PASS–An Organization in Trouble

Published On: 2020-06-19By:

PASS is an organization that has helped my career at many levels. I’ve served as a user group leader, a SQL Saturday organizer, a regional mentor, and spoken at PASS events around the world. PASS has a big problem–its main revenue source is the annual PASS Summit, which isn’t happening in person this year due to the pandemic. This is a force majeure event, which would have been challenging for any organization, but especially one that’s been managed as poorly as PASS has in recent years. Today, I’m calling on the PASS Board to put C&C in formal review based on it’s failures to properly manage the organization. 

If you don’t know, PASS is run by a for-profit Canadian company called Christianson & Company, which has been involved with PASS for as long as I have at least. If you look at my good friend Steph Locke’s analysis of the organization’s budget, you can see how little of of the organization’s revenue goes back into community activities. While the board of directors continually praises C&C for their efforts, most members and volunteers have not value for these efforts. SQL Saturday subsidies have been cut, the website has numerous bugs, which has lead many events to no longer be run under PASS’ governance, especially in Europe, where most of the major events are no longer SQL Saturdays. 

The list goes on: the job board never grew into anything worth further investment, the 2019 Microsoft Modernization events sponsored by Microsoft didn’t get the traction it should have, the execution of the Business Analytics Conference was a complete failure (something C&C should have excelled at), the multiple attempts to create lasting events in Europe was a failure (the full PASS Summit and SQL Rally), and all efforts to monetize Summit content has fallen flat. 

This brings us to today: While this pandemic is likely (and hopefully) a once in a lifetime event, for having a full-time management company, it has not been handled well. The conference dragged its feet moving to virtual event, being beat to the punch by many other events. Additionally, as most of those other (admittedly vendor subsidized) events went online, they became free events. So PASS is in a situation where most of their formerly paid competition, like Microsoft Ignite, and VMWare VMWorld are free online conferences. So they need to prove they can deliver value in their paid conference. And arguably the management company is not handling it. They’ve outsourced it to another third party.

At DCAC, we’ve thought about how to make a virtual event better. We haven’t worked out the details, but during Denny and John’s precons on Azure, I’ll be in adjacent chat/breakout room if students in the session want to see a specific demo again, or ask some deeper dive question. A competent management company would been thinking about this since the pandemic became news in February, and it was fairly obvious that the event was going to be virtual. What I would have done is the following:

  1. Plan a small-ish virtual event in late March or early April with 5 prominent community speakers on whatever platform appeared to be your leading candidate for a virtual summit. This does two things–it lets you work out some of the kinds of a virtual conference, and helps your demonstrate the value of your event, by maybe having breakout rooms with out speakers. The community would have helped with this.
  2. After demonstrating that value, announce the virtual conference. Plan a series of smaller virtual events to keep up the energy around the event.

I spoke at event this week that had nearly as many attendees as PASS Summit did. It was run by the volunteers. Great job @eightkbconference

C&C is not a management company. At this point, they are PASS. They have no other revenue, all 20 or so employees work full-time for PASS and they are on an opaque contract with no end in sight. It’s disingenuous for us to consider them anything less. Their organizational oversight is a volunteer board. Not even the executive committee has a fiduciary responsibility to the organization. No one is paid and therefore, no one has skin in the game. That’s why all the excess money is simply funneled into C&C’s pockets while SQL Saturday sponsorship budgets are cut and there is no value to the UGs affiliation beyond the Summit discount and a marketing platform they could get free anywhere else. You want more value from PASS? For this and all the reasons I list above, I say the community should call on the PASS BoD to put C&C in review, accept competing offers, and see what the market will come with.

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