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Part 1 of a blog post in two parts. Part 2 asks ‘What do digital conferences cost?’ (see here). The first four paragraphs of both parts are identical.
Social media (at least my little bit of it) has been in an uproar recently over the announced fees of a few academic conferences that are to be held wholly online — in the range of €250 for early-bird registration. The basic argument is that such fees are outrageously expensive, given that there is no need for catering, location rental or entertainment.
Yet conferences do not organize themselves. Every conference triggers expenses that must somehow be compensated for. The real question is what conference fees are supposed to ‘buy’. What exactly are we paying for? Ideally, conference organizers should publish their budgets (income & expenses) to make such costs transparent and to generate greater understanding for the ‘hidden details’ of what goes into the making of a conference.
I served as the head of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for a scientific conference that was scheduled for June 2020, to be held in the Faculty of Education at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences (INN) in Hamar, Norway: RaAM 2020, the 13th biannual conference for the Association for Researching and Applying Metaphor (RaAM). Clearly, that physical conference never took place. Rather than cancelling, however, we choose to run the event digitally as RaAM 2020Virtual: parallel in all respects to the originally planned physical event. (And we pulled it off! Read here for details!)
Having to plan two conferences means that we now have two budgets for the ‘same’ event: the physical RaAM 2020 and the digital RaAM 2020Virtual. How do they compare?
This blog post discusses the budget for the physical conference, RaAM 2020. For discussion of the RaAM2020Virtual budget, look here. The posts in the two budgets are identical so as to allow for easier comparison.
First let’s look at the income side of the RaAM 2020 budget:
|Regular delegate incl. VAT||kr 3 200|
|Regular delegate excl. VAT||kr 2 560||110||kr 281 600|
|Student delegate incl VAT||kr 1 700|
|Student delegate excl VAT||kr 1 360||40||kr 54 400|
|Support from scientific association (RaAM)||kr 3 800|
|Support from publishing company (Benjamins)||kr 21 000|
|Support from local municipality (Hamar)||kr 10 000|
|Support from organizing partner (Multiling)||kr 13 500|
|total income||150||kr 384 300|
We found 4 sponsors for RaAM 2020: the scientific association (RaAM), the John Benjamins Publishing Company, the local municipality of Hamar, and the Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan (Multiling; our partner organization based at the University of Oslo). Most sponsors prefer to support a concrete event or prize, rather than offer general support: Multling agreed to cover all the expenses for our keynote speaker from the USA; the local municipality agreed to sponsor at the wine and finger food at our opening reception, which was to be held at City Hall; Benjamins agreed to host the ‘traditional’ Phd party; RaAM also offered bursaries for some students (not included in our budget). Both Benjamins and RaAM offered more funding than they normally do, as Norway was known to be a high-cost country.
Most of our income, however, had to be generated through conference fees, and had to be sufficient to meet our expenses (see below). To budget, we needed to make a realistic estimate of the number of regular and student delegates we could expect. The information we had to go by was the number of delegates at previous RaAM conferences, which varied from 140 to 210, depending on year and country. We feared that the high prices in Norway might negatively affect the participation rate. It was our ambition to offer a substantially lower fee for students. In addition, we had to charge an additional 25% valued added tax on the conference fees, to be paid directly to the Norwegian government. The fees we ended up charging, 3200 kr for regular delegates and 1700 for students, were the result of trial and error after we had figured out our most likely expenses:
|Fees and salary/redemption||Salary/cost||Explanatory note|
|4 international speakers||kr 0||no speaker fee|
|Entertainment/ Conference opening||kr 5 000||student musicians & sound technician; 15-20 minutes|
|Entertainment/ PhD party||kr 10 000||professional band; 2 sets|
|Entertainment/ Other||kr 0||not applicable|
|Redemption / Local organizing committee (LOC)||kr 30 000||60 hours; academic staff|
|Redemption / External operations support staff||kr 22 500||50 hours; administrative staff|
|total fees/salary/redemption||kr 67 500|
|Other expenses/operating costs|
|Marketing||kr 0||free on social media, linguist list, etc.|
|Opening reception||kr 10 000||sponsored by local municipality|
|Student bursaries||kr 0||none offered by INN|
|Conference material||kr 10 000||swag, badges, flowers, etc.|
|Travel, keynote speakers||kr 20 000||from USA, Italy, Ireland, England|
|Accomodation, keynote speakers||kr 19 000||5 nights x 4 people|
|Day package, 4 days (non-paying delegates)||kr 17 500||coffee breaks & lunches for keynote speakers, LOC, student helpers|
|Day package, 3 days (paying delegates)||kr 150 000||coffee breaks & lunches|
|Conference dinner (non-paying delegates)||kr 9 750||keynote speakers & LOC|
|Food/drink PhD party||kr 10 000||2 free drinks per PhD student; sponsored by the publishing company|
|Conference management system||kr 0||EasyChair, free version|
|Conference registration system||kr 0||INN system, no charge|
|Digital conference platform||kr 0||not applicable|
|Meeting rooms at college||kr 0||INN buildings, no charge|
|Gift for keynote speakers||kr 800||kr 200 x 4 speakers|
|Poster prize||kr 1 000|
|Paper prize||kr 1 000||sponsored by the publishing company|
|LOC incidental expenses||kr 0||none|
|total, other expenses||kr 249 050|
|TOTAL, all expenses||kr 316 550|
As you see, conferences cost money to organize and run. In addition, we had separate budgets for 1) the optional conference dinner (which would have cost kr 750 per person), 2) the optional post-conference excursion (which would have cost kr 250 per person), and 3) the optional pre-conference workshops (which would have been free of charge).
The overall cost of this conference was held lower by the facts that 1) our keynote speakers kindly waived any speaker fee beyond compensation for their travel expenses, 2) our college did not charge us for rental of facilities of for use of the college registration portal, and 3) we chose to use the free version of the EasyChair conference management system (even though that entailed more work for us).
One last note: by law in Norway, we must budget for the time staff spend for conference organization: TIME IS MONEY, after all. Sixty hours spent on RaAM 2020 meant sixty fewer hours that could be spent in teaching or conducting research, which what the Norwegian government pays us to do. Here, we budgeted for 20 hours each for 3 members of our academic staff. Just to be clear: There is a massive amount of planning and behind-the-scenes activity that goes on in organizing conferences, meaning that we also volunteered masses of hours to this, mainly out of love for lingusitics. 🙂
The final result = Expected income minus Expected expenses (kr 384 300 – kr 316 550) = kr 67 750, or a 17.5% surplus, well within our regulations requiring a minimum of a 10% budgetted surplus. This gave us ample wiggle room to cover for unexpected expenses.
But the covid19 pandemic struck struck & RaAM 2020 was never held. Instead, we converted the physical conference to a digital format. Check out the budget for RaAM 2020Virtual here!