AdaCamp was a two-day unconference dedicated to increasing women’s participation in open technology and culture. This page is part of the AdaCamp Toolkit, which helps you take AdaCamp’s tools and practices and apply them to your own event. You can re-use the text of this page under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike license with credit to the AdaCamp Toolkit.
In order to improve access to our event, all AdaCamps offered travel grants to local and international attendees. Typically we offered 2 international travel grants in the range of USD $1000–2000, and 5–10 national travel grants in the range of USD $300–500.
For a smaller event like AdaCamp, travel costs from outside the host city usually far outweigh your registration costs and are a major reason why people may not be able to afford your event. So travel grants are an excellent way to increase equity in accessing your event, allowing people from around the world to attend without needing to fund their own travel.
However, coordinating travel grants competed with finding catering that was tasty and inclusive for being one of the most disproportionately tedious and time-consuming parts of organizing AdaCamp. This page outlines some of the difficulties you may encounter setting up a travel grants program, especially an international one, and some potential solutions.
Aim to make final travel grants at least two months before your event, especially for international travellers. Visa applications for some countries can take two months or more to process and two months notice can be the minimum time for some travellers to buy acceptably cheap airfares.
Things to watch out for
- Demand. AdaCamp often received 50 or more applications for our 5–10 travel grants.
- Disclosure requirements: do you need to disclose the names and addresses of travel recipients on, eg, your tax filings?
- Spam filters: they love eating travel and money related emails.
- Recipients who receive a travel grant but don’t reply to it.
- Recipients who accept a travel grant but don’t follow the process through, eg, don’t send cost estimates or receipts.
- Recipients who aren’t used to retaining and providing receipts (this is something students often aren’t accustomed to).
- Recipients who can’t afford to spend the money themselves and be reimbursed later.
- Recipients travelling to a country or region where it’s difficult to obtain receipts for purchases.
- Recipients in countries where checks are the standard method of sending money, as you’ll need to follow up regularly to make sure that they received the check and to make sure they deposit it.
- Recipients in countries where it is difficult or impossible to receive payments from a foreign organization, eg because banking isn’t widespread or banks don’t accept international wire transfers or the local currency isn’t traded on foreign exchange markets.
- Recipients in countries where incoming foreign payments are routinely audited or need to be accompanied by detailed paperwork.
- Grants falling through, particularly ones for international travel. (Around 50% of AdaCamp international travel grant offers were turned down by the recipient.)
- Applicants who apply for the event after the travel grant deadline and ask you to provide a travel grant program and/or ask for ad hoc grants.
- Applicants who were rejected for a travel grant but still accepted to the event may be confused about their status.
- Other grant-offering organizations may be overwhelmed by the demand from your attendees.
- Research in advance of your event whether you need to disclose the grant recipient details to anyone — nonprofits may have to list grant recipients in their tax filings, international transfers may need to be disclosed to anti-money laundering agencies — and make this clear to applicants for travel grants.
- Have a marketing plan for your event that does most of the marketing before the travel grant deadline, so that people don’t hear about the event after the travel grant deadline has passed.
- State your application deadline very clearly on the application/registration form for your event.
- In advance, draft clear simple letters for all of these situations:
- an applicant has received a travel grant and must accept it by DEADLINE
- an applicant has not received a travel grant but is welcome to attend the event
- an applicant who was refused a travel grant but one is now available for them
- an applicant who is not invited to the event at all
- an applicant who inquires about a travel grant program after the deadline to apply
- Have as few steps in your process as possible, and set clear deadlines. For example:
- require that the recipient of the offer must reply to accept their grant by a specific deadline (within 1–2 weeks)
- follow up on grant offers at least once, as discussions of money often get lost in spam filters
- incorporate acceptance of the grant into the registration form, so that recipients register and give you all the details you need at the same time
- send a final email when someone’s grant is being withdrawn due to failure to reply by the offer deadline
- Have a double-entry bookkeeping system in place for your event and a system for entering grant payments long before you open requests for travel grants.
- Have a conference staff member regularly review Accounts Payable to chase up unpaid grant recipients.
- Have an internal list of runners-up for grants who can be awarded grants as some of the chosen recipients reject them or do not accept them by the deadline.
- Identify organizations that offer closely related third-party grants in advance, and contact the grant administrators to streamline how you can send your applicants to them. Would they even consider that attending your event was a good use of their grant in the first place? If so, offer to assume the bulk of the work yourself. Eg, would they prefer you to collect attendees who fit their criteria and send them in one bundle for review? Would they like a preliminary ranking of applicants? Would they prefer to offer you a certain amount of money to award directly?
- Don’t provide a public list of possible travel grants provided by other organizations: quite a few applicants will methodically apply for all of them. Instead, consider suggesting general categories of funding they could seek so that they can do their own grant research.
- When you close travel grant applications, make it clear that the program existed but has closed. Eg, don’t delete all mention of it from your website or application form, instead put on both of them something like “Unfortunately, applications for travel grants closed on DEADLINE.”
Tips for reimbursing grant recipients
Paying recipients — especially ones who aren’t in the same country as the event or its organizers — can get complicated fast. Here are some partial solutions to the problem of paying recipients. (Note: you may need to seek legal or tax advice to put them into practice. This list is general in nature and is not professional advice.)
- If allowable under your country’s tax laws, develop a grant policy where, instead of needing to provide receipts, recipients sign an agreement in advance to receive a specific amount of money and to only spend it on travel.
- Where possible, transfer money through a direct deposit system, eg the local Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) system, wire transfers or Paypal, rather than using cash or checks.
- For international payments, sign up with a retail-level foreign exchange broker for both better exchange rates than are typically offered for international wire transfers and far faster payment times.
- If electronic transfer or check is impossible, and if your attendees can afford to cover their travel expenses until you reimburse them, consider paying them in cash at the event.
Example travel grant policy
This is an example policy that allows your event to send funds to grant recipients based on travel estimates, rather than collecting receipts.
This policy is provided as an example only and is not professional advice. Seek legal and tax advice before advancing funds to grant recipients.
Application and eligibility: EVENT applicants will be considered for a travel grant if they:
- apply to EVENT and are approved by the selection committee; and
- ask for travel assistance.
Ineligible applicants: ORGANIZATION directors, ORGANIZATION staff, and the EVENT selection committee assessing the grant proposals are not eligible for grants, nor are their immediate families. Any directors, staff or contractors required to attend EVENT in the course of their duties should be reimbursed in accordance with the ORGANIZATION travel and expenses policies and/or the terms of their contract rather than through the grants process.
Eligible applicants: In addition to members of the general public, ORGANIZATION volunteers are eligible for grants but must disclose the relationship in their application. ORGANIZATION contractors who wish to attend the event in a strictly private capacity are eligible for grants but must disclose the relationship in their application.
Decisions: The following criteria will be considered when ranking the applicants requesting a travel grant.
[Your event’s selection and ranking criteria here.]
Amount of Grant: Travel grant amounts will be set by ORGANIZATION staff or the selection committee based on the number of travel grants to be awarded, the money available in the organization’s budget and the applicant’s travel estimate. Travel expenses can include:
- economy class flights, rail travel and/or bus travel,
- transfers via public transport,
- hostel or hotel accommodation on the night before and and night(s) of the event only,
- travel expenses related to accommodating special needs,
- for international travelers, visa fees and travel insurance costs.
The travel grant cannot be used for travel expenses of any other person, such as family or friends. [Note: if allowable under your country’s tax laws, you could consider allowing grant funds to cover the additional travel costs of nursing children, or children under a certain age, or dependents generally.]
Distribution of Funds: Travel grant funds will be distributed to the EVENT attendee upon:
- receipt of their travel estimate containing a clear description of all expenses that qualify for the grant,
- confirmation that they have registered for the event, and
- upon return of a signed grant letter indicating they will use the funds for said travel.
Funds will be sent to the EVENT attendee by a mutually agreed mechanism, eg check, wire transfer, EFT, Paypal or travelers’ check. In cases where no other reasonable payment mechanism can be found, funds will be distributed via local currency at EVENT by the EVENT organizer.
Return of Funds: Applicant shall return the travel funds if:
- they are not able attend EVENT due to circumstances in their control, and/or
- they cannot use the funds in accordance with this policy.
Funds will be returned by the EVENT attendee to ORGANIZATION by a mutually agreed mechanism, eg check, wire transfer, EFT, Paypal, travelers’ check or cash.
If the grant recipient is unable to attend EVENT due to circumstances beyond their control — such as an act of nature, illness, or illness or death of a close family member — they should return any funds that they can recover through refunds or through a travel insurance claim. They do not need to return any funds they cannot recover.
- AdaCamp Toolkit, International travel support letters, which you can provide to both travel grant recipients and anyone else travelling internationally to the event.
- Geek Feminism wiki, Travel funding, a list of possible third-party travel granting organizations. For reasons given above, be cautious about providing a link to this list to your attendees.
Example travel grant program webpages, available under Creative Commons licences:
- Open Stack, Travel Support Program
- Wikimedia Foundation, Travel and Participation Grants