The Skepticon conference is my baby. Even though I am no longer part of the organizing effort, being on half of Skepticon’s formation remains one of my proudest accomplishments. The event means a ton to me.
So you can imagine how I felt when the I learned the other day that in terms of fundraising for Skepticon 5 we’ve fallen short, and not by a little bit.
Five years ago, when Skepticon was conceived, we noticed a problem: the only major conferences available cost, at minimum, a few hundred bucks just to walk in the door. The problem wasn’t them charging money, because groups like American Atheists do phenomenal things with the income from their conferences. The problem is that there was no alternative for those, like myself at the time, who couldn’t afford that. The lack of an alternative created a class distinction where only those with a fair amount of money had access to their atheist heroes. Skepticon was invented as an antidote to that problem. We decided, sometimes after fighting over how easier things would be if we just charged a small amount, to keep it free, and to just work our asses off to keep it that way.
And it worked. While heading up the organizing effort, the most common emails I received contained overwhelming gratitude that there was finally a conference they could afford to attend. The crowds at Skepticon were unlike any other event (and those who have attended can attest to this). Whereas young people were the vast minority at conferences before, at Skepticon they came in droves. The ages in the crowd ranged from 9 years-old up to 91, and the sheer joy throughout the attending crowd was unlike anywhere else I’d ever been. That one could be a part of this event for free is undoubtedly culpable for Skepticon’s trademark high energy atmosphere.
So successful was this model that everybody bought into it. If you speak at Skepticon, you don’t get paid. Every speaker to ever appear there has waived their honorarium. It’s not about making money, it’s about everybody, high or low, coming together to celebrate atheism. It’s about saving all the money we can in order to see that happen, and our speakers have been a big part of that dream. So have the donors. I really do feel that Skepticon, my baby, has become the property of the atheist movement.
But the volunteers are the ones responsible for making that happen. Trust me when I say that putting on an event of this magnitude and fundraising for it is more than a full-time job. When I was doing Skepticon 3, Lauren will vouch, my life was split between school and Skepticon with very little else. I am not complaining – to do it was a privilege that I often wish I could relive. But that makes it no less exhausting. It’s like running a nine-month marathon. And I know, as the event has gotten exponentially bigger (this year it will undoubtedly be the most-attended atheist conference of them all), that the demands have increased on my friend Lauren, who has stayed on as part of the organizing team. They put in this work for the movement, and for anybody who may ever want to attend.
In anticipation of the crowd this year, the event has once again had to switch venues. The Gillioz Theater from last year was filled to the brim at peak, and this year would be, at minimum, a few hundred seats short (but probably more). The only other place in town that could work is the Expo Center from Skepticon 3. Let me tell you, as the organizer from that year, that the Expo Center is not cheap (as I recall, it was around $14,000, and that was after I negotiated them down). That cost goes on top of the plane tickets for their twenty-something speakers and lodging for all of them. All in all, to put on Skepticon requires a group of students or young adults, with classes and with jobs, to raise tens of thousands of dollars, with no thought of reward aside from doing something that injects our movement with a new vigor every year.
I’m writing you to ask that you make the lives of those organizers a little easier. As Skepticon grows, the price grows up, and the cost of that free price tag in human effort becomes even more daunting. At peak last year, Skepticon had about 1200 attendees. This year, given the conversations I’ve had with atheist groups around the country over the last year, I’d say they can expect about 1600. If every one of those people donated $5, that would make up the difference and then some. Of course, Skepticon strives to cater to the poor, so we know not every person will be able to donate $5. So if you are one of the lucky ones who has $10, toss that in.
For those attending, don’t worry: the event will happen no matter what. This is a good team. They’ve put in more effort than I can describe – I’d love to see them not have to also put their own financial skin into this game. Let us, the people for whom they’ve put in this work, assume that responsibility (I donated $100). If you have some bucks and if you believe in this event, please donate. Even if you don’t have money (and also if you do), help spread this post around to everybody you know who may care about this event.