JSConf & CSSconf EU are not-for-profit conferences. But they also cost quite a bit of money to attend, with CSSconf starting at €349 and JSConf starting at €699. We want to make transparent how this money is used. So whether you are interested in attending one of our conferences, but are not sure if we use your money wisely, or if you want to run a major conference yourself and wanted to see what kinds of things you’d need to plan for, we thought: Why not answer those questions by releasing our budget.
A few words on what not-for-profit means in the context of these conferences: The formal legal entity behind JSConf EU and CSSconf EU is SinnerSchrader, a German digital agency, which is a for-profit company. It backs up our finances and takes the risk of running the events away from the personal finances of the organizing team members. They don’t assert editorial control over the events (they do, however, employ two of the core organizers for their full time jobs, but their employer does not shape their work within the conferences). Having the company backing allows us to really aim the budget at a net-€0, because we don’t have to worry as much about losing money. We call this our parachute sponsorship in case things don’t go as planned, and it has saved us from financial troubles over and over again.
The conferences are run by an organizing team. These folks are volunteers and organize the event in their free time. For some of them, their employers allow doing some of the work during work time while others are freelancers and their conference work is compensated out of their own pocket. The organizers receive no monetary compensation for running the event whatsoever. In fact, some of them come out at negative compensation by contributing to the scholarship program. Our organising team has executive decision power and final say over any and all parts of the event.
While the organizing team is not paid, a whole bunch of folks are paid in the process of making sure the events actually happen. The very rough rule is “if it is your job to put on events, then you are getting paid”. This is in contrast to the volunteer team, who have day jobs and do not rely on the conference for income. Since 2018, the conferences directly employ one full time person, who primarily runs our sponsorship program. The production of the event is done in collaboration with an event production agency called artribute. The agency in turn employs a large number of staff and subcontractors to perform the various duties needed to put on a modern event, e.g. logistics, catering, security concept, fire safety concept, hospitality services, event signage, setup and teardown. We also rely on a variable number of volunteers on the days of the events. They also do not get paid for their work, except with a full ticket to the event that includes all possible perks.
Venue and Custom Setup
JSConf and CSSconf EU are different from many other conferences in that they don’t happen in a standard conference venue or hotel. While such venues are convenient for organisers in that they provide all the infrastructure out-of-the-box and thus make the execution of events much simpler, they do not allow for creating an experience with the accessibility and attention to detail that we aspire to. Keep in mind that financial models for events happening in conference hotels may be very different. That does not mean, however, that they’d necessarily be cheaper. The extra simplicity for the organizers often comes at a steep price.
Taking Great Care of Everyone’s Experience
As another degree of differentiation, JSConf and CSSconf EU are elaborately crafted experiences around numerous aspects: We fly in speakers from all over the world, provide working WIFI, high quality video recordings, live captioning, world-class vegetarian and vegan breakfast, lunch and dinner, free and healthy drinks at all times, amazing coffee, professional child care and run one of the most sophisticated conference scholarship programmes just to name a few things.
We also support a worldwide organisation of CSSconf and JSConf families as well as adjacent and more local events arounds the world, mentoring new conferences in new locations, helping others with connections to speakers, sponsors, and even dealing with usually hidden topics like problematic community members or companies.
Supporting our Local and Sustainable Businesses
In addition to all of the above, we try hard to support local businesses when putting up our event as much as possible to support the local community. We also try very hard to avoid any one-time usage items like paper plates and opt for reusable, and thus more expensive porcelain plates and cups, glass bottles, and steel cutlery. One example is our collaboration with SDW Neukölln: after years of ending the conference with huge piles of leftover swag t-shirts, we decided to stop the waste, while still offering the option to take home your conference t-shirt if you really want it. SDW, a local community print workshop, now offers live printing in the conference venue. Everyone can get a customized t-shirt and learn how it is created at the same time. We have full control over the textiles being used (i.e. we ensure they are all produced ethically and organically). Only shirts that are requested get produced in the first place. Plus, we help a great local community initiative to keep doing their great work!
Supporting Artists, Community & Open Source
While our conference programmes already showcase a variety of topics ranging from technical, social, professional to the artistic, we create spaces for artists and open source communities to showcase their work in a professional setting (Such as our community lounge). Our motto here is: if we bring this many people together, we want to make the most of their experience by showing what Berlin has to offer in all sorts of areas. This is also the reason why we open all of our social events to the local community to attend, regardless of having a conference ticket.
So, how much does it cost to put on JSConf and CSSconf EU? Well, pretty much exactly 1 million Euros in 2018. While our events have grown to over 1600 visitors, the actual cost per attendee has remained surprisingly stable over the years (ticket prices have remained unchanged for 6 years). While bigger events have economies of scale such as that the percentage of budget for speaker travel goes down with an increasing attendee count, in our case this evens itself out with increased cost for things like security and fire protection in accordance with strict standards in Germany for major events.
The budget falls into the following categories:
- Conf Production: 28%. This is made up of costs directly related to the conference such as speaker travel, hotel costs etc.
- Venue & Event: 19.6%. This is cost related to event production, for example for AV equipment including cameras, microphones, projectors, mixing consoles, cabling etc.
- Location rental: 10.6%. This is the rental cost for the event location, beautiful Arena Berlin
- Furniture: 17.1%. This is stuff like tables and chairs and the scaffolding that we use to build the event.
- Catering: 24.7%. The food and drinks you consume at the event, this breakfast, lunch and dinner. All exquisitely tasty, local, freshly made and nutritious, with healthy drinks around the clock.
|Cost category||Sub||Sub sub||Costs||Costs|
|Venue & Event||€206,000|
|Venue & Event||Main Track + Festival Area||€110,000|
|Venue & Event||Main Track + Festival Area||Projection|
|Venue & Event||Main Track + Festival Area||Sound|
|Venue & Event||Main Track + Festival Area||Light|
|Venue & Event||Main Track + Festival Area||Construction|
|Venue & Event||Main Track + Festival Area||Power|
|Venue & Event||Secondary Track||€15,000|
|Venue & Event||Staff||€55,000|
|Venue & Event||Wifi||€15,000|
|Venue & Event||Logistics||€11,000|
|Furniture||Main Track + Festival Area||€64,000|
|Catering||Food JSConf Day 1||€45,000|
|Catering||Beverages JSConf Day 1||€14,000|
|Catering||Staff JSConf Day 1||€20,000|
|Catering||Food JSConf Day 2||€26,000|
|Catering||Beverages JSConf Day 2||€11,000|
|Catering||Staff JSConf Day 2||€15,000|
|Catering||Specialty Coffee Booth||€10,000|
|Conference Production||Art program||€63,000|
|Conference Production||Travel and Accommodation (Speaker, Team)||€80,000|
|Conference Production||Scholarship Program (Travel, Accommodation, misc)||€28,000|
|Conference Production||Video Production, Photos||€30,000|
|Conference Production||JSConf/CSSconf staff||€55,000|
|Conference Production||Photo Booth, Print Shop, etc.||€17,000|
|Conference Production||Captioning Service||€10,000|
What is scaffolding?
We’re talking literal scaffolding, 150 tons of it.
Why does it cost 55K Euros to rent projectors?
The projectors themselves cost about 110K apiece to buy without the lenses. We need 7 of them. It adds up.
How much is catering per attendee?
Very roughly, the food and drinks for 1 day of conference costs €100. This includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner (no dinner on Sunday) and the drinks that go with it and which you consume in between. If you’ve ever thrown a wedding or similar party you know how expensive food is and we operate with a similar cost model. However, making food for a 1000 people is actually more expensive than for a 100 due to space and time constraints.
Why didn’t you release a similar report since 2013?
Because it took us about eleven hours of unpaid volunteer labor to produce this and it wasn’t high enough on our priority list for a while.
Similar articles from other events
Our way of running events isn’t the only way, and things can be quite different depending on your location, number of attendees and other factors. Here is a list of budgets released from other events for a broader perspective:
We hope this data is helpful for folks thinking about putting on their own event. Again, we want to emphasize that our way of running events is not the only way: one of the core goals of the JSConf and CSSconf families was always to reach as many folks as possible through a diverse range of events with various pricing models and in as many regions as possible. If you’d like to run your own event, please get in touch!