WordCamps are community-organized events for web designers and developers, that are put together by WordPress users, where you can meet up in person and virtually, and learn new skills. The idea is to share with others what you know best, while other WordPress enthusiasts offer the same in return. It's not easy to put together an event like this with no experience. You may not know where or how to start. That's why we've compiled these steps for you so you can organize your own successful WordCamp.
To give us first-hand advice on starting a WordCamp, we connected with Cate DeRosia, a Community Engagement Specialist at Automattic who’s been an organizer and volunteer at WordPress events for the last decade.
To organize an official WordCamp event, you must first apply to be an organizer. The application process is easy, essentially a 20-question online form, but it’s important to start this process before you move on to any other step. All official links to get you started, including the online application, can be found in the Make WordPress Communities section of WordPress.org.
The team at WordPress asks first-time WordCamp organizers to apply and start the pre-planning process about 6 months before the expected event date. Once you’re approved, you gain access to a mentoring program and resources to guide you every step of the way.
If you don't have a space in mind, start by asking other WordPress professionals in your area if they know of any potential locations. You can also speak to the owners or managers of event spaces in your area to see if they would be interested in hosting your event. Some common locations for WordCamps include:
Booking the right space does require some accurate forecasting of how many people might attend. You also need to think about technical requirements, such as if guest WiFi is available, a crucial necessity for any WordCamp. A deposit may also be required to reserve the space, so it’s worth extra time to check around and explore options.
Event space costs are a major consideration, as well. Some places require cleaning fees, security guards, and any number of ad-hoc surcharges. It’s better to go with a modest space you can easily afford rather than raise ticket prices to cover pricey rental costs. While ticket sales and sponsorships help, it’s critical to keep expenses safely within your budget.
Even if you are leaning toward a virtual event, there are distinct advantages to in-person events, such as hallway conversations, sponsor expos, and lunch meetings with new potential collaborators. Of course, it’s crucial to consider the well-being of attendees, but once you’ve determined you can safely host an event, it will likely be more beneficial for all involved.
DeRosia knows this first hand, speaking specifically of the State of the Word 2021 event in New York.
“State of the Word was a really interesting experience. I mean, it was New York City at Christmas and I love to travel. But beyond that, it really cemented how necessary in-person interactions are.
“I’ve always known and advocated for people to attend as many in-person events as is reasonably possible, within your own time and budgetary limitations, of course. It’s been key to how we’ve grown our initiatives and how we’ve seen other businesses thrive.
“Technologies come a long way to making virtual communication feel more personal, but there’s something about sitting across from the table and really seeing them around other people that teaches you so much about them.”
It's important to choose a date that will work for both your attendees and speakers. You want the event to be on a weekend, if possible, so check area sports schedules and community calendars to make sure it’s a relatively open weekend for hosting a local event.
The official recommendation from WordPress is to set aside a 4-6 month planning window to help maintain momentum and creativity from your team. If you're planning an international event, you need to start this process sooner than later—so have your ducks in a row at least six months in advance. Today, WordCamps often offer a combination of in-person and streaming sessions, and if this is your plan, local scheduling may not be as critical.
Avoid scheduling your WordCamp in conflict with the following events that might prevent people from purchasing a ticket:
Not to be confused with picking a WordPress website theme, the next step is deciding what you want it to be about. What topic will you focus on? What are the biggest needs of WordPress users in your area, and how can you help build knowledge for your community?
Choosing a theme for your WordCamp event is a big decision. You'll be choosing a theme that will help direct participants to the kinds of topics they'll be able to learn about and share at the event.
A festive theme will also help guide your visual assets, including your event website design, t-shirt design, marketing assets, and possibly other elements of the event. Just like a birthday party or fundraiser, a good theme will make your event more visually interesting and memorable. If your theme is uninteresting or does not fill a need, you may struggle to sell tickets.
If you wanted to host a WordCamp with a focus on WordPress plugins, for example, you could expect attendees to learn more about different ways they can use WordPress plugins in their website development process. But it’s vital to convey precisely what knowledge attendees will gain about plugins in your marketing materials.
It’s a good idea to reach out to local WordPress power users, and find out the following:
This list of questions is endless, but proper research gives you better chances for WordPress success.
Now it’s time to get the idea out there. You'll need some co-organizers to help with the planning and communicate the news of your event. Look for people who have experience in event planning or relevant industry knowledge. Carefully consider your goals and how they align with what attendees would want from your event before you pick a date and location.
“A community is about them, not you,” DeRosia explained. “Listen to what they’re saying and verify before you act. Don’t do one without the other.”
When given the chance, your local WordPress community will be open about what they’re struggling with. “You simply have to be willing to hear it with as few preconceptions as possible. Once you verify some level of understanding, you can start to work on solutions,” DeRosia elaborated.
“Create a product that fixes it. Write a blog post that answers the question. Find a source to collaborate with. If people are feeling heard and their needs are being met, your community will thrive, and eventually, without you. Which is a beautiful thing.”
The next step is to create a website for your WordCamp. You'll want to include information such as date, time, location, and other relevant details. You'll also want to include any other relevant information such as accessible accommodations, food options, and other amenities. This will help people know what to expect when they attend your event and ensure that they have the necessary arrangements in place before attending.
WordCamp Central is the undisputed hub for global WordPress events. There you’ll find links to the official WordCamp planning site and the official organizer application. There’s also a calendar of upcoming WordCamps. If you’ve never been to one before, it’s highly recommended to check one out in person before hosting your own.
This may seem like the most daunting step, but it is also the most crucial. You will need experienced volunteers to help with all the work.
The best way to get volunteers is by reaching out to people you know who are interested in web design and development. Offer them a chance to be involved in something they care about. You can also find volunteers on social media sites like Twitter or Facebook and through local Reddit forums that specialize in web design and development. Some organizers have even successfully tapped community or church groups to help with day-of-event needs like serving at the registration table and handing out surveys.
It's important to make sure these people are committed before you organize your event because they'll need to spend time helping with planning and preparing for your WordCamp even if they can't attend in person. You want to create a team of volunteers that will stay committed and put in the hours.
And don’t forget to look close to home. There’s room for everyone in the WordPress community, and DeRosia is fortunate enough to have a life partner in the same industry.
“By having different roles in the same ecosystem, we can reasonably travel together and have shared experiences, while still holding jobs that best suit our skills,” DeRosia shared. “It’s also allowed us to have our daughters involved as early as when they were 10 & 12. Now, 10 years later, they’re finding their own place and roles inside the community.”
Most WordCamps rely on sponsors to help pay for the event. You don't want to be stuck with a huge personal bill. WordPress has secured global sponsors to help with WordCamp costs, but many regional and local companies are open to helping invest in the community. Through a Call for Sponsors section on your WordCamp site, you can offer benefits such as logo recognition and expo opportunities to sponsors, depending on your resources.
You may also want to apply for grants from organizations that will help fund your event. Usually, these grants require some kind of a commitment from the applicant, such as following a template or meeting certain deadlines throughout the process. But if they can help you offset costs and make your event more affordable, then it might be worth it!
As the event draws closer, it’s time to sell some tickets. This will help cover the cost of the venue, food, and other expenses. Some WordCamp organizers offer different levels of tickets, from general admission to microsponsor to streaming-only options.
While you may be tempted to offer free tickets for your first WordCamp, free events can sometimes be perceived as less valuable. You must make the right decision for you and your community, however, a low-priced ticket event is often better attended than a free one. Plus, selling tickets gives you a better idea of how many people to expect at your WordCamp.
According to the people at WordPress, average prices run $20-$25 per day. If you believe you’ll have local interest from individuals who cannot afford a ticket, offer Scholarship Ticket options, where they can apply to have their cost covered by a sponsor. To build a community, it’s vital to make your event accessible to everyone who wants to attend, and for many, cost is a concern.
Before your big day arrives, you'll want to promote your WordCamp to as many people as possible. Promoting your WordCamp will help boost ticket sales and get people excited for the event.
Start with simple actions such as sharing your website on social media and reaching out to local influencers in your niche who might be interested in talking about your event. LinkedIn and Twitter make it easy to find WordPress enthusiasts with a quick search.
Reach out to your volunteers and sponsors to ask for additional channels that may be available for promotion. Local businesses may be willing to share their PR resources to help support your cause. Send press releases to your local media, including newspapers, city blogs, and TV and radio stations.
Once you go through the process of organizing your first WordCamp event, you’ll likely find yourself with a list of new ideas and connections to incorporate the following year. DeRosia maintained, “I legitimately find inspiration in nearly everyone I meet, particularly people who are out there giving of themselves speaking, volunteering, and sharing their stories.”
Now that you have read our guide to organizing a WordCamp, are you ready to go out and start your own WordCamp? If you are then— what are you waiting for? It’s time to get out there and make an impact in the WordPress world. From finding a location to gathering a team of volunteers, it takes passion and dedication to organize a successful WordCamp event. It's impossible to know everything before you get started, but hopefully, this article will get you off on the right track. Be sure to let us know on social media if you discover any additional tips you want to share.