How Two PASS Chapters Join Forces to Run One SQLSaturday In Orlando

We’re lucky enough to have two PASS chapters here in Orlando, oPASS and MagicPASS. Both in Orlando, but about 40 miles apart, Orlando being the metro sprawl area that it is. Back when we nervously made the decision to launch MagicPASS we also talked through the implications for SQLSaturday and came up with a common sense plan – the groups would rotate the “lead” position each year, but both groups would be on the event team each year. So far it’s always been whoever the Chapter leader was, but it doesn’t have to be. The chapter could appoint someone else, though it would need to be someone that the entire event team was confident could take on the role effectively. It a simple system and has worked well. This year is the first time we’ve changed it (sort of), swapping the schedule around so that oPASS would lead two years in a row, a decision made when we knew Kendal (MagicPASS) was changing jobs and wasn’t sure about the workload or potential restrictions on participation at the new job. The rest of the core team varies from year to year a little bit, but it’s always the ones that are willing to put in a lot of extra time to make something good happen. Looking back I think we’ve done ok at growing and encouraging people to that level, but I wish we could do a little more, or do it a little better. It’s not just about volunteers for this year, it’s making sure we have a pipeline to support the event for years to come. That minor quibble aside, the people side of this just works. That’s not unexpected given the people involved, but it’s nice to be able to say it nonetheless.

Each year we each make known what area we’d like to focus on (marketing, sponsors, etc) and try to signal how much time/energy we have. We then figure out a way to get everyone doing something they want to do, or at least don’t hate! The time/energy thing is harder. Everyone wants to do their part and more, but it’s usually the ones that are swamped the most that are worst at signaling they might struggle for time. That’s not meant as criticism, it’s a core part of working with volunteers. We all start with time blocked and good intentions, but in practice life often conspires to use up that blocked time and energy in unexpected ways. We do a bi-weekly or weekly call which keeps things moving and reminds us all that we commitments. If we see something lagging we will nudge some and if that doesn’t help we take it offline to work on cross leveling the load. I can’t say we’re great at that, it’s always a little awkward calling a peer and a friend for that discussion. Care is called for and exercised, and I think the result is that whoever was behind is quietly relieved to get the help. Again, I’m not criticizing our team here. I’ve certainly had years where I was the one not keeping up. The most important thing we can tell a volunteer is this – if you fall behind or need help, ask early and keep asking. Getting the task done is what matters, not that it might tweak our pride a little to say that we can’t do as much as we promised.

The last part of this is the money. Whoever leads the event gets the funds and pays the bills based on the decisions we’ve made as a group (which speaker gift, that kind of thing). Once the event is done if we’ve exceeded our goal we’ll reimburse for minor incidental expenses (mileage, a group meal maybe, and sometimes a hotel room), something that might add up to a few hundred bucks a year. The important part is that the “profit” is divided evenly between the two groups as the final step. Each group can use that as they wish to support Chapter operations through the year. It’s a way to make sure the chapter leader isn’t paying for food at the meetings out of pocket and to acquire some nice to haves like a projector or screen. We try to build a fund raising goal for SQLSaturday with that in mind. We want to run a reasonable event, take care of our sponsors and attendees and speakers, and put a little bit into the coffers of each group. I’m not sure what the number was last year, but I’d say we try to put about $2k into each Chapter at the end of the event. We also use those extra funds to cover up front costs and to cover us in case we lose money on a pre-con (we guarantee the speakers travel costs and we have to pay for the meeting room). If you winced at hearing the word profit, or just disagree with the idea that a free event might make a profit, I’ll remind you that the two of the big goals of the event format are to raise funds and to grow the membership, both in support of the Chapter that is hosting the event. It’s no different than having a pancake breakfast or a carnival to support a local cause. Training our members is job one and the money goal comes after, but most years we do both and I think we do both in a way that is open and fair.

I’m not saying we do it all perfectly, or that we get it all right, but it’s a system that has worked out well for us. All common sense in my view, but it’s nice – even important – to work it out, especially if you have multiple chapters in the same city.