About a year ago, in October of 2019, I decided to try to put together an initiative to increase diversity at the CBJ Hockey Analytics Conference. It ended up much more of a success than I could have hoped, largely because of the generosity of the hockey analytics community.
People have asked me how I made it work, so that more of them can happen in the future, so I’m writing this. It’s not necessarily meant to be a best practices write-up; it’s basically here’s what I did, and here’s how I think it could be better.
First, the focus always has to be on the people the initiative is meant to help. Everything I did was designed to help the most people and provide them the most money as efficiently as possible.
I don’t remember the order in which everything happened, but in the beginning I talked to Alison Lukan and Shayna Goldman to help brainstorm how to best make this work. Alison was a large part of the planning for the conference, so working with her definitely helped a lot with figuring out the most efficient way to help people. I also talked to Asmae Toumi, who gave me the opportunity to write a post on Hockey Graphs to promote it.
The way the CBJ conference was set up provided a challenge, in that people needed to create an account to purchase a ticket. I’ll get back to that in a little bit.
I set up 2 google forms, one for donors and one for applicants. I decided early on that for the applicants, I was going to go with the honor system. I didn’t feel comfortable asking people to indicate what qualifies them for the program. That felt weird to me. There may very well be a good way to do that.
For the donors, I asked how many tickets they wanted to pledge. I didn’t collect any money up front. This definitely led to a lot of time contacting people later on, but I also didn’t want to have a chunk of money sitting in my account for a while. I originally planned to give everyone a week to apply or pledge to donate, but I extended that because there was enough time left before the conference that we wouldn’t be rushing. I also asked if they wanted to donate money to defray travel costs.
I wanted to make sure that people donating or pledging could be anonymous, so I asked the people pledging if they wanted to be anonymous. People applying were kept anonymous by default.
We had more tickets pledged than people donating, so I began to think about travel costs. Looking back, this is something I should have done from the beginning. For most people, the cost of travel is the true factor keeping them from attending most conferences, depending on the price of the conference ticket of course.
I asked people whose pledged money wasn’t needed to cover conference ticket costs if they wanted to instead cover the same amount of money in travel costs. Some people raised their pledge.
Once I reached the cutoff for the applicants, I contacted them to tell them that they were getting a ticket and to look into travel. I told them I was working to get them as much as I could to defray costs, but I was upfront with them that it was looking like it would be somewhere around $200 each, so they weren’t expecting 100% of their costs covered. One person lived local, which helped.
The last part was the hardest because of the need for each ticket holder to have an account. What I did was ask the people who pledged ticket money to send me the money. Once the money started coming in, I purchased the tickets for each applicant. After asking in advance if this was ok, I created an account using their email and an individual password I made up. I bought the ticket, then I sent them the password information and told them to change the password.
Along the way I kept detailed spreadsheets of who pledged money, when they sent it, when I bought the ticket, and when the person confirmed they were able to access their account with the ticket. I didn’t want to get an email the day of the conference from someone saying they never got their ticket.
I then did the same thing with travel money. We were able to send roughly $300 in travel money to each of the applicants. Just like with the tickets, I kept detailed records of when the money came in and out. Before I sent out the travel money, I double checked everything to make sure that I received the correct amount of money.
Just before the conference, a couple people were unable to go. They sent back the travel money they had received, and I distributed that to applicants who said they could use it. We were able to transfer their tickets to other people, so they didn’t go to waste.
There was a little money left over because not everyone responded to emails asking if they needed more travel money. I used that money to buy copies of Ryan Stimson’s book Tape to Space to give to applicants at the conference.
For the collecting and distributing of the money, I mainly used Venmo. I also used Paypal, depending on which program each person used. Each provides a way to check that money was sent or received and who it was sent to. Between my records and the payment services records, all the pledges and disbursements were easy to track.
Now for lessons learned:
If I were to do this again, I would have created a separate bank account. I had initially planned for people pledging to send money directly to the recipients, but then I realized that this would have issues with people remaining anonymous if they chose.
Contacting people took forever. Some people responded right away, some people took a while to respond. This was definitely the most consistently tough part, since I couldn’t move forward with something until I heard back from everyone.
The money part was the hardest and most stressful. Like I said above, I kept detailed records on every payment in or out, but it was stressful to be responsible for so much money. If I were to do it again, I would definitely find a different way to handle the money.
I can’t wrap up without thanking Chris Watkins for having the original idea; Seth Partnow for making me think of it again; Asmae Toumi for helping me use Hockey Graphs to raise awareness for the idea, as well as helping me brainstorm; Shayna Goldman for helping brainstorm in the beginning; and Alison Lukan for helping from the beginning to the end. Without Alison’s help from her position helping to organize the conference, it would have been a lot harder.
I hope that we can continue programs like this. At the end of the day, as long as the focus is on increasing the diversity of presenters and attendees of analytics conferences, I’m happy to help however I can.