Inside Skepticon – Venue Need a Place for a Conference

Hello again, Skepticondoleers! The work of making a Skepticon is divided up into 12 roles. Let’s take a good, close look at one of them: the Venue role. From the job description:

The Venue role is responsible for finding and booking an adequate venue within Skepticon’s budget, and for working with the venue to provide for the needs of the organizers, speakers, workshoppers, and tablers.

It sounds like the Venue work should be all over pretty early on: pick a place with nice rooms and comfy chairs and an available weekend and you’re done, right? As will become a theme with these roles, no flippin’ way — you are just getting started. You will be the one to coordinate the needs of all the other roles for the venue, and you’re going to arrange for those needs to be met by calling your venue contact and begging groveling negotiating just like an adult. What other needs could they have, you ask? Well….

  • Activities is going to need space to have SkeptiProms, game nights, blood drives, art contests, food pantries, community rooms, and more. You will need to make sure that space is available, with the seating, power, A/V, and data connections needed for DJs, woozy donors, art judging, mini-meetings, and roaming dinosaurs named Tinkerbell. You will need to help decide which activities go where based on time, space needed, and the noise that they generate. You do not want the hotel shutting down prom due to noise.
  • Art will need to know what directional, restroom, and other signage is needed, based on the layout of the venue, how the signs are going to be mounted, and how much space is available. You will spend a lot of time getting measurements and other information from the venue: How high are the ceilings in the ballroom? Can we use grid clips, and is there a lift we can borrow to hang a banner? What is the heaviest weight we can hang? Can we have dinosaur/unicorn hybrids riding scooters through the halls? (Art gets a little excited sometimes. Do your best.)
  • Attendees is going to be working with you during the venue selection process to be sure that all needs of attendees are adequately met. You will find out about accessible rooms, stairs between the hotel rooms and the conference rooms, and on-site vegan options. You will find space for a childcare room, not too far from the conference rooms, and a quiet room, not too near the childcare room. You will rearrange places for things until you want to tear out your hair. You will get it all just perfect, and then have to start again when you think of a problem in the middle of the night in October. Then just have to wing it when something unexpected turns up on Skepticon weekend.
  • Publicity will want to know what they can say about the place in all the marketing literature and interviews they will be doing. You will need to find out for sure what the place is like, if the restaurant is really open 24 hours a day, and if the hallways are really plated in gold, before they start shouting it to everyone they know.
  • Speakers role will be granting free rooms to the speakers. You need to coordinate with the venue to be sure that adequate rooms are reserved, and that the bill comes to Skepticon, instead of to them.
  • Tables needs enough space to have vendors and other tablers in the midst of con traffic, but where they won’t make it difficult for attendees to get by. They may also need power and an internet connection with adequate bandwidth for each table.
  • Tech will need to know exactly what type of A/V equipment is available, and will probably want access ahead of time to play with all the toys soberly assess the technological capabilities and challenges. You need to provide accurate information, and arrange for an introduction and tour.
  • Workshops needs to have smaller conference spaces reserved for simultaneous tracks of programming. You will coordinate with the venue for chair and table setup for each workshop, according to their needs. During the conference you will be responsible for checking that the planned setups are done correctly.

The past few years have been pretty stable ones for the Venue role. We’ve been happy with our choice of the Springfield Oasis, so it’s mostly been a matter of working with them to schedule a weekend, and negotiate the contract. But it hasn’t always been that way.

The first two Skepticons were held on the lovely campus of Missouri State University. For student groups, university space is a great option, since it’s usually cheap or free. Universities are also good at accommodating disabilities. SK1 was at the student union theater, but SK2 grew too big and needed to move to a larger theater in one of the school buildings. The downsides of universities are that there may not be much in the way of accommodations for out-of-towners, and the facilities are set up more for formal lectures rather than for full conferences.

For Skepticon 3, the expected 1000+ attendees was just too much for even the largest hall on campus. The organizers found the nearby Springfield Expo Center, with the University Plaza Hotel right across the street. It certainly had the room for SK3, but was both very expensive and had an impersonal, industrial feel about it. Another fun feature with the Expo Center is that proselytizers and protesters could stand at the entrance and hassle everyone.

Next, the organizers tried the “classiest theater in town” for Skepticon 4, the Gillioz Theatre. It is a beautiful venue, much better aesthetically than the Expo Center, but at 1100-ish attendees SK4 strained its capacity. Also, it was built in 1926, and though it was remodeled extensively in 2006, the bathrooms were weird, there was no room for vendors, and it was hot. Hot, hot, hot. And not in a good way. Everyone baked in that venue, and a local source of cool refreshments was surprisingly hostile. It just wasn’t going to be viable, no matter how good it looked.

So, Skepticon 5 and 6 returned to the Springfield Expo Center. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. Because of the size of the place we often had to share with not-quite-compatible events, like a quilting convention that hated SK with a burning passion. Additional problems piled up, and after the noise level in the hotel’s atrium got skeptics kicked out around midnight at SK6, there was a general feeling that a better solution was needed.

And that’s when someone found the Oasis. It can seat 1500+ in its grand ballroom, has a suite of separate workshop rooms, and many more small meeting rooms scattered about the property. The technology for putting on A/V production meets our needs nicely. The rates are affordable, and best of all it has glittery teal floors in the lobby!

The people that we work with at the Oasis treat Skepticon very well. They’ve been very flexible with accommodating our sometimes unusual needs. (Giant bowl of whipped cream? Enough caffeine to keep a small army awake? Disarm the security guards? They got you covered.) Many of the staff have expressed enjoyment with having the conference at their venue. Some will use their off time to listen to lectures or watch some of the silliness go down. We have built a level of trust with the Oasis that makes everybody’s life easier.

The biggest downside that we have with the place is that the hotel is an absurd maze, complete with secret passages. The organizers have become very familiar with the layout now, but we recognize that any first timer is going to have difficulty navigating. (Okay, the sinks in the restrooms are weird, too, but that’s a minor point.)

All of this work is worth it when we end up with a really cool place to get our Skeptic on. Join us there in November, won’t you?

P.S. Your donations are what make Skepticon 10 possible, so you are where it’s at for us! And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!

Inside Skepticon – Who’s In Charge Here?

Hiya Skepticonderites! On this episode of Inside Skepticon, I want to talk about how Skepticon makes decisions and gets work done. The structure of Skepticon is something that has changed in the last year, in ways that we hope will make life easier, and I’m going to share how it’s gone so far.

Since the dawn of Skepticon it has been sacred tradition for the organizers to make decisions via (friendly) argument among those who were both available and interested. Work was performed by those who were willing, (or bribed, or cajoled), and had the time and energy to cope with it. This has the advantages of immediacy, flexibility, and if no one else is around at the moment, autocracy! In a small volunteer organization this is pretty common, since life often interferes with everyone’s ability to participate regularly.

(more…)

Inside Skepticon – Signin’ on the Dotted Line

For our first adventure in making a Skepticon, let’s take a look at the contract with the hotel and convention center that we sign (not in blood, honest!). Exciting! After choosing a weekend to party, this is the first real step in getting this show on the road. In a later post I’ll say more about our home of the last three years, the Springfield Oasis, and why we keep coming back.

So, what’s in the venue contract? It lays out what convention and hotel space Skepticon is reserving. It says how much Skepticon needs to pay for that space, and when. On the convention side it’s easy, we just take over the whole place! It’s comfortable to have it all to ourselves, and not have to worry about sharing with a holistic crystal faire or finance industry festivale. (We’re sure they’re nice people.) (more…)

Inside Skepticon – What Do Skepticoneers Do All Year?

Hiya, Skepticontown! Skepticon 10 is a mere seven and a half months away, and already the organizers are hard at work making it a reality. What’s that you say? You always assumed that we hibernated from December to October, stirring occasionally to ask for donations?

It’s a plausible hypothesis, seen from the outside, but the truth is that to put on a Skepticon (or most other major conferences) requires a year-round effort from our hardy gang of volunteers. Okay, we might press the snooze button through the month of December, but after that, we promise that we’re awake and doing the things.

In fact, planning for a Skepticon begins before the previous Skepticon goes on stage. Venues book up a year or more in advance, and to get our weekend in November, we need to get on their calendar by September the year before. We’re also brainstorming on our theme, and reviewing to figure out what we can do better. Sounds pretty easy, but don’t forget that at this point we’re also panicking about the inevitable last minute problems for the current year.

Maybe you’re curious about what the Skepticoneers are doing all year. Good! Curiosity is one of the most important characteristics of a skeptic. Before volunteering with Skepticon, I had volunteered at some national and local conferences, but never really had an understanding of the work that goes into an event of this size. This year, to satisfy those with similar curiosity, I’m going to blog about it as we go. Stay tuned for an inside tour of Skepticon 10.

P.S. Yes, we are going to ask for donations. And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!

Fundraising: Where we are

Hey Skepticoners!

Can you believe it’s only 42 days left until Skepticon starts? We are SO EXCITED!!! But we’re also having a cash crisis.

We post our financial reports, but we also know that most people don’t want to read those boring reports. So we thought we would give you a glimpse at the budget for this year:

Accessibility 2,650
Attendee Expenses 2,500
Fees & Insurance 700
Printing 1,000
Speaker Hotel Rooms 3,700
Speaker Travel 3,600
Supplies 500
Venue 9,000
Videography 1,200
Subtotal $24,850
Activities 2,000
Merchandise 4,500
Speaker Gifts 1,000
Total $32,350

The subtotal is the estimated amount that we must receive in order to just put on the conference — no extras. We might be able to pinch a few more pennies, but $24,850 is pretty much the minimum we need.

The items under the subtotal are the things that will be cut or eliminated if we don’t reach our full fundraising goal. This would mean no Prom, no t-shirts or shot glasses, and no way to say thank you to our generous speakers.

So where are we now? We’re at $12,556. That’s right, we are only halfway to the basic, bare bones conference. It would still be awesome, because Skepticon always is, but don’t we want it to be awesomer?

We have had some fantastically generous donors give us large sums of money, but a big portion of our donations are $5-100. When we say every dollar counts, we mean it!

How can you help? We’re glad you asked!

We here at Skepticon Headquarters will do our best to pinch all the pennies and squeeze all the dollars, but we need your help to bring that moolah in. Thank you for your help, no matter how you do it!

Love,
Team Skepticon

Where Do the Dollars Go?

Hi Skepticon-town!

We here at Skepticon HQ are forever begging you for money. You get it, we need funds to make Skepticon happen. But do you ever wonder where your money is really going?

Wonder no more.

We have a brand new Financials page on our website! We have included reports for both our fiscal year and a report that shows our income and expenses for the calendar year. We have also included copies of our Federal income tax filings.

What is a fiscal year? A fiscal year is a tax year that ends on a date other than December 31. Our fiscal year end is June 30. This means our tax returns are filed based on our income received July 1 through June 30.

What do the reports show? The Statement of Activity shows the income received and expenses incurred by Skepticon for the time period shown at the top of each column. The Statement of Financial Position shows how much money is in our bank accounts, as of the last day of the last month at the top of each column.

Why do these reports start on July 1, 2012? Our official date of incorporation was July 3, 2012, so July 1 seemed like the perfect starting point of our new accounting record keeping. This is your money, we figured you might like to see all the numbers, not just the current ones.

Why did you include a calendar year report? Skepticon’s fundraising cycle is closer to a calendar year than our fiscal year. Technically, each fundraising cycle is from the end of one Skepticon to the end of the next, but since our conference dates change each year, that’s an impractical way of reporting. So, we’ll use a calendar year for the fundraising cycle reporting.

What is a 990-N (e-Postcard)? This is the version of the tax return we file with the IRS. As a non-profit organization that normally earns less than $50,000 in gross revenue (that is, income before any expenses are taken out), we are not required to file a full tax return. A full tax return is required when we receive more than $50,000 in 3 out of 5 consecutive years — this is our dream and goal! Yes, we do actually want to file a big honkin’ tax return, because it means Skepticon has become an even bigger success!

Why did you provide all these reports and stuff? This is your money we’re spending. You deserve to know where it goes.

I have questions about the reports! Email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to answer questions!

 

We appreciate all you do to help us keep this conference going. If you donate to us, THANK YOU! You rock! If you pass on our calls for donations through your blog, social media or word of mouth, THANK YOU! You also rock! If you don’t do either but still love Skepticon, THANK YOU! We make this conference happen for you, our audience, and we appreciate every single one of you!

 

Love,
Skepticon

 

P.S. Help us keep Skepticon awesome. Please donate here if you can!

SKEPTICON IS OFFICIALLY TOO LEGIT TO QUIT

Guys. Guys. Hey Guys. I read the MOST AMAZING letter ever last night and I want to share this with you so that you can freak out with me!!!!

Dear SKEPTICON, INC.

We are pleased to inform you that on review of your application for tax exempt status we have determined that you are exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to you are deductible under section 170 of the code. We determined that you are a public charity and the effective date of exemption is July 3, 2012.

Sincerely,

Director of Exempt Organizations

I’ll translate that for those of you who aren’t tax nerds like me: We’re official!!!! We did it!!!! We’re a federally recognized charity!!!! This is HUGE for us because it means that new donors are more willing and able to give funds to us because they may get to write it off on their taxes. I know that personally, my big girl job will make a grant in my name to federally recognized charities if I do volunteer work. I’m gonna go fill out the forms as soon as I’m done with this as I’m pretty sure I’ve accumulated some time!

So pretty please, if you have a rich uncle looking to donate to a good cause or if you ARE a rich uncle and want to drop some money on us, visit our donation page. If you work for a corporation that will make grants to 501(c)(3) Public Educational Charities, shoot us an email at [email protected] and we will GLADLY give you any information your company requires to get them to give us dollars. If you’ve always wanted to help out Skepticon but don’t have the money personally, applying for grants is a great way to put in some effort at your leisure without costing you a thing.

There’s nothing stopping you now! Help us feed the dinosaurs and make the seventh Skepticon the best one ever! All the money goes right back into making your time with us as wonderful as it can be! We love you!!!! See you in 106 days!!!

-Rebekah and the Skepticon Team

P.S. TOO LEGIT TO  QUIT

Holy Donkeyballs Skepticon Nearly A 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Charity

Skepticon is totally on its way to official IRS recognition as a charity!

Your friendly neighborhood number-cruncher here! After many moons of trials & tribulation, drinking, crying, and finally the assistance of the mostest greatest CPA in the world… we have all the paperwork for our 501(c)(3) status packed up and ready to ship!!! It was a very long time coming, but it turns out incorporation and taxes are generally something that the volunteer organizers (who consist of 4 art degrees, 1 mathematics, 1 nursing, 1 business, 2 college drop outs and a cat) generally don’t handle.

It was really, really hard and if any other organizations are thinking about being nonprofit charities, you seriously need to talk to a financial professional, invest heavily into quickbooks, lots of beer, and save every receipt ever. Three years and two failed solo attempts later, we are shipping off the final 46 pages of paperwork and an $850 check.

Huh?

What in the world is an IRS recognized 501(c)(3) status, you ask? Those are the silly numbers the IRS has arbitrarily assigned to an Educational Public Charity. Yeah, that’s right, I used it as a proper noun. That’s how excited I am. Anyway, as an Educational Public Charity, we’ll be able to do the following awesome things:

  • Apply (and hopefully receive) for Education-related grants
  • Not pay sales tax. This helps your money stretch further. Example: Over $1,000 in tax for the venue alone last year. Shipping, printing, plane tickets, and more all add up.
  • Get on state and federal level websites that list charities to get new donors
  • Send you awesome donors letters that might get you tax deductions

A What?

Yeah, that’s right. I said tax deductions. The moment you’ve been waiting six long years for: donating to your favorite convention should be tax deductible! Now, a caveat, we have to be approved for it, and you should probably talk to your mostest greatest CPA in the world (we call ours Cool Rebecca. No, it’s not me.) to make sure your donation can be deducted from your personal taxes… but I can see no way that this could go wrong!

We are requesting that the IRS approve our tax exempt super awesome charity status all the way back to July of 2012. If you are one of our fabulous donors, once we have the official word, we’ll send you a letter acknowledging your awesomeness and your donation amount. You might want to hang on to that.

If you’re planning to do any sort of amendment to your tax return and need it ASAP, shoot us an email at [email protected] Now that you can get back when you give, what are you waiting for? Click that donate button!!!

 

Funding Update for SK6

Donate-Dino

 

Skepticoners! With just over two and half months until our big date, we thought it was high time for an update on stuff and things.

The good news: we’re almost halfway to our fundraising goal of 30,000!

The bad news: we’re only halfway to our fundraising goal of 30,000!

 

Here’s a chart to break it down:

SK6Funds_Chart_082013

We can do it! Please help us keep Skepticon FREE to attend and happening every year by donating to us today. If you have already donated, please share us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and chain mail letters to all your friends and foes!

Also, don’t forget about these great fundraisers happening right now:

Every little bit helps, so let’s make a conference!

Love,

Skepticon

Skepticon Gets the Warm Fuzzies

Internet!

As a few of you may have heard, Skepticon made a pretty big decision on what to do with a sponsor a couple of days ago. Since then, quite a bit has happened.To start,we have raised over $3600! All thanks to the generous support of this awesome community. You all have definitely helped us get a great start on funding this year’s con and we couldn’t be more amazed by this community.

We would also like to clear something up: Debbie Goddard is absolutely going to speak at this year’s Skepticon. She has always been an amazing part of this movement and has been especially integral in helping both The Missouri State University Chapter of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Skepticon find traction in its fledgling years. In short: we heart Debbie.

Thanks for everything!

Love,

Skepticon