I had a sensational time at Eat Drink Blog 2014 a couple of weeks ago (gosh, was it that long ago?). In lieu of a full on wrap-up which has been done so well here, here and here, I wanted to touch on an issue that came up a few times over the course of the weekend (and even in the lead up).
The question on everyone’s lips post-conference was: Should Eat Drink Blog become a paid conference?
It became clear in the lead up to the conference that sponsorship was not going to be easy to secure for this year’s conference organisers. As I understand it there were myriad issues with venue sponsors and speakers pulling out, government contracts disappearing and just a generally shitty experience for the organisers who inevitably had to dip into their own pockets to ensure the day could go ahead. The organisers were then faced with the equally shitty job of asking people to make a donation to help cover those costs. I don’t know if they recouped those costs or not but I really hope they have. Equally, if you didn’t donate, I’d love to hear why (you can remain anonymous).
Nevertheless, this is a really shitty situation to find yourself in and, on behalf of the food blogging community, I wanted to say thanks and sorry. Seriously, thank you for taking what must have been a huge burden on board in order to put on our beloved conference that has helped so many bloggers over the years.
Taking on the responsibility of organising the conference is a huge job and at no point in those deliberations should an organiser have to think ‘What happens if we can’t get a sponsor? Do I have enough money to cover this myself? Will delegates chip in to make up the difference?’. Indeed, I don’t believe it has ever been a problem in the past (though I’m happy to be corrected on that).
This leads me to my next thought and that is ‘what happens next year?’. Will people think twice about putting their hands up to organise next year’s conference? I know I would. Further, it brings to mind another question and that is ‘should we be relying on sponsors anyway?’. Sponsorship brings with it a whole host of ethical issues that I’m sure many of us have thought about over the years and it can sometimes change the overall tone of the conference (and not in a good way) when sponsors demand a spot on the program etc.
The question of paid admission to next year’s event was asked at the end of this year’s conference and the general consensus was that most people would be ok with chipping in a few dollars here or there to help cover costs. My immediate reaction is to say ‘OF COURSE!’ but then I start thinking about the complexity of such a decision and I guess I have a few concerns.
Don’t get me wrong, I get that running a free event can be tricky and I understand the argument for it becoming a paid conference. My concern has always been about transparency when it comes to collecting payment for a community-owned event such as this is and I therefore feel there needs to be something more than ‘just a vibe’ governing that. For example, should organisers be able to profit from the event? What happens if there is excess cash? Who gets it? Should it be reinvested or should organisers be able to pocket it, perhaps as compensation for the time they’ve invested? If we’re investing the money, whose bank account does it go into? What happens if there is a misuse of the funds? What about previous organisers who managed it all for free? Are they entitled to compensation?
These are complexities I feel are often overlooked when issues like this are spoken about in an air of goodwill. I get that people have the best of intentions, but things can and do go wrong and ultimately if that means that the conference dies are we ok with that?
In my somewhat limited experience, the second money comes into play everything changes. People do stupid shit when money is involved and so we, as a community, need to be prepared to accept that and do as much as we can to limit that before we jump on in.
I’ve said many times that if there is going to be a fee charged for future events then there needs to be a discussion about the nitty gritties like I’ve mentioned above (and possibly a whole lot more while we’re at it). I know I’ve spoken about the idea of this to many of you already, but I wanted to float the idea more broadly:
Do we need to think about incorporating Eat Drink Blog as a not-for-profit?
While possibly a lot of work, it could go a long way to ensuring some of these unknowns are dealt with before they ever become a ‘thing’.
The way I see it, there are a number of benefits to this idea, the first being accountability, the second, security. It means that if there is money raised through the event that it can be put into a bank account that is overseen by a Treasurer who is accountable to the board. It means that if someone does something stupid there are consequences.
I guess in my mind it also means that financially we can secure the conference as a fixture in our community and potentially look at re-configuring it so that it better caters to the needs of both experienced and beginner bloggers alike.
This is such a broad overview of a complex idea that, I believe, is worth at least chewing over to work out if this is the direction we need to take.
What do you guys think? Is there a need to formalise the running of the conference in some way to ensure its longevity? What would be some of the complexities? Is it possible to address the issues faced by this year’s committee without doing all of this? Love to hear your thoughts.