Workshop Participant Fees

To charge (a minimal) workshop fee or not to charge? That is the question

Workshop Participant Fees

A frequently asked question by people running their first Carpentries workshop is whether or not they can (or should) charge people to attend.

This blog post outlines some of the workshop organisation logistics that can help determine whether or not it makes sense to charge for a workshop.

Workshop Costs

One of the major reasons to charge for a workshop is to cover costs. Common costs for a workshop can include:

  • using the workshop space
  • A/V support
  • coffee, snacks, or other food

While coffee or food is not strictly necessary to run a Carpentries workshop (and shouldn’t be the deciding factor in whether or not you can run one!), many Carpentries instructors have found that having coffee, snacks, or other food adds to the workshop experience for participants. Eating together builds community and also makes the classroom into a more welcoming, friendly place.

If you don’t have an external source (grant funding, or money from a budget) to cover workshop costs, charging for the workshop is a good way to make back some or all of that money, and make sure that your workshops are sustainable, which is important if you want to keep offering them on a regular basis.

Neal Davis: At the University of Illinois, we have determined that coffee/light breakfast and a catered lunch for two days can be gotten for about $40 per participant. We thus charge $40 and students get an additional tangible benefit from their participation.

Administrative Challenges

Note that sometimes, depending on the space you use, you’re not allowed to charge, especially if you’re been given the space for free.

There’s also the logistics of how you actually collect the money. While tools like Eventbrite can do this, some institutions require that you use their own in-house system to collect money associated with events. In addition, your institution may have its own rules about whether or not you can collect money and how to do that correctly. Make sure that you’ve checked into these details before you start charging for a workshop hosted at your institution.

Darya Vanichkina: [A fee is] more the hassle for us (and the fact that if we do charge a fee, the Uni asks us to pay for using the room /even though we’re Uni employees) - so it’s always a tradeoff between ensuring fewer no-shows and spending the time setting this up logistically.

Attendance

In general, it seems that people are more likely to show up if they’d paid money to be there. Some community members have recommended that people pay a registration fee that can be refunded to them if they show up.

Obviously, charging for your workshop won’t guarantee that everyone shows up. Thus, whether or not your charge for your workshop, it’s important to communicate the value of what you’re providing to your potential audience. If people can see that they’re really going to get something useful out of the workshop, the more likely that they show up!

Accessibility

It’s important to acknowledge that fees (even low fees!) can make a workshop less accessible to some people.

It is possible to offer a fee waiver option, which can help make the workshop more accessible to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it; however, even the extra step of applying for a waiver can be an additional barrier that prevents people from attending.

Amount

If you decide to charge, how much is right?

Typically for academic audiences, there are two ways of thinking about it:

  • Find out the typical stipend or salary for grad students or post-docs at your institution, and then calculate a cost that seems reasonable based on that amount.
  • Choose an amount that will cover your costs.

Note that the kind of training delivered by a Carpentries workshop would be worth a lot of money in industry! If your audience consists of people working for a for-profit company, you can (and probably should!) charge a lot more money.

Darya Vanichkina: In Australia, we’ve used “random” fees, like 13, 29, 33 or some other non-round dollar number, as 19 seems to be less than 20 (even though it’s really only $1 difference!)

Conclusions

The topics above are just a starting point for deciding whether or not to charge for a workshop. How to make the decision? Here’s some general principles:

  • Think about what’s important to you as the organiser.
  • Take into account any constraints you may have.
  • Communicate the value of your workshop to the participants.
  • If necessary, get creative!

Read on for an example of how Rayna organised a workshop with certain constraints and values (she both didn’t want to charge, but also couldn’t, because of rules about the space), but still was able to organise food.

Rayna Harris: Free workshop in Argentina with ~90% attendance.

I organised a pilot workshop in Argentina to test the Spanish Unix and Git translations. I co-organised the workshop in co-working space that strictly prohibited fee-based events. So, we were not allowed to charge any money. We asked attendees to bring snacks to share, and the organisers provided some coffee and snacks out of their own funds (<$20). For lunch, we ordered empanadas from a nearby bakery; it was a group order, but every attendee paid for their portion (~$4 per person). It was a huge success. I think attendance would have been reduced if we had charged money.

Dialogue & Discussion