PodCamp Lessons Learned : FundraisingSeptember 17, 2006
Money is the lifeblood of conferences, just as it is for any business. Here’s some of the things that I learned as the money guy for PodCamp Boston.
1. Establish a value proposition early on. Initially, we had just what we’d taken away from BarCamp, which was establishment of goodwill and branding to technology geeks. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to take that to the bank, and as both organizer and corporate sponsor, I wanted more. So the organizers started to think about what we could offer sponsors to take a risk on an inaugural event. What’d we come up with?
* Branding is still important.
* Make sure you give LOTS of link love to sponsors. People underestimate the value of link text in search engine optimization – a well trafficked, established site that promotes a sponsor’s link text is exceptionally valuable.
* UnExpo. This was by far the most controversial idea of all initially. A LOT of people hated it at first glance, asking what would then separate an xCamp from a regular conference. It turned out pretty well, all things considered. In my mind, I believe that there’s a balance between grassroots “damn the Man” activism and crass commercialism. I think you can have a nice mix of both, to give sponsors the opportunity to show things they legitimately believe would be of interest to podcasters.
* Extras. As we started to explore new ways of getting the word out about PodCamp, we kept building new avenues of value for sponsors. We’re still rolling out content on the feed, and interspersing it with sponsors’ promos. The DVD that we’re going to be releasing will have sponsors named on it as well.
2. Find your verticals. Initially, we started asking around for sponsors, and found that the scattered, “hey let’s ask X” approach worked pitifully poorly. We refocused our search and came up with four approaches that worked well.
* If a company has Pod* in its name, ask.
* If a company has i* in its name, ask.
* Figure out who is most likely to be interested in learning about new media, then go out and grab an industry directory and raid it. I used the Boston Business Journal’s Book of Lists, and went after Boston’s top 25 advertising and startup companies. The advertising companies came through the most – KMC Partners, Aloft Group, and Porter Novelli, among others.
* Raid other directories. Take a look at who’s sponsoring BarCamps and the PME and other podcasting gatherings. Ask.
3. Determine what to ask. We started out initially asking for $200, because that seemed to be a reasonably low number to ask for. I found out later on that asking too low actually seemed unattractive, as if the event was smaller than it sounded. Ask high to start, and scale down when possible. Maybe $1K to start?
4. Highball the crap out of your budget. I’ll be honest – my initial estimates for the costs of PodCamp were off by quite a bit. Happily, I’d built in a LOT of fudge factor in cost estimates, so we weren’t that far off from the $9K I’d roughly guesstimated at the outset. Highball everything so you have some buffer, and then you’ll be able to cover the unexpected stuff.
5. Never, ever use Name Badge Productions dot com for anything. I’m STILL waiting for the shipment of name badges and lanyards for PodCamp Boston – and I ordered on August 28. They officially suck, and I will never, ever do business with them again. Memo to self: challenge the charge on the Amex.
6. Feed the wiki ledger from Excel. I set up my private ledger in Excel to auto-create the wiki markup from the spreadsheet. This was a HUGE timesaver, and also kept the ledger clean – if someone had monkeyed around with it, the privaate spreadsheet’s update wiped out the changes. Also, having a private spreadsheet lets you have the flexibility of anonymous donors.
7. Publish the wiki ledger. Transparency is important, and nowhere is transparency more important than when it comes to money. Even if you’re running a surplus, keep the ledger open, because you can be hit with surprise charges at any time, and it’s good to show people how their money is being managed. Be detailed in its usage.
Christopher S. Penn, PodCamp Boston Money Guy