For the longest time PASS was known as the Professional Association for SQL Server, and made all of its money from a single event each year, the PASS Summit. If you’ve ever attended a SQLSaturday, you’re a member of PASS. If you’ve ever attended the PASS Summit, you’re a member of PASS. If you’ve ever attended a PASS User Group in your local region, chances are you’re a member of PASS as well.
When Microsoft diversified SQL Server into an expanded universe under the banner of the Microsoft Data Platform, PASS changed their name and logo but stayed pretty much the same: a large in-person conference that financed everything else. To their credit, the board understood — even before the global pandemic — that this arrangement was untenable.
I have been involved with various associations and societies over the years, both “professional” and “amateur,” so I was surprised that PASS chose not to accept annual fees from its membership, relying instead on a single event — run by an event management company that exists for the sole purpose of running the event — and corporate sponsorship to pay for everything it does year-round including Local Groups, Virtual Groups, SQLSaturday, PASS Virtual Events, PASS.org, and the Learning Center.
Given the reach that PASS has in the Microsoft Data Platform space and the impact of COVID-19 on in-person conferences, as well as the presumption by the general public that virtual conferences should be free of charge, I am very happy to note that as of yesterday August 18, 2020, PASS has introduced a tiered membership model that allows members to contribute financially to the organization if they so choose. And they should, because otherwise PASS is going to go away.
What I really appreciated with this announcement (full disclosure: I was invited to participate in the planning phase), is that there is no obligation to pay any money. Everything that PASS offers for free will remain free. There are tens of thousands of members who are not willing or able to contribute financially to the association, and that’s fine. I don’t expect payment when I volunteer my time to support the Calgary PASS User Group after all.
However if you do choose to become a paid member of the association through their PASS Pro Membership (and you should, otherwise PASS is going to go away), it comes with additional benefits to offset that financial contribution, the details of which are unimportant but if you wish to look at them they are outlined in their blog post.
- PASS is still a free association to join.
- PASS is still offering free content to all of its membership including Local Groups, Virtual Groups, SQLSaturday, PASS Virtual Events, PASS.org, and the Learning Center.
- Some extra stuff is available for PASS Pro members to say thank you for the contribution.
In my mind, this is the best of both worlds. Whereas many professional associations expect all its members to pay an annual fee, PASS is taking into account the diversity of its membership and keeping to its mandate (to connect, share and learn), while allowing those of us who can contribute financially to literally pay down the stability of the organization in order to keep things free for everyone else.
I have taken advantage of their Early Bird membership fee of $80 for the first year, and I look forward to being a member of a now more professional association for the Microsoft Data Platform.
If you want a spicier take on the challenges facing PASS as an organization, my co-author and friend Joey D’Antoni has some thoughts.
Share your thoughts in the comments below.