Paying for events?

(Benjamin Kampmann) #1

Hello OTS Community,

I want to open a sensitive subject today: Paying for Events. I know this isn’t an easy subject within the OpenTechSchool Family, but please bear with me and assume I have the best at my heart, when I bring this up.

Already back in March, during the Community Call 15.3, some of us were discussing whether or not the OpenTechSchool can cost money or not – heck, for many this is a topic since they joined the movement. Today I’d like to open its discussion and include the wider audience, not based on an ideological stand-point (“Things should never cost anything”), but from a pragmatical stand point: money as a tool in our toolbelt, to be used to full fill the goal our values of tech education defined.

Because we have a few problems. And though this runs deeper and might be allowed to be a discussion way beyond this specifics, I want to postpone that discussion for a different day and focus on the issues we have at events. I can – out of the top of my head – come up with the following:

  1. often times, people on the waiting list, but no more seats available
  2. while still having no-show-rates of up 60% (for e.g. in San Francisco or Berlin, where commitment to this isn’t really high)
  3. First-come-first-serve through meetup announcements isn’t anything but fair, or accessible for that matter
  4. space isn’t always free: we’ve been lucky so far, most places we found some community or company hosting us. But that comes with a price: for once, time that people spend searching for a place (other than spending say, 200Eur to book a big room in a restaurant for an afternoon), secondly we limit, where OTS can be run to those places – mostly urban tech hubs.
  5. limited reach because advertising through established channels only – we had exactly 0 people with a Turkish-heritage join us in Berlin so far, although the majority of people in the area we are hosting most of our events are from Turkish-Heritage…
  6. limited attractiveness for participants, compared to other events (ask anyone about BoroughJS or what people expect at a meetup in Nigeria)
  7. and if anyone is serving coffee or cookies, it is out of the budget of the coaches – who are already volunteering their time and now also their money.
  8. limited reputation with participants, but also companies: I mean why would you sponsor such an unprofessional event, that doesn’t even do posters?

What has money to do with that? Well, a lot. For once, if there was some form of budget, we could tackle the points 4 to 8 easily:

  • We could print and post poster, we could offer coffee.
  • We could start paying for space and food, maybe even have people take care of it, and let the coaches focus on coaching.
  • We could give it a more professional look and feel, by giving “officials” and coaches T-Shirts and badges to wear.
  • We could also, just in general, express the OTS identity more, give gimmicks and smaller signs of appreciation to coaches and organisers for their hard work. Give more people a good reason to stick around.

These are just my thoughts on it. I’ve already written a lot to read, and I didn’t even mention the potential usage to support minority groups or as protections fees to lower drop-out-rates, but I gladly come back to those, if we reach a point in the discussion where that makes sense.

I know that especially the OpenTechSchool in Berlin is very keen of the “community” feel of the events. And I by no means want to destroy that. As usual I’d like every team decide on their own, how they want to handle this. And though I’d push for a little more gimmicks and professionalism for events in Berlin, too (personally), I want to have the more general discussion to officially allow paying for events as a tool in the OpenTechSchool toolbelt.

Please, give your opinion here!

(ellen) #2

I am not convinced we are going to solve any of the problems you addressed here by charging a fee for events, at least in Berlin (I cannot speak for any other location, since I don’t know anything about their situation). The only real reason I see for charging money would be to pay for somebody to handle the administrative efforts of OTS, which would e.g. include figuring out promotion channels and managing sponsorship requests. However, this would require a significant regular income stream, which I doubt we can cater for by asking for money for our “unprofessional” community events.

I am just going to randomly pick a few of your enumerated problems:

1 + 2: Charging does not mean people will show up, because upfront charges are “sunk costs” that people won’t recover by attending the workshop. It might convince people to sign up less greedily, but only if the fees are substantial.

5. In order to reach people of different backgrounds, more than money to print ads we would need to figure out which channels would actually reach e.g. learners with a Turkish heritage, and what kind of workshop offers would appeal to them. I am pretty sure there are plenty of free channels we could use (e.g. Turkish community centers) if we only figured out how to access them.

6. Not sure at all what you mean by that

8. We could always ask companies to sponsor posters, t-shirts (or any other kind of advertising). This is what Rails Girls does, for example. Again, this is a question of effort, not one of money per se. And besides, “unprofessional” community user group/meetup events are the norm in Berlin, and coming from a company that sponsors such events on a regular basis, I know that posters or similar merch are not a criterion for sponsoring decisions in this regard.

On the other hand, introducing charges creates a whole new level of problems. @ben, I am sure you are aware of those, but for the wider discussion I am just going to point out the most significant three:

  1. Major reputation damage with coaches, organizers, learners and potential sponsors: It is very easy for us to look like a commercial venture, especially in the very “free event” environment in Berlin. Especially for the first two groups, it would be much harder to justify our volunteering efforts if we start charging for events.
  2. If not handled and accounted for properly, it could endanger our legal non-profit status
  3. It is actually very counter-productive if we want to include marginalized groups, in particularly economically marginalized groups. I am perfectly aware that not all (maybe even not most) of our current learners come from such backgrounds, but we do have them attending events and they would be the most hurt or at the minimum discouraged by charging for events.

(Benjamin Kampmann) #3

Sorry, that wasn’t clear at all.

In Berlin, the attractiveness of the events is good enough for most events (although … no-show-rates…). The style and value proposition OTS offers here is quite common and accepted. At other places, it requires quite an effort to make it to an event, often a fair time of travelling or hassle and then the look out of sitting in front of computers in a random room isn’t that attractive. Sure, some events have people craving for it, that they can’t wait to attend – like the learning groups.

In other places, SF for example, it is general courtesy to offer at least coffee and softdrinks and often times the organisers bring another snack (like self-made cookies, as in Australia). And that sounds trivial, because these are small things, but they say “great, that you came. here have a cookie” and people do remember that. In Nigeria, correct me if I misquote @xMartin here, most learning events are actually sponsored by IBM and other big companies, with free beers and pizza – and the people are used to that. When they came to OTS events, they didn’t understand, why there wasn’t any pizza. Then lastly, I mentioned one Javascript group from Brooklyn – BoroughJS. They are known in the community for offering a great food, when hosting their great events. And with 15USD for a day, that is still incredibly cheap. Here, people are craving to be part of it.

That’s what I mean with attractiveness. How attractive are the events to people, especially when compared to other events in the Area (like Nigeria) or the hassle they have to go through to get there (I understand that might be a problem for OTS_DO, but also in Berlin, when we have a nice sunny day once in a while).

(ellen) #4

Thanks for the clarification. From my standpoint, apart from the BoroughJS case, these issues would be better solved by sponsoring. I don’t see how charging makes events more attractive, when people expect freebies like cookies and softdrinks, they are probably not very inclined to pay for access to these freebies.

Edit: It would be great to hear from the organizers working with these communities on this issue, however. Maybe the situation is indeed that people are willing to pay, but do expect something in return.

I personally like the BoroughJS example, and I could see myself attending such an event (not for JS in particular, but in general). But that is because I can afford to pay extra for more comfort at my meetups and workshops. So I would assume that an event like BoroughJS caters more to established professionals wanting to sharpen up their skills, and less to marginalized members of the community trying to get a foot in the door. And to me, the second group is what OTS is all about.

(Gen Ashley) #5

This is a quick reply and I’m replying after having just woken up, so brain’s still fuzzy :).

When we started London, we made it a point not to get people expecting food / drinks at OTS workshops, by not referring to it. We know it will not be sustainable to provide food / drnks, so never went there. We wanted the attraction to be the opportunity to learn, not free food / drinks.

If the venue is able to provide food / drinks, then that’s fine, but people understand, that’s occasional.

True, funds are needed to run an organization, but if we are to find funds, it should be to cover administrative costs.

I will not be in favour of charging attendees. From experience, that does not guarantee higher attendance numbers.

(Gen Ashley) #6

Marketing costs are part of the admin costs I referred to, just to be clear.

(Benjamin Kampmann) #7

Let me address some of your concerns.

I mentioned

but didn’t go further in detail here. So, essentially, one idea to reduce the drop-out rate, while make it less of a sunk cost, is to offer it as a protection fee: When you sign up, you have to pay amount X as a deposit. IF you show up, you can chose to donate it to OTS (e.V.) or get it back. That way you’d pay for not showing up only. Considering that General Assembly asks for 55£ in London for a three hour afternoon frontal-course intro into HTML/CSS (random example), I think it isn’t too much to ask for a deposit, if someone wants to take a workshop with us to secure their seat (because then others can’t). And all non-shows are directly donations to the local or global OTS.

As per diversity support, we can have a simple policy for that case here, too: non-securable seats, free from deposit fees – we keep X% of seats to be assigned only. Similar to diversity/community tickets at conferences, you can get those seats by sending a message explaining why you deserve those seats to the organisers, who’ll put you on those spots. Doesn’t have to be much, but requires you to take more effort and direct communication than just pressing a button – hence making it much more likely that people actually show, as they now know that the organiser knows them. But the extra effort makes more sense, when people would have to pay otherwise …

Fair enough. I am totally up for having some kind of ploicy how that money, deposits or charges, are too be allocated. And we can say that a certain X% have to go to global operations, while another part stays with the local budget to run the events – as per mentioned posters and flyer for events are always local.

Which requires time. Time that someone needs to spend on doing that. For that we often have the policy of saying, “hey, if you want to do that, yes, let’s go.” But then don’t back them up with anything. Not even flyers to be able to give community centers something into their hands, that they even start talking with them.

If this were easy, why hasn’t it been done?

Just for the record, to organise the Rails Girls Summer of Code I understand they have two-full time paid staff. This is were time becomes money.

But in general, we aren’t the Rails Girls. We don’t have a community of enthusiastic, rich companies advertising their technology behind us. Our tweets aren’t retweeted a couple of hundred times by core-committers to the framework, language and posted on blogs. We don’t have companies lining up, paying for stuff. They do. There is plenty of theorie, how they got there and why they have such a reach today, but that doesn’t matter to the fact that, we are not the same. We do not. We don’t have that reach and when we propose sponsoring to companies, we have a much harder time. Taking that into the account that there is very little time people are able to spend, it is a very clear explanation, on why this hasn’t been done more.

But even if we did, it’d only solve the issues for us here in Berlin. That is not a solution to places like Dortmund or Rhein-Main, where there simply aren’t these types of companies, nor do they have connections to make that happen.

Although I do think that Berlin can improve, I am not talking about trying to solve problems in Berlin, but to offer a tool for solving them everywhere. Leaving it to the local group whether they want to use them or not. At the very least, the global organisation should acknowledge these problems and offer an officially blessed structure to tackle them. Whether the Berlin team uses them, is up for a separate discussion (I think it should!).

(Chiara) #8

@ben What kind of events are you talking about? Co-learning groups? Workshops? Conferences?

I would be in favor of opening for company sponsorship in exchange for letting them do some recruiting/marketing, in case of bigger events. I know it goes against our “way of doing things” but charging for events would even more. I agree with @ellen in that our events are mostly not for people who have a strong economic rationale to attend.

Regarding food - I think the timing of events influences the food expectations. If the event happens during dinner time and is rather short (eg. PyLadies) then people might expect to get something to eat.


  • Does EventBrite allow charitable donations/PWYW? Eg. event is free but we kindly accept donations because the event is costing us xyz €
  • Are there spaces that are not offices that could host events and have Wifi? Being where the people are (eg. popup stores) is a good marketing strategy. Having events in community centers, parishes, etc., could help in making ourselves known to different demographics, and we could suggest them to provide drinks the way co-up does.

(Stefan Wille) #9

@ben One week ago I attended a one day code retreat in Berlin, and the organizers used EventBrite to avoid noshows. On RVSP they charged 15€ through EventBrite. You got them back by canceling your RVSP or showing up. So noshows paid the full 15€, the others were free of charge.

Btw. Wooga sponsored the event with space, drinks and lunch. No hiring attempts at all.

(ellen) #10

Hey Ben,

I understand you want to provide more options to chapters in case they need them. That makes me wonder: Has any chapter ever requested to be able to charge for events? To me, you are the first one who seriously suggested this, and nobody in this thread has spoken up in favor. I think the whole discussion is rather pointless if we are discussing something that does not arise out of the actual needs of any chapter.

You might argue that more options are always better than less options even if nobody uses them right now, but here I would strongly disagree. And that disagreement is why I fundamentally disagree with introducing charging for events as an option. As I see it, OTS already seriously suffers from an unclear, vague mission, and that is at the heart of many problems we have.

Going back to the Rails Girls example, it is very clear to everyone - organizers, sponsors, learners, coaches, journalists, supporters etc. pp. what RG does and stands for. It fills a clear social need, and does that (arguably) reasonably well. Having been a RG organizer myself for over a year, I would claim that clear mission as the single main reason why the organization and network is successful.

Coming back to OTS, I fail to see us have such a clear vision for which social/community problem we are trying to address. And adding more options, especially such controversial options, for chapters to implement dilutes our profile and mission even more. To me personally, it dilutes it to the point where I wonder what OTS is all about at all.

So no, the more I think about your suggestion, the less I like it.



(Caue Rego) #11

There’s one thing I’ve learned from my little participation in this community…

To me it looks like Berlin is a very different city from the rest of the world and lots of people there got a very different mindset about money from anything else I’ve ever seen.

And I completely agree that labeling money as evil and simply dismissing it to avoid problems is way too restrictive for an attempted goal to regulate an education model for the whole world.

(Roman Miletitch) #12

Seems that we’re trying to tackle two different issues. First the no-show, and having money for some purpose. Might be nice to separate both.

Asking for money and then refund might (will?) solve the no show issue while probably adding some issues (some already mentionned, some yet to forsee). While it’s easy to complain about a solution without proposing an alternative, I’m convinced there are other ways to solve this specific issue without involving money. I’ll give some time to think of it, interesting puzzle!

Now about money as itself, yep, pretty awesome tool to have in your belt, I fully agree. I just think one might prefere other ways to get it, more aligned with the community feel. I know the word ‘‘donation’’ comes from a magical land not often intersecting realitiy, but is there already something pushed in this direction?

And about these event beeing seen as unprofesional, I think it’d be more linked with branding. We’re just different kind of event, with different rules and hence taste. Hopefully people enjoy them, resonate with the spirit, and companies (usualy made out of people :stuck_out_tongue: ) will react positively when seeing the events for what they are.


(giorgia) #13

Hey guys, i have a very controversial feeling on this topic, reason why i didn’t say anything yet :slight_smile: But today I had a skype call with the newly Milano chapter to sum up their first 4 session workshop.

In general went very good but they pointed out they have many issues related to money.
There are no free venues in Milan, not even co-wroking/tech related spaces and coaches aren’t interested to give their time for free.
This make me of’course think about if it will be good to raise enough money to cover expencive and if is true that OTs works in Berlin because is so special (as someone already mention).

Some thoughts:

  1. I don’t think Berlin is sooo special. Other cities have similar examples like London, Melbourne,… but is true that some cities aren’t used to do everything for free and will never (or not very soon) change this idea.

  2. Money aren’t so evil! We could actually help much more with some money but my question is: What is then the difference between OTS and all the others groups? And why there are some organizations that can make it without money like RailsGirls? So maybe the point is that without money is more difficult not impossibile!
    But the main poiint here is the same of @ellen, what is really OTS misson? I thought it was be open

  3. Money means more possibilities but also means more problems. For examples the “be professional” one. Honestly is somehting i alreayd have seen (and got feedbacks form learners) with the few our paied projects: If people are going to pay, they want some higher standards! No random coaches that show up when they have time or that we are not sure about their skills = more organization work for us.

  4. I diagree on having money as tool in our belt and every chapter can decided on their own. I can see we will end up with chapters make payed events for 50 euro per person and we will not have control on that at all.
    So, if we want to introduce it, it will be a general and equal “rules” for all OTS. Remember we are try to unify OTS organizations :smile:

Saying that, i still believe that some situation/country required money to run OTS. So what’s the right thing to do? Kick out the countries that aren’t ready for our mentality yet? :smiley: (provocative joke)

My suggestion is: Let’s make some OOO - Object Oriented Organization :slight_smile: Are we IT people, isn’t it? This is to broad topic to discuss all in once, let’s cut in small chuncks and deal with each of them separately.
For examples i think isn’t so necessary to have money to make merchandais, it wil bring us to another level which i don’t want to go, but I do beleive that some chapters need money to pay venues.

(Giorgio M.) #14

Hello Giorgia,

Thank you for the recap of our conversation about the first OTS Milano workshop.

Just to give some details, our first 4 session workshop has been about WebGL, so we were able to find a field specific sponsor willing to cover the venue costs, not on a commercial-base.

The point is that, going forward, we are not so confident to be able to find new sponsors for any initiative we would like to start, that apart, this would require much more involvement and time in organizing.

A personal note, since I heard about OTS, I immediately loved what seemed to me an iconoclastic vision of free, high quality, tech education: peer-learning is without any doubt the future, and we are strongly committed to keeping it free and open as much as possible.

Looking forward to discuss it in the upcoming Community Call #15.07

PS: About that, I’d like to point you all to this article by Michelle Thorne the (Berliner) Mozilla’s Director of Webmaker Programs:


(Chiara) #15

Not sure if some countries are just “not mentally there yet”… I guess it’s about finding the one space that makes stuff possible and start there to show that this things can work. I was checking about meetups in my hometown (not exacly the most advanced place ever) and there are two - a JS and a Scala meetup, both free (should we introduce us?).
As I said, perhaps the space need not be a coworking or office space. Any place with Wifi and sockets would do.

(giorgia) #16

So far we didn’t find any space willing to give their space for free, being this coworking or any other space. But we are still looking.
There are pleny of free IT events in milan but they are: or cover by sponsor or rather just a 2 hours meetup in the evening.
The problem comes with 1 day workshop, which usually in Milan are quite expencive and therefore people are not very open to make these free and lose money.
Anyway, sure, if you have any contact let us know. Which one is your hometown?

(Chiara) #17

Treviso is my hometown :smile:

I think they had evening meetups there as well though.

(Robert Lehmann) #18

I have put this on the agenda for this month’s Community Call (this Wednesday.)

There are many good points people raised here, and I think somebody should do a concise write-up to get this solved, otherwise we will just continue reiterating and rehashing very good arguments time and again, with going nowhere specifically.

One thing I’d like to mention is that we do have two good mechanisms to raise money: membership fees and voluntary donations through the OpenTechSchool Foundation. (The time frame to raise membership fees, or introduce more expensive membership levels, for this year’s regular General Assembly has passed, but with the pending Charter amendments we can push this through without setting up a full-fledged GA again. :blush:)