WordPress Foundation Harming Rather Than Helping WordCamps

WordCamp San Francisco 2012 has released their sponsorship package prices and once again, the prices almost demand that you include your first born with the top spot. In 2009, the top sponsorship spot for the event was $15,000. In 2010 the top sponsorship spot would have cost you the same amount, $15,000. Last year, the top spot would have set you back $40,000. While the sponsorship prices are astronomical compared to any other WordCamp in the U.S., the real issue lies within the fact that there appears to be a double standard when it comes to setting caps for sponsorship money.

An article on Perezbox that talks about the issue has so far, generated a number of comments from WordCamp organizers. It was disheartening to read so many organizers with roughly the same complaint. Here are a few excerpts from their comments to give you a better idea of the crux of the matter.

Couldn’t agree more. I remember being told by the WP Foundation that the highest level sponsorship package for WordCamp Philly was too high. The price was $2,500, so we were forced to bring it down to $2,000. So our HIGHEST level was identical to their LOWEST level.- Brad Williams organizer of WordCamp Philadelphia

I organized Chicago in ’09 and ’10. The 2010 camp hosted 580 attendees and in Chicago, that is no small task. Each city has its own things to deal with … in Chicago its unions. 2010 cost us roughly $42,000.00 (and, in my opinion, it was a bare bones camp) – – and we raised that much through sponsorships, so we broke even. That was a couple of months before the Foundation took over. I was told that $30K for a local WordCamp was a ridiculous amount and way too much for a local camp…which is why the Foundation would be taking over to help local camps deal with these financial issues. – Lisa Sabin-Wilson organizer of WordCamp Chicago

As last years organizer of WordCamp Las Vegas I can totally understand and feel the frustration with the sponsorship package limits being set in place by the foundation, especially once you see that the price points for WCSF are so far above and beyond what is allowed. Overall I think the limits that are put in place for all of us common folk to follow is pretty low and should be revisited as the cost of WordCamp’s can vary on geographical location. – Shelby DeNike organizer of WordCamp Las Vegas

I am one of the organizers of the Seattle WordCamp. We have almost 900 people in our local Meetup community and I know we easily could have packed in a 600 person crowd between us and the rest of the community with no problem, and we wanted to! We ran into a brick wall with the Foundation limitations that wound up restricting us to a 300 person venue due to lack of flexibility primarily in sponsorship abilities. – Ben Lobaugh organizer for WordCamp Seattle

If the WordPress Foundation is going to tell WordCamp organizers what the limit is on their sponsorship packages and quite possibly make it too low which can make or break an event, WordCamp San Francisco should be held to the same procedures. If WordCamp San Francisco can not put on a successful event because of the regulations of the WordPress Foundation, they should change its name so they can hold an event without anyone telling them what to do. But, I don’t think they’ll be doing that anytime soon.

This site reaches thousands of people. I’m especially interested in hearing from WordCamp organizers. I want to know if the experiences described by others were also experienced by you.


23 responses to “WordPress Foundation Harming Rather Than Helping WordCamps”

  1. I think this all comes down to double standards. Specifically around the cost of a camp and in return the level of sponsorships.

    I just responded to Aaron who was responding to my post with this quote:

    “A WordCamp is a low-cost or no-cost event, usually held on a weekend where WordPress enthusiasts can get together to meet one another, and learn more about how to get the most out of WordPress. ”

    and I was forced to do some quick math to put things into perspective:

    Based on the existing sponsorship packages, assuming 1 sponsor at each level, you’re looking at $64,500 price tag just with sponsors. Not including 12,000 in ticket sales assuming 600 attendees at the Foundation recommended $20 a head for a one-day event.

    Again, assuming 1 sponsor at each level. The foundation has been pretty forthcoming to all the organizers when they feel our budgets are too high, I would imagine that its only right that the community by the checks and balances for the foundation as well and pull out the red card when appropriate.

    I also think it comes down to name. If a WordCamp is defined and they must follow specific rules, than San Francisco is no different, regardless of who’s name is behind it or the history. I can name a number of cities whose follow ship is growing and who could easily demand same levels of sponsorship.

    When you do this, you inadvertently tell the community (communities) that you are not too worried about their problems. You essentially recognize the challenges presented by the guidance, but really don’t care as it doesn’t affect you. This is where dissension in the ranks begins and where divides and rumors start.

    Just my humble opinion.

  2. It’s simple. WCSF needs to be differentiated or play by the same rules as the other WordCamps. If that means increasing the sponsorship caps for all of the camps, then so be it.

  3. WCSF is the big kahuna of WordCamps. Most WCs are 1 day. Isn’t WCSF 3 days?

    I am always wondering what are the checks in the WC system so that WC organizers do not pocket the extra money. What if they say they will use the extra $4,000 (example amount) for next year’s WC but then later on new organizers come and take over for next year, what happens to that $4,000?

    I think there should be limits to non WCSF events, the other WordCamps. THEY ARE NOT AS BIG AS WCSF.

    No one is forcing you to stick with WC Central’s rules. You want to plan a WordCamp then follow the rules.

    You don’t need a million dollars for the average WordCamp.

  4. @Miroslav Glavic

    I think there should be limits to non WCSF events, the other WordCamps. THEY ARE NOT AS BIG AS WCSF.

    But if read between the lines here, other WordCamps could easily be as big as WordCamp San Francisco but the foundation told those organizers that the amount of sponsorship money was too high for their event which means they had less money to put towards making the event better or, getting that bigger venue to hold more people. There have already been WordCamps in Chicago and New York that have had over 500-600 attendees, it wouldn’t take much to be as big as WCSF, attendee wise. But when you have people telling you how much money you can get from sponsorships, it makes it hard to hold events that big.

  5. @Miroslav Glavic -I see a certain level of naiveness in this post.

    – a good number of the events are more than 1 day

    – a number of the camps are capable of generating the same size in attendees as WCSF

    – interesting point on the money. The foundation now manages that for the camps, in some instances, and the new guidance is that the money won’t roll over year to year. Where are the checks and balances there? Where does that money go?

    I see your point, I just think you’re missing information and missing the overall point.


  6. @Jeffro -+10

    You hit the nail on the head. The bigger issue is, if the brand is the brand – WordCamp – and the brand must follow the rules of the foundation, then it can’t just do what it wants and say, “meh, the rules don’t apply to me because I’m the big kahuna”

    Not the way it works unfortunately. Governance applies to all, or it doesn’t apply at all. That’s the point I thin.

  7. I’m not sure why you are blaming the WordPress Foundation for this. What am I missing?

    The foundation has obviously made a set of rules that are meant for the good of everyone in the community. As a teacher, most rules in schools are put in place for that one knuckle-head student that wants to push the limit. I can see a parallel here. Most people have never organized a large event before. I can totally see someone coming home from SF with the best intentions, planning a giant circus of an event, and then totally failing. If that event had sponsors that sunk 20k, 30k, 40k into that event – they’re going to be angry. That would be a huge black-eye to the entire WordPress community. I don’t think society at large understands how the WP community works, and they would be pointing fingers back at the foundation and Automattic. However as the oldest event, and presumably with the most experienced organizers, I think we can trust them to use the money wisely and pull it off in the end. Double standard? Yes. What’s “fair” isn’t always best. When I’m in the classroom and the honor student asks me to use the restroom, but he’s out of passes for the grading period, I’m probably going to let him.

    I also have experience in churches. If the biggest donor in the congregation asks to bend a rule, maybe to hold a private party in a classroom when there’s a rule against it, I’m probably going to let him. In the same way, Matt is a co-founder of the project and his business is a generous benefactor to the project. If he wants to hold a large event, bring in big-name speakers and big-name donors, you should probably shut up and let him. I’d venture to say that many people denouncing Matt’s influence on the SF event also make their living from WordPress in some way. WordPress…That thing that Matt was influential in making what it is? Do any of you develop sites for clients on WordPress for a living? I don’t think “WPTavern” would have a lot to blog about if the WordPress project and subsequent eco-system didn’t exist.

    I can empathize with the camp organizers that are frustrated with the apparent double standard. Maybe the WordPress foundation isn’t really happy about this. Have they made an official statement? If I were to organize a WordCamp in my city and the foundation told me to change something, I could choose to tell them “no” and do whatever I want. We’re all grown-ups with free will. Maybe behind the scenes the foundation asked WCSF to change some things and they politely declined.

    Sure, call it a different name to eliminate confusion. Jane put up a brass-tacks honest explanation of why they didn’t this year. Jane’s posts come across snarky or sardonic to some people. To me she sounds like someone with a full plate, frustrated with people who sit back and complain while she and others on her team are actually doing someting. Please read: http://central.wordcamp.org/news/2011/01/24/wordcampsf-not-wordcon/

    My advice? Shut your collective mouth. Don’t piss down the well you’re drinking out of.

  8. […] WPCandyFacebookTwitterRSS You are here: Home > Links > Harming? Please. PermalinkHarming? Please.By Ryan Imel 4 hours agoMay 4, 201216An excerpt from Jeff Chandler’s post WordPress […]

  9. My company sponsored the WordCamps in Beijing and Shanghai a few years ago. We gave both cash and in-kind support, and the organizers gave us **nothing** in what they promised to us in relation to media exposure and gratis tickets for my staff. It was a clusterf$#@.

    Because of that, I pulled any future support of WordCamps. They were great events for attendees, but unprofessional and too novice for me to support anymore as a company. It was a very bad experience (Mullenweg attended, though, which was nice) for our company and staff.

    Therefore, I think MORE oversight form the WordPress Foundation would be very good. Too many novices with great heart but perhaps little professional experience running these things makes companies like mine hesitant to get involved. It also leaves a bad taste in my mouth for supporting any other WP-endorsed activities.

  10. Miroslav has a point. The WordPress foundation clearly does not WANT other Wordcamps to be on anything near the scale of the original. It would diminish the status of Matt’s own conference. Obviously that’s why Jane wanted to change the name of Wordcamp SF — so people wouldn’t complain about it being a special case.

    There is nothing to stop people organising large-scale conferences elsewhere, but in order to be successful they are going to have to do it outside the aegis of Wordcamp. I don’t quite know where people get the idea that the Foundation is in any way accountable to the community. It’s not a democratic or representative organisation, just the means by which Matt protects his assets and redistributes some of the largesse to arbitrarily selected beneficiaries. It’s designed to protect Matt’s interests, not yours. If you want fairness and accountability, you’re going to have to establish your own foundation based on those principles.

  11. WCSF is easily controlled by WPHQ whereas a WordCamp in France, Sweden, heck even New York isn’t as easily controlled / monitored.

    How can we be sure that those WordCamps don’t mess around with $40K that comes in from sponsors? Possibly keeping back some for the next camp, this eventually builds upto the point where if a WordCamp is to be any good it has to be done by one of the past organisers because they have the money to put on the big show whereas someone just starting out can’t ask a sponsor for big bucks and can’t afford as many bells and whistles for their event.

    I think the cap on non-WCSF sponsorship money is justified and the name still appropriate.

  12. @that girl again – Good points, but I’m not sure I agree completely.

    I have been using the Foundation and WordCamp Central and am quickly realizing they are in essence two different entities, although likely managed by similar individuals. Each have their own focuses. It appears that the Foundation is more the owner of the trademarks, while WCC is more the enforcer of rules and responsible for establishing guidelines.

    That being said, I really don’t think it comes down to wanting anyone not to be bigger than anyone else. It comes down to a leasor / lease relationship. The Foundation owns the trademark and as such chooses to lease the trademark to the organizers under a set of rules that WordCamp Central is responsible for enforcing. It’s not the responsibility of the Foundation to comply with rules set for the lease’s as, well, they own it and can do whatever they want. Its like in any business offering a services, they own and can do whatever they want regardless of what their affiliates and resellers are constrained to.

    I’ve only recently come to this way of thinking after several off-line conversations that have helped me better understand the relationships and the reality of the situation.

    All that being said…

    In regards to this: “I don’t quite know where people get the idea that the Foundation is in any way accountable to the community. It’s not a democratic or representative organisation, just the means by which Matt protects his assets and redistributes some of the largesse to arbitrarily selected beneficiaries.”

    I guess it comes from this on the Foundations page:

    “The WordPress Foundation is a charitable organization founded by Matt Mullenweg to further the mission of the WordPress open source project: to democratize publishing through Open Source, GPL software.”

    The reference to “democratizing” publishing is what I’m referring to. How do you democratize publishing without the things you reference, community engagement and representation?

    Maybe its another one of those instances where we don’t mean what we say, I don’t know. I like to think that when it comes to these things people choose carefully what they right and mean what they say – maybe I am naive.

  13. @DD – Wow, that’s a really unfortunate experience and too bad it gave you a sour taste for how these things should be done..:(

  14. DD’s comment is the most disturbing, whatever the issues of cost. “My company sponsored the WordCamps in Beijing and Shanghai . . . the organizers gave us **nothing** . . . .unprofessional and too novice for me to support anymore as a company”

  15. Jeffro,

    So if WordPress Foundation are actually harming WordCamps rather than helping them, what do you think is the reason that this foundation was made in the first place?

  16. maybe some kind of compromise is in order. tiered levels for organizers with sponsorship caps in place for each tier. That way a novice organizer can’t get 40k say like WCSF and potentially screw it up, but if said organizers prove themselves over a few years both in attendees and financially, they move up toward the level of WCSF

  17. I think I made a big mistake of blaming the WordPress Foundation when i should have placed my disagreement towards WordCamp Central. As I now somewhat understand, WordCamp Central enforces guidelines that are imposed to those who want to use the WordPress Trademark. The WordPress Foundation is the organization that has come up with those rules for everyone else to follow. Therefor, if I understand correctly, the WordPress foundation has nothing to do with sponsorship caps, that is tied into WordCamp Central. However, with the Foundation and WordCamp Central intertwined into the whole discussion, it’s really confused me. I suppose it’s best that I offer a public apology to the foundation.

  18. @Jeffro – That’s correct. WordCamp Central is the governing body of WordCamps. Ultimately, WordCamp Central reports to the WordPress Foundation anyway. Any revenue from WordCamp is required to be “donated” back to the Foundation, so its easy to get confused when you’re talking about who is ultimately responsible for WordCamp governance.


Subscribe Via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: