Paying Back


May 21, 2007

Photo by Katt Yukawa on Unsplash


That’s how much was raised in charitable donations during the course of this weekend’s RailsConf.

It started with the Rails Guidebook. This was a pre-conference all-day tutorial intended to bring people up to speed in Rails, and to point them towards interesting talks. We waived the fee, and asked for a minimum donation of $75 from each attendee. The conference organizers graciously donated the room and AV support. That event raised $12,000.

Then Chad Fowler took it to the next level. During his conference introduction the next day, he threw down the gauntlet. As a result, attendees continued to give.

The Challenge

So the Rails Community has shown what’s possible. Let’s not let it stop there. Everyone in our industry is privileged; we’re all way better off than the folks being helped by these charities. So let’s take this up to the next level. Let’s see if we can make all industry conferences into fund raising events. It’s not hard:

If you run a conference, set up a charitable giving site and advertise it in the program and during the event. (The Pragmatic Studio used JustGive). Sell off extra T-Shirts (the way O’Reilly did during RailsConf) and donate the proceeds.

Consider running a pre-conference Guidebook session. Attendees find them really useful, they have a small marginal cost, and they raise a lot of money. Your speakers will be keen to help out.

If you are speaking at a conference, consider donating your fee to charity. Invite attendees to contribute too. If the conference isn’t planning a charitable tie-in, push them to experiment with one. The overhead is low, and the payback is great.

If you’re attending a conference that isn’t offering a charitable tie-in, ask them why not. Point them to this blog post and to Mike Clark’s description of RailsConf. Tell the organizers that they can contact me if they’d like more details.

Just imagine the difference we could make if, as an industry, we turned each of these conferences into a chance to raise much needed money for worthy charities. Imagine if, rather than getting yet one more burlap bag with a sponsor’s name on it, you instead got a slip of paper saying that the price of that bag was being used to buy vaccine for 5 kids, or a book for a literacy project. Imagine what could happen if a conference with 5,000 attendees raised just $20 per attendee. Then imagine $50, or $100. It starts to get serious.

Let’s start paying back.