Eat Drink Blog 2014 – Should next year’s conference be a paid one?

Eat Drink Blog 2014 | she cooks, she gardens

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.

12 Comments

  • I’ve never yet attended Eat Drink Blog, but have been interested in it – circumstances outside my control have meant that the timing has never been right yet!

    As someone who has organised conferences in a work context in the past, my vote would be set up a separate NFP entity (it’s easy enough to do) for the express purpose of managing EDB and its financial accounts. Organisers should not have to cover costs out of their own pocket.

    You would still seek sponsorship for the conference to cover most costs, but also charge a fee for attendance – something nominal that would cover most of the cost of venue/food over the two days – maybe $100-$150? I think most people would be happy to pay that.

    • Erin B says:

      Thanks Amanda, great comment and I’m pleased to hear that my NFP suggestion was in the ballpark. The donation amount for this year’s conference was $20, so hardly an unreasonable amount given that I don’t think I could have eaten a single meal (let alone several ++) for that amount. It will be interesting to see what comes of it, hopefully something can be worked out.

  • cbrfoodie says:

    I haven’t been to EDB before but would love to attend the next event if work/life balance allowed it. My feedback is based on experience in working in and with several volunteer-based organisations. I think it’s a good idea to tighten up the administration and incorporating EDB if it means that it will (as it should) attract more sponsorship in the future. A reasonable attendance charge will also make participants (and sponsors) take it more seriously and reduce the financial risk for the organisers. The challenge will be to find a balance between the spontaneity, innovation and creativity derived from a more amateur event with the order and long-term stability derived from clearer, more professional rules and better administration.

    • Erin B says:

      Thanks Cbrfoodie, some great advice and I’m pleased to hear I’m on the right track with the incorporation stuff. I agree that there is definitely a challenge in getting the balance right, I’d like to think that it is possible to achieve it though.

  • Alex says:

    I agree with Amanda above. I’ve never been to a conference where you haven’t had to pay. Everything I’ve ever been involved with organising has demonstrated that charging a fee (from $10-20 upwards) gives you the bonus of ensuring that people do mostly turn up. I have no problem with sponsorship – it’s clear that company A, B or C is a sponsor and, to be honest, sponsors can bring something to the party that is very hard for ticket price/conference fees to cover – especially in terms of potentially money-can’t-buy experiences.

    I will be attending (for the second time) a wine blogging conference that is run by a small company (the first conference was organised by three people who are the main three people who have organised every conference since), is very community driven and usually has very shiny sponsors. This means that for an incredibly small outlay on my part I get to participate in some absolutely amazing experiences. I think sponsors are really vita.

    • Erin B says:

      Great comment, Alex. It shows that it is possible to find the right balance and I really hope that the blogging community can get this sorted. I’d hate to think next year’s organisers find themselves in the situation that this organisers did, or worse, nobody is keen to do the hard work and the conference goes under.

  • I agree with all you’ve said. I, too, was horrified that the organises funded the venue themselves. I donated $ to help them out and I’d be appalled if I knew that some people may not have donated. I’m torn like you. I’d be happy to pay for future conferences, but not much. For this one, because of air travel and accommodation, the only reason I could justify going was because the conference itself was free. It’s an issue for many bloggers, I think – it’s hard to justify paying for a conference when many of us don’t actually make any money out of blogging.

    • Erin B says:

      Thanks Kate, I’m in the same boat as you as this is a hobby rather a paying job so need to rationalise it accordingly. Hopefully we can get something sorted in time for next year’s event that finds a balance between sustainability for the organisers and affordability for attendees.

  • Did you go to Edibilizing Adelaide, Erin? It was hosted by Ripe Near Me to help along their crowdfunding campaign. The question was asked of the audience whether, on review of what was on offer, they would have been prepared to pay $5 entry. Most hands went up. That said, would have the same hands gone up if asked for $5 prior to the event?

    • Erin B says:

      That’s great, Paul. I wanted to attend that event but had other plans that day and couldn’t make it. It’s true that people often need to experience something in order to realise the value and hard work that goes into putting something like a conference on. It would have been interesting to know if they would have had such a great response if there was an entry fee.

  • It’s taken me days to reply because there is so much to think about here. You’ve really opened up a can of worms, Erin! As previous organisers, you and I have talked a lot about this before and I’ve also blogged my own thoughts about EDB and its future direction on The Hungry Australian previously.

    I could go on for a long time about this but my main thoughts are:

    1) Organising the conference is a huge amount of work.

    2) The money issue is a very complicated one as you have rightly pointed out. I don’t think most people would mind paying some kind of fee to assist with running costs but this should be kept as low as possible to encourage the greatest possible participation.

    3) I support full transparency and disclosure regarding all conference organisation, especially regarding sponsorship. I feel clearly stated and freely available guidelines re what the conference is seeking and offered benefits and clear deadlines regarding sponsorship applications could be helpful.

    4) I would like to see edb continue year after year as i think it is a worthwhile and valuable event. i would be happy to have further discussions about this if this was helpful or desired.

Leave a comment. Tell me what you think.