In 2016, WordPress meetups had the fastest growth the community has seen in five or six years with more than 62,566 people attending in 58 different countries. Meetups are the seeds of future WordCamps. These local gatherings help users further their WordPress skills and underpin the community’s growth across the globe.
Funding a local meetup can be a challenge, as organizers often have to seek out sponsors just like a WordCamp but at a smaller scale. The San Francisco WordPress meetup (WPSFO) is trying something new by publicly managing its budget and expenses with Open Collective. Last week we featured the service in an article and WPSFO lead organizer Shannon Dunn commented on his meetup’s experience with it so far.
“It creates a level of transparency for the whole community and lets current and prospective customers understand where the money goes,” Dunn said. “I’d say we’re pretty happy with it and it’s an integral part of managing our meetup.”
Dunn started attending and helping out with WPSFO in 2011 and stepped up to be lead organizer at the beginning of 2016. Former lead organizer Zach Berke, who started in 2007, was the one who initially suggested the idea of using Open Collective.
“Before we started with Open Collective, sponsors paid for things directly,” Dunn said. “We’ve had various host sponsors (Automattic, Exygy, Pantheon) that have provided meeting space, food, and drinks. These hosts have always paid for the food directly. We also had a relationship with WPEngine at one point. They paid a videographer to film the meetups. All other expenses, usually for minor things, were paid for by the organizers.”
Dunn said that Open Collective has helped to reduce the out-of-pocket expenses for meetup organizers, as it provides a straightforward process for posting expenses and getting reimbursed.
“Funding a meetup can be pretty tough,” Dunn said. “It’s great that we have hosts to cover the big items, but various other expenses come up. Those small things are usually paid for by the organizers. Also, there are times when one of our primary hosts can’t provide a space to meet. We have several alternative meeting spaces but not all of them provide food and drinks. On those occasions, organizers have paid for the food and drink out of pocket. We could have gone without, but we try to keep each meetup a consistent experience.”
Dunn said the team wanted to cover these costs without digging into the pockets of the organizers, who already volunteer a lot of time and energy to the meetup. They do not charge for the events and don’t plan on doing it in the future, so having additional funds on hand became a priority.
“Pia from Open Collective reached out to Zach about a year ago,” Dunn said. “Zach had a prior relationship with another OC founder, Xavier, from his early Storify days. Zach agreed to sign up for OC because it seemed to address a pain point. Zach handed the reins of OC to Michelle and I, who have brought sponsors onto the platform.”
Dunn said using Open Collective has had many positive advantages over the previous system WPSFO had for managing funds. Receiving donations and submitting expenses is now streamlined into a transparent pipeline. The meetup has an estimated annual budget of $6,658, based on current donations.
“Being able to provide recognition to our sponsors is a big plus,” Dunn said. “It’s worth noting that this is a young and ever-evolving platform so with that you’re provided direct access to Open Collective’s front line, which is beneficial in addressing any questions or concerns that arise.”
Dunn said using Open Collective has opened up additional possibilities, like making WPSFO t-shirts to sell to members and the general public. Having money in the meetup account means the organizers can do it without having to pre-sell the shirts.
“It’s not like we’re floating in cash now, but we have little bit of money to work with,” Dunn said. “It feels great to have that and we’re deeply appreciative of our sponsors for making it possible.”
WPSFO is one of 23 meetups that have started managing their budgets and funds through Open Collective. Other early adopters of the service include multiple WWCode meetups, Women Who Code Atlanta, and SF Data Science Meetup, with budgets ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $25,000.