Making a Drupal Camp work: Lessons from Baltimore Drupal Camp
Organizing and conducting a Drupal camp is a great experience, and it’s a great way to get to know your local community. Having organized and completed two successful Drupal camps in Baltimore, we often discuss what works and what doesn’t work with other camp organizers. Given our two year experience, I want to share our lessons learned so I listed them below as bullets. Perhaps this can be used as a check list for those new to hosting Drupal camps.
Please keep in mind that we were a fairly small camp (100 ~ 200 attendees). I think best practices for a large camp like GovCamp(drupalgovcon.org) can be quite different.
Key Lessons Learned:
- What you need RIGHT AWAY: (if you can have a year before the camp, it will be a big help)
- A date for your camp.
- An operational website.
- Key note speaker. (we asked the President of the United States and the Mayor to be our key note speakers. They said no, but at least now the president and mayor know about Baltimore Drupal camp... maybe?)
- The camp host sponsor. We found, and in talking with other camp sponsors, that a successful camp often has a “host” sponsor that is ultimately responsible for the camp’s success. This is often a company, for example a Drupal shop like us, but it doesn’t have to be. However, It does have to be, in my opinion, someone or some organization that is absolutely intent on making the camp a success.
- Press releases. You don’t have to be a famous reporter to issue a press release. We made a list of press sources like local popular tech blogs and sent them regular releases.
- Name Badges. Many camps have pre-printed, fancy name badges, and it’s fine if you have the resources to make that work. You’ll also need a good relationship with the printer in case you need to make changes just before the camp. We used “fill in your own name” badges, and it saved a lot of work. For the session schedule, we used one 8 x 11 sheet that had the sessions, wifi pass, lunch details, etc. This made it easy to make changes just before the camp.
- Contact sponsors early. Many sponsors plan their budgets for sponsorships early so you need to contact them asap to get some of their budget. See below for a sample email to sponsors.
- Volunteers. We had some volunteers that were simply awesome. If you’re reading this and your a past camp organizer, you know what I mean. There would have been no camp without them. We also had some that disappeared just before the camp or seemed to fade away when real work was introduced. Think about the job/jobs to be done. Getting the donuts the morning of the camp is one thing and spending hours and hours everyday recruiting sponsors is another. I suggest trying to match duties with the skills of your volunteers. For example, you may not want to assign the task of recruiting sponsors to a senior developer (Let him/her build the website!).
- Show sponsors that the camp has value. I think sponsors want to support the community as priority number one, but they are also businesses so they are also looking for value. Their first question is often: What is the attendance (they want exposure)? We did everything we could to help the sponsors get value out of the camp. One thing we did was to offer gold sponsors a list of the attendees and their contact information (during sign up the attendees were given an opportunity to opt out of this list).
- Design your camp to promote inter-action with sponsors. We didn’t do this the first year, and sponsors were very disappointed. However, for the second year we arranged session rooms so attendees were forced to pass through the sponsor’s area, this worked well. Also, we gave away a TV and some other prizes to attendees who got a signature from each sponsor on a post card. This was a huge success.
- T-Shirts. They are a must. But it’s almost impossible to know exactly how many you need. Go ahead and order too many. It’s better than having to order more after the camp and send them to attendees who didn’t get one. (we did this the first year)
- Offering training. For those new to Drupal: We found that a lot of attendees were new to Drupal so we offered a beginner’s class. In the first camp we asked friends and sessions presenters to conduct the training: each would pick an area, like modules, and teach for about an hour. We found that constantly changing the instructor frustrated students, and just because someone is good at Drupal, it doesn’t mean they're a born instructor. Therefore, for the second year we hired a professional, yet still included the training option with the regular ticket. This worked well.
- One day or two day camp? Both of our camps were one day. We just didn’t have the resources for two days, and since we were new at this, we didn’t want to take a chance. However, going forward I’m sure Baltimore Drupal camp will expand to two days.
- Weekday or Weekend day? Our camp was one day only, and conducted on a Friday both years. This meant that most attendees had to take off of work or get permission from their jobs to attend. Generally, I didn’t hear a lot of complaints about attendees not getting permission to attend from their bosses. If fact, I think many organizations using Drupal encouraged their employees to attend the camp. I also think a lot of attendees wanted to get away from their offices for a day. Why not? After all, we had great WiFi and lots of lounge areas so attendees could still work at the event.
- Venue walk through and prep. When we first contracted with our venue we did an extensive walk-though to make sure it had everything we needed. Just before the camp we did a “run-through prep” to make sure items like AV equipment, signage, etc., were working and in place. We also had AV crew on-site to help session presenters. This was a life saver!
- Lunch in or out? This was a big debate for us in Baltimore because we’ve got some great deli’s that offer catering. However, when you offer lunch at your camp, you not only need to pay for those lunches (might be difficult when tickets are only $20 each, T-shirts alone consume more than half of that), but you also have to have someone manage the process. This means making arrangements with the caterers, making sure there are enough lunches, making sure attendees don’t take two lunches, making sure specialty lunches find the right people, etc. Since we felt like we didn’t have the resources to manage this, and since we had a plethora of restaurants next to our venue, we asked attendees to go out for lunch. This also helped ease the budget strain. This seems to work well for Drupaldelphia in Philly since they are located next to Philly’s famous marketplace. Ultimately, I think this is a case by case decision. As an attendee, I certainly enjoy a free lunch!
- Giveaways: For our second camp we had a little extra cash so we gave away a TV and some other small prizes to people who visited every sponsor. This was a hugh success. The TV was big and shiny, a real eye catcher, and we got it on sale at Wallmart. This promoted sponsor interactivity and encouraged people to stay the whole day (the drawing was after the closing note).
- Pass the torch. From the beginning we realized that this was not something we would do every year forever so we decided to do it for two years then pass it on to someone else. We've "packaged" the camp up so the host sponsor can be easily changed.
After Camp To Do List
- Send personal thank you emails to sponsors, presenters, volunteers, attendees, in fact, anyone involved.
- Upload the presentations and make them available
- Have a “lessons learned” meeting with your fellow organizers
What we would probably try next:
- Early bird tickets - Getting an idea of attendees early on would certain be a big help. The question is: when people miss the early bird ticket deadline, are they more likely not to go? See link to blog below (microserve.io)
- Saturday camp - This would be experimental to compare with the other camp.
- An even bigger and better give-away like an iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch.
Sponsor Contact Email
As you may have heard, we’re planning to hold Baltimore’s first annual Drupal Camp on (camp date here). It would be great to have XXXXX as a sponsor. I think it would be an ideal opportunity for your organization to get exposure with the Drupal community. I have no doubt sales and recruiting opportunities will go hand in hand with sponsorship. Please also feel free to submit as many sessions as you like: http://YourCamp.com/sessions
And even if you can’t sponsor this year, please attend; an entire day of Drupal sessions for only $20 is a rare opportunity!
Thanks so much!
Head Camp Organizer, YourCamp
Another great blog about running a camp: