free ticketsI think we charge far too much for open source events.

Why do we hold community events for the software we use? Most of the time, it's to encourage more people to get involved.

I see ticket prices for camps varying between $35 and $85, but how accessible is that? $85 is more than many people make for a day of work.

An $85 ticket price immediately means that only middle-class people with plenty of time off can attend.

We can and should consider making more events free to attend if we're serious about getting more people involved.

Here's some proof that it can be done ...

Option #1. Completely free ticket for everyone

Think your event is too large to offer free tickets? Here' s DrupalCamp New York which had 1,000 attendees:

media_1405512894757.png

Here's last year's Bay Area Drupal Camp which had over 800 attendees:

media_1405512781905.png

Also free is Capital Camp, the large Drupal event in Washington DC which expects over 500 attendees.

Option #2. A sliding scale for different attendees

For DrupalCamp Colorado 2014, you can set your own registration price. If you want to pay $0, you can. You only get a t-shirt if you pay more than $25.

media_1405512285867.png

For Joomla Day Atlanta, we had a sliding scale for prices:

  • $20 student ticket
  • $30 regular ticket
  • $50 personal sponsorship ticket

We also made sure there were a lot of free tickets available everywhere. The average Joomla Day Atlanta attendee paid only $10.

Our attitude was, if people want to come, there should be nothing stopping them.

However, there's also a large number of people who are involved in the community and willing to pay more when asked. Even with free and $30 tickets available, the hardcore members of the community were happy to pay $50.

Should you consider free tickets for your event?

Yes, if your main goal is increase the size of your community.

This isn't the right approach for every event. In fact, there are quite a few types of event for which this would be the wrong approach:

  • If you're running a very large event with very large overhead costs such as a DrupalCon.
  • If your goal isn't to increase the size of the community. Some events aim to be small and exclusive.
  • If your event location has very strict limits on how many people can attend.
  • If this is your first time running an event and you're really nervous.

But, for many open source events, free tickets can be a great option.

If you want to increase the number of people using your community, you should leverage your event to attract as many people you possibly can.

If you charge $50 or more, you'll only ever attract the same old people. If you want to attract new people, try and remove all barriers that might stop them from attending.

How do you make free tickets work financially?

Here's what we did a Joomla Day Atlanta:

  • Focus on attendance. Our goal at Joomla Day Atlanta was "Bums in seats". Everything we did had that aim in mind.
  • Cut the junk. Approximately 80% of our costs were the venue and 15% was lunch and coffee. We spent nothing on normal conference swag. No t-shirts, no goodie bags, no expensive name tags, no banners.
  • Grow as you can afford it. We grow the event as we made money. Every time we passed an income mark, we could add more features to the event. We did it this way because we wanted to make sure we could always afford free, or almost free tickets.
    • $4000 revenue - the event would have 2 tracks, because we could afford to rent two rooms
    • $5500 revenue - the event would have 3 tracks
    • $7000 revenue - the event would have 4 tracks
    • $8500 revenue - we could feed people lunch
    • $9500 revenue - we could feed people coffee and drinks through the day

Here are some other ideas that people have told me about:

  • Piggy-back on other events. DrupalCampMA is able to provide free registration because they are piggy-backing on the larger NerdSummit event.
  • Get a cheap venue. Universities are often willing to host open source events for free or at a low cost. The venue is often your largest expense and so is your best chance to save a lot of money.
  • Take really good care of sponsors. Based on our experience and stories from people we talk with, 90% of sponsors are disappointed by events. There's not enough publicity at the events, there aren't enough thank yous on social media and there's often no communication with sponsors after the payment is taken. If you take care of sponsors, they'll take care of you.
  • [update] Read the comments for more great idea.

Over to you

Have you run an open source event?

Would you consider giving away free tickets? If you did, how did you make it work financially?


About the author

Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.