What I Learned As a WordCamp Organizer

July 8, 2019

I recently had the honor of serving as an organizer on the Communications Team for WordCamp Europe 2019 in Berlin, Germany, worked my butt off, and made 3000 new friends.

Over the course of 10 months of planning and 3 full days of programming, I thought often about how the WordPress world and the nonprofit world are peas in a pod, and how proud I am that Cornershop’s nonprofit customers are served by such an incredibly open, accessible, and diverse community as WordPress.

Here’s how volunteering as a WordCamp Organizer made me love WordPress even more:

WordWhat?

What’s WordCamp, you ask? WordCamps are “informal, community-organized events that are put together by WordPress users like you,” according to the official WordCamp website.

“Everyone from casual users to core developers participate, share ideas, and get to know each other.” There are hundreds every year, all over the world. Find one near you!

While this description certainly fits my WordCamp Europe experience, it seemed anything but informal from the inside: instead, it seemed a VERY professional and well-oiled machine.

My seven-person Communications team was just one of 10 teams, and we were responsible for messaging regarding the event — before, during, and after — through blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, emails, event banners and fliers.

The WCEU Communications team was just one of 10 teams!

We worked to ensure that the 2,700+ attendees and untold additional livestream participants, 60 speakers, 60 sponsors, and thousands participating by livestream understood how to access the event and what to expect during the three full days of programming.

Volunteers all the way down

You know the concept of turtles all the way down? Well, WordCamps are volunteers all the way down: Volunteers managing volunteers managing volunteers! A single volunteer Global Lead managed a group of 10 volunteer Team Leads, who each managed a team of five to seven volunteer Organizers, and together, all of these folks managed a team of 150+ Volunteers.

All together, sixty-some Organizers volunteered their time ahead of the event, working several hours each week over the course of 10 months.

They continued their assigned jobs during the event, and they were also joined by the 150+ volunteers, who each worked four to eight hours. When you add up all that time, it’s not an exaggeration to say thousands of hours went into the planning and execution of the event!

Thousands of hours went into the planning and execution of WCEU.

Along the way, there was careful consideration of every aspect:

  • from venue selection (Is it accessible to folks with limited mobility? Do they recycle? What about sunlight?)
  • to food choice that went beyond vegetarian or not (Halal? Vegan? Gluten-free?)
  • to childcare (Paid or volunteer? Onsite or off?)
  • to conference booklets (To print or not to print – that is the eternal conference question.)
  • to pre- and post-event activities (Should we share commercial events or only volunteer-led activities?)

And throughout, there was a ton of introspection. Organizers asked themselves and each other:

  • Before: What went right/wrong last year? How can we improve upon what’s already been done? What can we learn from local WordCamps and meetups?
  • During: Is everything going to plan? Are all the volunteers where they meant to be and do they know what they’re meant to be doing? How can we serve these attendees even better?
  • After: What went well? What could we have done better or differently?

This serious commitment to a shared cause and wholehearted willingness to contribute is central to the open-source ethos of WordPress:  we all work together to make the platform great, each of us contributing what we can when we can in order to create an excellent experience for ourselves and others.

A common language

WordCamp Europe is unique in its diversity: this year, it brought together WordPress enthusiasts from 97 different countries, whereas a local WordCamp typically serves a smaller group of people from a more homogenous group.

So what language does everyone speak? Well, two really: English and WordPress.

Granted, we sometimes had to repeat ourselves or say things in different ways to ensure we were understood, but in the end, this group of volunteers from tens of different countries communicated well enough to accomplish a well-executed event that received rave reviews. Vive la difference!

Inspiring fundraising

Although this wasn’t a nonprofit conference, there was an amazing fundraising effort by Marcel Bootsman, who walked all the way across Germany, raising money for DonateWC, which will use the money to help people attend future WordCamps.

Marcel’s inspiring journey led to a great conversation about the expense of WordCamp attendance, and he ultimately raised over 8,000 euro for future attendees!

Everyone has a place

Whether you’re a WordPress developer or your organization’s content contributor, there’s a place for you at WordCamp. Check out the list of upcoming WordCamps to find one near you, and remember: it’s not too late to sign up to help organize WCEU 2020 in Porto, Portugal. Join us!

And if you have questions about how you can transfer WordCamp event planning techniques to your nonprofit events, please ping me: I’m happy to help if I’m able.

By Lesley Molecke

Lesley has been working on the web since she was in high school and ran her own small web design shop before she could drive. She has extensive experience performing user testing and usability studies, rewriting and improving complex language to appeal to a wide variety of audiences, and helping organizations adopt the right technologies to achieve their goals. Her heart really belongs to nonprofits and small businesses, where she can see the tangible benefits of a healthy web presence: donations, connections, engagements, and sales.