July 21, 2021

Virtual Conferencing on a Shoestring: Thoughts on the Budget

About this series: The 2021 Virtual Library Publishing Forum was a huge success, combining excellent content with smooth facilitation and a liberal dose of whimsy and care. We decided to pull back the curtain on how it was run to support other organizations that are interested in hosting thought-provoking, humane events on a shoestring. Because we have a lot to say, we are publishing a series of daily posts, each with a different theme. The series was created by the group of Educopia staff and LPC Program Committee members listed above, but the guide is written in first person and each section is written from a different perspective. Authors listed above who aren’t credited on a particular section helped with planning and editing the series.

Melanie SchlosserI’ve been responsible for managing the Forum’s budget since 2017 in Baltimore, at which I learned some valuable lessons about the improvidence of holding small conferences in hotels. The Forum is always meant to break even, rather than serving as a money-maker for the LPC. However, both the costs and the revenues of in-person conferences are so unpredictable (especially when the conference moves to a new location each year), and my tolerance for financial risk is so low, that we generally end up over-budgeting and bringing in a surplus on the event. Switching to a virtual conference format slimmed down the costs and complexity significantly, but we (fortunately) still overshot the mark. 

Costs: The basic technological infrastructure of the conference was Eventbrite (a small charge that comes out of registrations before they get to you, so no separate payment needed), Sched for an interactive online program ($250), Zoom for the conference sessions and some social events ($140 for a temporary second Zoom account on top of LPC’s existing Zoom account), and Discord for social stuff (free). We had small expenses around our sponsor bingo game, but otherwise the big-ticket items were staff ($3,000 for additional staff support during the event) and honoraria for keynotes and plenary speakers ($4,000). One speaker donated back their honorarium to support travel costs for an attendee of next year’s Forum, reducing the speakers’ fees for this year by $1,000. TOTAL COSTS: $6,600.

Revenues: We charged $25 per person to register—partly to defray expenses, but partly because people are more likely to show up to an event that they have paid for. Since our per-attendee costs were so low, though, we offered a registration waiver to anyone who needed one, no questions asked. We ended up with 437 registrations for a total of around $8,000. (Registration for our in-person Forums is about $300, and we generally get about 250 people.) We had a simplified, two-tier sponsorship program (see the Sponsorship post), and the eight sponsors brought in $7,000. TOTAL REVENUE: $15,300. 

As you can see, we made more than $8,000 in surplus. We are currently looking at how to earmark that money to cover future Forum travel awards and honoraria. The most exciting thing about this year’s Forum budget was the money we allocated to support invited plenaries, which allowed us to prominently feature and financially support the participation of some really exciting voices in the field. Keeping that model when we go back to in-person will require funding travel, as well, so we’ll need to do some calculating to figure out what we can manage. This year’s surplus will definitely help! 

If we do another virtual Forum in future, I might look at the sliding scale model for registration fees that was very successfully used by the BitCurator Users Forum last year. We required folks who needed a registration waiver to email us and request one, and even without any other requirements, that’s a hurdle for some people. Incorporating the waiver option into the registration setup would probably result in less revenue, but we obviously could have taken the hit this year. It would also let us provide an option for those who can afford a little more and want to support travel scholarships and similar programs.