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Arnie Rowland

Discussion of issues related to SQL Server, the MSDN SQL Support Forums, the complex interplay between Developers and SQL Server Administrators, and our sometimes futile attempts to have a 'normal' life.

Financial Transparency is Good for Community

I  was recently in a conversation with several people that had previously organized one or more community events. The topic evolved into a discussion of Sponsors, and eventually, fund raising. Being able to adequately raise the funds necessary is critical to producing a successful event. Many vendors will readily provide products for raffles and give-aways (SWAG), but the success of the event hangs on being able to raise cold, hard, cash. Venues and equipment have to be rented, refreshments and lunches purchases -and insurers seem to always require payment. Being able to draw upon the supporting community of vendors for sponsorship funding is essential to producing free community events.

One of the topics we discussed is an issue that seems to be just below the surface in the community at large -it’s there, and no one really wants to bring it into the open. (Andy Warren wrote about the subject in this post just a few months ago.) The issue we discussed is about financial transparency -including what to do with excess funds after the event. And further, is it necessary or appropriate that all funds raised in the name of an event be expended solely for that event? It was even emphatically stated that it was good to over subscribe sponsorship for the event and re-direct the excess funds to other purposes. Some adamently postulated that intentionally over selling sponsorships allow funds to be used to support other seeming worthwhile community activities.

And I thought -just hold on now. To me, that’s approaching being misleading, if not outright deceptive to sponsors -and to the community at large.

My concern is this: If we approach a potential sponsor for funds to produce ‘Event A’, in my mind, the sponsor has an expectation that the funds go to produce ‘Event A’. If some of the funds are diverted to support activities B, C, D, etc., sponsors may feel that they are being unfairly used to support activities that they may not have chosen to support outright. Or at the very least, they were not provided the opportunity to make a rational decision to support activities B, C, or D. Vendors vote with their dollars -they give money to events that make sense for them. They are calculating the ROI for access to the attendees -factoring in the competitive environment with other sponsors. More sponsors means less access. When events are over subscribed, the calculation becomes skewed. When unknown amounts of sponsor money is diverted to other purposes, the calculation becomes almost worthless.

If organizers deliberately use the event fund raising as a cover to gain funds for other purposes, no matter how worthy, there is a real danger that sponsors will stop giving money. If that happens, everyone loses.

I propose that community events embrace transparency and provide a public accounting of Sponsor funds. Granted, there may be valid reasons to not disclose individual Sponsor contributions, and you will notice that is not being called for here. I propose to break this down into just a few simple categories -such as:

Total Received, less

  1. Venue, Equipment Rental & Insurance
  2. Banking Fees and Taxes (Including Paypal Fees)
  3. Printing, Signage & Misc Supplies
  4. Volunteer Expenses (Shirts, pre/post Event, etc.) 
  5. Speaker Expenses (Gifts, Shirts, Dinner, etc.)
  6. Event Food & Refreshments
  7. Attendee SWAG (shirts, etc.)
  8. Attendee After Event

Amount Left Over

And then provide a statement of how the left over funds (if any) will be used to support the community. This level of transparency will allow sponsors to understand how their funds are being used.

I recognize that there may not be simple agreement to this level of public disclosure, that situations can be complex, and that there may be valid justification for some financial obscurity. Let’s start a public discussion about what is best for the community at large. To continue the status quo, where there are below the surface grumblings, questions, and even suspicions, is not good for the community at large.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

  • Should all funds raised for an event be spent solely for that event?
  • And should event organizers be more transparent about funding AND expenditures?

(The recent SQLSaturday Oregon 2011 Financials are published here.)

(Originally published at

Published Monday, November 7, 2011 8:44 AM by ArnieRowland
Filed under: ,



Michael K. Campbell said:

Yeah - I totally agree. We're POSITIVELY spoiled by awesome sponsors/vendors in the SQL Server Community - and I'd hate to see that ever change.

November 7, 2011 12:25 PM

Rachel @ DevExpress said:

Hear hear Arnie.

As as newbie community event organiser for GiveCamp UK and the contact for a regular community sponsor, I certaily appreciate this being brought to the fore.

Vendor-internal community supporters like myself, Hannah at Red Gate and Emily at Telerik often have to work hard to justify to our superiors why and where our sponsorship dollars are going.

I hadn't really considered the impact that sponsorship(s) could have on an event until GiveCamp UK started up. There are so many questions that event planners need to answer for their sponsors to justify why their event deserves financial support, and just a couple of $100 can make all of the difference (coffee and tea ... yup,that all costs!). Our sponsors' pockets are sadly not bottomless, and when there is no more financial support to be had, what do we do then?

It is often not obvious to sponsors just how much a community event costs to operate. By being transparent with financials, we can demonstrate just how vital funds are to helping to support community activities.

I agree with Arnie and Andy, it is in everyone's best interests to be open and transparent about where sponsorship dollars are spent. The better information and value we can provide to sponsors, the more likely they are to help us on a regular basis.

~ Rachel.

November 7, 2011 1:13 PM

Ameena Lalani said:

In my opinion, transparency in all matters, but specially financial, is very important. It could make or brake the trust of sponsors as well as community in an organisation. At least good faith attempt must be made to release the information that you have mentioned such as money collected, money used and money left. From the organization's point of view it may not be as simple as that. But whatever it is and how much it is possible, some insight into the big event like sql pass summit should be made available to the community and sponsor. I think organisation will gain more respect and trust from sponsor and community rather than more finger pointing. Remember, Honesty is the best Policy.

November 7, 2011 1:56 PM

Mark Broadbent said:

Very good post Arnie. I have asked the following question direct to a couple of vendors "exactly how much ROI are you getting for sponsoring this event and exactly how many sales will you/or hope make? How can you keep funding all of these events?". Surprisingly the answer was that the number of sales from the event was expected to be zero or low short term and longer term was unclear to them, however their business analytics would hopefully show a ROI.

My worry is probably the same as yours, namely that these people (who are the lifeblood of our activities right now) need not to be taken for granted and hopefully rewarded for their investment into the community. My worry though is that too much transparency might reveal that they are not getting value for money and *perhaps* it is time that we (the community) ought to start worrying that they are.

Thanks for a great post.

November 9, 2011 11:03 AM

Brandon Leach said:

Sponsors really do make events happen.  Monthly user groups like SNESSUG, cost a good amount of cash to put together.  When you look at how much smaller events like that cost and then consider a much larger event, It really makes brings things into perspective.  

I definitly think transparency is a good idea.  Not only could it generate trust between event coordinators and sponsors, but it could also help attendees to really appreciate what the sponsors do for the community.

November 14, 2011 8:54 AM
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