Hackathon Budgeting

Know the costs associated with your hackathon.
Budgets are the main starting point in determining how much your sponsorship requirements for the hackathon will be. It also helps determine the logistical load your organizing team is looking to take on and which tools and services can help you do your best and most productive work in an economical way.
The best starting point of making a budget is always using an excel sheet writing down the main tools/ services you're taking into account and the different other things that will make up the best experience for your hackers.
Digital events have significantly lower costs compared to in-person events. This is because the costs of food, lodging & venue which take up a significant chunk are removed. Though the addition of shipping might add to the costs, this too can be greatly reduced with judiciously planning the distribution.

Major Costs to Consider

  • Food [In-Person Only]: Providing hackers with food is one of the major costs associated with any hackathon. Everyone expects their dietary restrictions to be fulfilled alongside having high quality good at the hackathon. This comes in as one of the major aspects of hacker experience at almost any hackathon we have seen.
  • Tooling: The platforms you'll be using during the course of your hackathon. This include the event platforms like the
    • Communication Platform for building up conversations within the hackathon. It can also be used for announcements or updates and to share resources with hackers. Recommended Platform: Discord
    • Streaming Platform [Digital Only] for Opening & Closing Ceremonies. Recommended Platform: Streamyard
    • Video Calling Platform [Digital Only] for hosting your workshops, mini-events, live demo judging, webinars etc. Recommended Platform: Zoom
    • Virtual Conference Platform [Digital Only] can be used for running the whole event in a consolidated space. These platforms are a bit costly but the hacker experience they provide is much better than using different streaming and calling platforms. Recommended Platforms: Hopin, Gather.Town
  • Swag (Schwag): "Stuff We All Get" T-shirts, stickers, water bottles, lanyards, etc.
    • Distributing swag is a digital world might look a bit difficult as the costs of shipping are associated with them. We would recommend you to look at the different options available which can be easily fulfilled from your side within a budget.
  • Prizes: Prizes are the driving factor in most of the hackathons these days. Though giving out prize money might seem like an easier option, we recommend giving out something that can help hackers learn, grow and utilize for their personal development.
    • For Digital Events we recommend checking for prizes that can be easily fulfilled with free delivery through Amazon or any other online service.
  • Shipping Prizes and Swag [Digital Only]: This is an added cost in digital events. We recommend getting quotes from different shipping services based on your estimate of swag and prizes. We recommend using the local postal services (like USPS or Indian Post) as they often are the most reliable & economical shipping providers. We recommend to check out MLH Organizer Event Fulfillment to see how MLH can help you curb these costs!
  • Web Hosting/ Internal Toolings: One of the starting costs for any hackathon. Though these are one of the most important costs which might get overlooked we recommend checking out the GitHub Education Student Developer Pack and different open source alternatives for the tools you might be paying for unnecessarily.
Before you can begin asking for money, get a sense of how much cash you need to pull off your hackathon. Create a budget template based on estimated costs and your expected number of attendees.
Note: We recommend you build in a buffer of $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the size of the event. In our experience, organizers will always need this extra money. If you don't, you now have a head start for next year!

Helpful Figures

Over the years we've found the averages costs for major budget items are as follows (US Hackathons):
  • Food: $8-10 per person per meal
  • Snacks & Drinks: $10 per person
  • T-Shirts: $5-8 per person (dependent on volume)
  • Buses: $3,500 per bus