Bitcamp’s Open Source Budget

Transparency and organization in hackathon finances

Bitcamp—a 36-hour student hackathon that took place at the University of Maryland, College Park, on April 4-6, 2014—is over. By January 2014, my fellow Bitcamp organizers and I had decided to publish Bitcamp’s budget after everything was done. We appreciated the advice we received from other organizers in how to structure and plan our budget, and we wanted to give back. Hackathons helping other hackathons provides a net benefit for the entire community, as the quality of the events will continue to rise with the input of the collective experience of student organizers from across the nation.

Toward this goal, we created a budget template for anyone to use.

We also value transparency in hackathon finances. Hackathons are expensive. They often run on extremely tight budgets and will continue to do so as the number of hackathons competing for sponsorships increases. It is important that all parties involved—organizers, participants, and sponsors—understand exactly where all of those dollars go.

This year, Bitcamp spent $126,325 by the end of the event, which attracted 750 students, about 50 volunteers, and around 100 additional individuals as sponsors, mentors, speakers, and judges. We raised approximately $133,050 in sponsorship money, and predicted that we would spend around $128,325 (we only used $1,000 of our $3,000 emergency fund). We will save the rest of the remaining money for next year. See our full budget here.

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We based our initial budget on an article written by Ishaan Gulrajani (HackMIT). This gave us a rough idea on the categories for which to budget. I formatted his article into a spreadsheet and kept careful track of every projection and purchase. It is important to note that while Ishaan’s article recommends an emergency fund of 10% of the total budget, we used less than $1,000 in emergency fund money. Whether this was luck or good preparation, or a combination of both, we would recommend to others that an especially large emergency fund (for day-of-event use) is a luxury, but not a necessity.

Our biggest challenge was cash flow. We had (theoretically) enough money coming in that we would have enough money by Bitcamp. However, most of our deadlines for payment were one to two weeks before Bitcamp. As sponsorship and finance director, I tried to solve this in a number of ways:

Make financial situations clear. I had trained my team to think of creative Bitcamp activities that would not cost money. I constantly updated my team on the state of sponsorship and our finances, and made sure everyone understood how money was allocated. I also made sure the University (which was the recipient of the majority of our costs) knew how tight of a budget we had.

Front small amounts. While this is not ideal, sometimes students would have to front small amounts of money to pay for immediate costs. I only allowed someone to front money if I knew I could pay them back as soon as possible. All students have been reimbursed in full for the money they fronted.

Make tough decisions. At one point, I realized that our original projected budget of $180,000 was unreasonable. I communicated this to the team. We managed to cut $50,000 from our projected budget by limiting travel reimbursements, completely eliminating our emergency fund projection of $15,000, decreasing the number of participants from 1,000 to 750, and changing our food menu agreement with University of Maryland’s Dining Services. While this meant we couldn’t reimburse everyone who wanted to come (we had a registered list of approximately 1,500 people the week before Bitcamp), we would be able to make our goal in funding.

Maintain good relationships. By March, we had raised around $90,000 from corporate sponsorships. By then, we had also built strong relationships with various officials within the University of Maryland. Various departments and programs within the University contributed the rest of our needed funds in return for website presence, t-shirt presence, and public acknowledgement. I’m not sure this would have happened if we hadn’t been working with key players within the University for the past several months.

Next year, because of our leftover money, we will not have the same type of cash flow issues. No one will need to front any money. And, as we train underclassmen in preparation for passing on the torch, we hope to leave future generations of Bitcamp organizers in better financial shape than we were when we first started.

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This dive into the details of our finances and budget will supplement our post-event report, which details our organizational structure, marketing and branding strategies, Commitment to Women initiative, and event activities.

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