s entirely possible to run a chapter without ever touching cash or having a sponsor. I think it’s limiting, but it’s possible. If that’s your choice, I’m good with that. The goal is, after all, to connect/share/learn. However you get there! If you’ve decided to solicit funds in some way, it makes sense to think about what services you want to provide and how much of a cushion you need beyond that. Having three to six months operating expenses on hand reduces the stress (for a 10 attendee chapter, that’s perhaps $600 – $800). You can lower that number, or raise it, depending on what you want to do. Maybe you’re trying to save enough money to cover your seminar expenses at the next SQLSaturday. Maybe you need a new projector. Make the list, check it twice, and then match that against your ability to raise funds!
I like that most chapters provide food at no cost, but I also think that most of us would pay a $7.50 to $10 fee for a simple meal (Jason’s Deli, Boston Market, something easy to procure and manage). It’s worked at SQLSaturday. Most pay, some bring their own, it works. I’m not at all suggesting a fee for attending. The meeting itself should be free. It’s a model I haven’t used much, but one worth trying if you’re struggling.
It’s all too easy (we’ve done it here in Orlando a time or two) to spend more than is really needed on SQLSaturday because we had a really good fund raising effort. The best way to avoid that is to figure out what you want to raise for your chapter and get that number into the budget, and then think about what to do if you exceed that goal plus what you need for your core SQLSaturday services. Maybe it’s a 50/50 split between SQLSaturday extra’s and adding more to the chapter fund, maybe something different.
Here’s a different example that came up this week. Both Orlando chapters have some funds in the bank from the most recent SQLSaturday. Should they use those funds for a holiday party? I like holiday parties. Free is always nice. Is it the best way to use those funds? It’s far from the worst! Somewhere between excess (not common) and penny pinching (more common due to the lack of pennies) there is a balance. I’m disinclined to argue about a free holiday party as long as other needs are being met.
Here’s a different idea. If we had, say, $2000 in the bank, we could pay a “big name” speaker $1000 plus expenses to do an all day presentation for our members, for free. Could we charge for it? Sure. Or would we do more good by giving it away, or only charging a lunch fee ala SQLSaturday? Could we get sponsor to pay $2000 to be the sole sponsor for the one day event? Could we do that 4 times a year? What would that do for the local community?
My goal in all of this is not to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Chapters should be fun, because they are certainly a lot of work. Just think about what you spend and how you raise funds, and decide if you could/should/want to do more, or less, and why. Think about the benefit of “just” doing the once a year fund raiser vs struggling for pizza money every month. What could you do if you had more cash on hand?