Help People Afford to Attend Your Conference

Running a conference - especially if you're new to conference organizing - is hard work. The most nerve-wracking part is making sure you have enough attendees to cover costs. But what if you could make it easier for more people to attend while selling more tickets?

This conversation was started thanks to a tweet by Matt Wheeler and kind of exploded from there.

The ideas here are mix-and-match firestarters for your conference. You know your fellow organizers and attendees better than anyone, so use what would work best for you. Keep in mind that some of these items may add more overhead time-wise to organizing, but they will help your conference be more inclusive and accessible (and potentially more profitable!).

(Note: These suggestions specifically relate to cost and focus on helping attendees afford to attend. I recognize there are a wealth of other reasons people may be unable to attend a conference, perhaps a topic for a future post :} )

Make attendees aware of low-cost options

Most conferences dedicate a page on their website to lodging, transportation, and food options. You can easily expand what you offer there to include:

  • Hostels, motels, airbnb, couch surfing, or other low-cost lodging in the area
  • For hotels that provide shuttles from the airport/hotel/to the venue, include any associated costs
  • Link to a google group or similar place to allow people to setup room or ride shares with other attendees. This can also connect local people who are willing to allow someone to stay at their home or are willing to pick people up from the airport.
  • Public Transit options, including costs and whether they can be paid in cash or if tickets/tokens are required
  • Shuttle and taxi information, along with average cost from the airport to the venue area
    • Bonus points: offer conference-paid shuttles going from the airport to the venue area
  • If you aren't providing meals, create a list of low-cost restaurants (or link to a specific yelp search for the area), grocery stores, or bodegas in the area. (Beyond those with budget constraints, your attendees with dietary restrictions will be happy for this list!)
  • If you aren't providing childcare, provide a list of reputable and trustworthy childcare facilities in the venue area
  • Provide information on how an attendee can talk their boss/company into covering their ticket + travel. Webstock has an excellent example of this.


Every conference has attendees that won't have an issue with the cost of a conference ticket, travel, lodging, or other expenses. These attendees may be willing to help others if you give them the opportunity.

  • Allow people to pay more for their ticket. Add a "chip in!" option during ticket checkout. This can be especially successful during Early Bird Ticket time when they can pay more to help someone else, while still paying less than the full ticket price.
  • Allow people to purchase an additional partial or full ticket to help another person attend. Create a "Scholarship Sponsor" sponsor level to add these people to and be sure to thank them during the conference.
  • Allow people to pay an additional 50-100% for their ticket to attend the speakers/sponsors dinner.
  • Create a ticket price tier. (To avoid a feeling of hierarchy within the attendees, do not advertise the ticket tier on the attendee badges.)
    • volunteers get in free, or at a discounted rate
    • students (with a valid school ID) get a discounted rate. Couple this with approaching local colleges and universities (your best bet is to find an instructor/professor in the appropriate program) about letting their student know about your conference and the discount they'd receive.
    • self-employed individuals get a discounted rate (I'm not sure how you'd validate this?)
    • have scholarship or "diversity" tickets? Add your conference to Diversity Tickets
  • First-time attendees get a discounted ticket if purchased with a full-price ticket.
  • Host a fundraiser to raise money for your scholarship fund.


  • Announce your CFP as early as possible to allow people to start looking around for airline tickets, taking time off of working, arranging childcare, etc. If you pay for any speaker expenses or have a scholarship fund, announce it at the same time so those who wouldn't otherwise be able to speak/attend can get that information.
  • If you are paying for your speakers' travel, lodging, and/or other expenses, give them the option to donate those costs into your scholarship fund.
  • Alternatively, allow them to donate those funds toward the purchase of a ticket, which the conference will give away in their name.


  • Approach organizations and businesses that can benefit from getting more people into the community, such as online educational programs, web hosts, or other services that are useful to users of all ability levels to donate to your scholarship fund.
  • Denote that within each sponsorship (at any level), 10% of the cost goes towards your scholarship fund.
  • Give local restaurants sponsor credit for giving attendees a discount on meals purchased at their restaurant when they present their conference badge.

Spread the love

Sometime during your conference, announce how much you were able to raise in your scholarship fund and how many people (without pointing out said people) you were able to help attend. Encourage other conference organizers to talk to you about how you ran your scholarship fund and offer to donate a portion of your leftover scholarship funds (if there are any) to theirs in exchange for a Scholarship level sponsorship.


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