There has been some recent controversy over SQL Saturdays after PASS HQ announced some new changes. The changes introduced a new 600 mile radius for SQL Saturdays on the same day, an expansion from the previous 400 mile rule as well as reducing the PASS sponsorship from $500 per event to $250 per event and only for those that are in financial need. Originally the new rules also imposed a 600 mile rule and extended that to the Saturday before and after the event. The community was quick to point out how that would have impacted previous events and PASS HQ has removed the week before and after restriction.
With the popularity of the SQL Saturdays in the US, some event locations are finding it difficult to find sponsors for the event. I can understand this issue. I have helped organize numerous SQL Saturdays ranging from 100 attendees to upwards of 700. In the early days, there were fewer events and it seemed like every sponsor wanted to be at each one. That enabled organizers to be able to offer speakers and organizers event shirts, host a speaker dinner, and provide various other swag for the event. As popularity of the events grew, sponsors realized they couldn’t keep sending people to each one and that their budgets could only stretch so far. Organizers have started feeling the impact and are having to start looking elsewhere for sponsors as well as looking at their budgets.
Something that current and new organizers should consider is that all that extra stuff is just stuff. The main purpose of a SQL Saturday is to provide training to your local area, grow your local user group, and to help grow new speakers. As a speaker at nearly 40 SQL Saturdays, I have always enjoyed the speaker dinner as a way of networking and hanging out with other speakers, I would gladly pay for my own dinner at those events, the event organizer should not feel any pressure to feed the speakers the night before. If they would like to organize a place for us to all meet for dinner, which would be fantastic. Speaker shirts have been a big deal to many speakers, especially for new speakers starting out. If the budget allows for these, then great, if not, then do not feel obligated to provide a shirt. Many organizers feel they should get the speakers a gift, that is not necessary either, a hand written thank you note is more meaningful than a shirt, coffee mug, or Amazon gift card.
Smaller events can be held on a very small budget, especially if you can secure the venue for free.
I organize and run SQL Saturday Columbus GA and have helped organize SQL Saturday Atlanta since 2011. Atlanta is a great market and we have been very fortunate with sponsors year after year, in Columbus GA, things are very much different. Sponsorship dollars are much more difficult in Columbus and as a result, we keep things more “grass roots”. In Columbus GA, our event provides:
- A venue – Free
- Lanyards and name badge holders – $100
- A nice variety of sessions thanks to our amazing speakers – Free
- Lunch to our volunteers and the attendees opt to pay for lunch – $400
- Coffee and donuts in the morning – $300
- Speaker dinner – $500
- Random snacks and drinks – $300
I hope more organizers will realize that they can put on a great event on a very small budget. SQL Saturday Columbus GA is fortunate to have a free venue and attract around 100 attendee’s year over year and to have the support of the Atlanta MDF. Our event cost just over $1500 and also generates a slight surplus in funds to fund our user group for the year.
In 2017 an approach I plan to do for sponsors is to have a $100 Community sponsor level. This will be for local businesses to help support the IT initiative without having to spend a lot of money. This will be for those to show support, get their name out there, but for those who really don’t need or care for the opt-in list or a table at the event. If I can sell 5 to 10 at that level, it will cover the majority of my event cost.
- Attended my first SQL Saturday in 2010
- Started speaking in 2011
- Spoken at 38 SQL Saturdays
- Helped organize 12 SQL Saturdays
- Chapter Leader – Columbus GA SQL Server Users Group
- PASS Regional Mentor