For the past 30 years, the Organic Growers School Spring Conference has served as a gathering place for growers in Appalachia to connect, learn from one another, and deepen connections to land and community. The Spring Conference began as an entirely volunteer-run and free event and has expanded to support an organization of ten staff with year-round programming. As we have grown, we have experimented with different approaches to keeping the event affordable and accessible while also working on compensation for our speakers and supporting our growing staff. We encourage you to check out our recent blog post exploring this in more depth. This year, we are excited to be experimenting with sliding scale ticket pricing for the first time, and we wanted to take some time to explain how this works and why we decided to implement it this year.
Looking beyond scholarships
Over the past several years, we have started implementing different scholarship options. We have set aside around $3000 in our internal budget for scholarships, and we have increased our outreach to other groups in the area who have funding to support individuals to attend conferences. We also offer work-trade opportunities for people who are interested in helping out with our event in exchange for attendance. We have around 100 work-traders access the conference each year through these opportunities, but we have never used up our entire scholarship fund for the event. We know that there are many individuals in our community that we are not reaching through our scholarship opportunities. We began to wonder if scholarship applications were creating a barrier to participation and started researching other options, landing eventually on sliding scale as our preferred model.
How alternative pricing models address accessibility
The sliding scale model, which offers the opportunity for participants to select a price to pay for their ticket, meets several of the parameters we were looking for in an accessible pricing model. Most importantly, it is a seamless way for attendees to access the price that meets their needs. So many things are means-tested in our society, and it can be exhausting to justify why one needs a more affordable price point. While many of our community members need financial support, there are also members of this community who have more than enough to share and are excited about supporting their fellow co-learners. These attendees can select the higher end of the sliding scale, which will be set at a price to offset the lower price paid by other attendees. We trust our attendees to select the option that best works for them while also considering how their selection would affect the ability of other participants to access a lower price point.
Accessibility is a priority for OGS, and implementing it is a risk for us as a small non-profit, given that we rely on our large events like the Spring Conference to support our year-round programming and staff salaries. This will certainly be an experimental year, and if we are not able to secure enough income through sliding-scale registrations, we will have to rethink our approach to pricing. We trust that our community will be thoughtful in thinking about the value that this conference has to them and about what they are able to pay for at this time. Thank you for being on this journey of discovery with us!