Contingencies and Return-to-SIG lines in Conference Budgets

ACM conference budgets are expected to include two kinds of costs that are often misunderstood. We briefly explain their purpose below. In both cases the amount budgeted is a percentage of other conference expenses. The exact amount will vary somewhat from year-to-year and conference to conference, depending on perceived risk. It also varies somewhat between different SIGs. For SIGPLAN conferences, it is important to check with the Vice Chair for Conferences to determine the applicable rate. For conferences cosponsored with other SIGs, please also check with the cosponsoring SIG.


This is intended to cover unexpected costs incurred by the conference, to cover worse-than-expected attendance, or sometimes just to provide funding for some extra opportunity that arises during later planning stages. The SIGPLAN Executive Committee establishes a rate for "low risk" conferences, i.e. conferences that have been held regularly in the same country with predictable attendance. It is adjusted for higher risk situations such as new conferences, above-average attendance variations, for conferences that are held for the first time outside the U.S., or for conferences that need to be planned unusually far in advance.

Any amount left over from the contingency budget becomes part of the conference profit, which goes into SIGPLAN’s fund balance. That in turn is used to pay for a variety of SIGPLAN projects to benefit SIGPLAN members and future conference attendees. Correspondingly, SIGPLAN must cover conference losses, if any.


This line item in the budget is somewhat misnamed.

Each SIG, including SIGPLAN, is assessed a charge by ACM to cover expenses incurred by ACM on behalf of the SIG and its associated conferences. This is essentially a tax by ACM on SIG expenses. The rate decreases somewhat with higher SIG expenses. Hence the average rate varies across SIGs, and is adjusted annually. It is referred to as the “allocation” at the SIG / SIG Governing Board level. SIGPLAN calculates the return-to-SIG rate for each conference to cover the conference’s share of this fee to ACM. The fee is necessary to avoid a loss to SIGPLAN; it is not extra income for SIGPLAN, and SIGPLAN is required to cover the cost whether or not there is sufficient money in the conference budget.

ACM uses SIG assessments to cover a wide variety of expenses incurred on behalf of the SIGs, which are essentially impossible to account for individually or to charge directly to conferences. These include:

  • Help from SIG services with various conference issues, e.g. help with budgets, hotel negotiations, publicity/promotion, accounting, some visa issues for attendees, etc.
  • Help with publications, Digital Library, and printing issues.
  • Protection against legal liability (both legal support and insurance). Last resort protection against financial liability.
  • Maintenance of ACMs conference calendar, and sometimes web pages on their machines.
  • Overhead associated with the administration of ACM itself (which in turn deals with some policy issues, negotiations with publishers, the "free" part of the ACM Portal, etc.)

Clearly there is only a very approximate correspondence between the expenses incurred by a conference and the services it requires from ACM. But large conferences with many co-located events do require more services and incur larger risks than smaller ones. Precise accounting would be impractical and would discourage early use of ACM resources, which is likely to cause more serious problems later. ACM’s budget, including that for SIG-related services, is controlled by the ACM Council, which includes representation from the SIG Governing Board, which in turn consists of all SIG Chairs. SIGPLAN’s finances have historically benefited from profitable conferences, typically because conferences have exceeded their attendance expectations, or possibly because they have failed to spend their entire contingency. Often this was made possible by generous corporate contributions for expenses that would otherwise not fit into a budget. This has enabled SIGPLAN to provide some off-budget services to conferences, fund several forms of student and educator support at conferences and occasional other special projects, and historically kept SIGPLAN membership fees down, especially for students. For SIGPLAN to remain financially viable it is important to continue this trend.

Document History:
Written by Hans Boehm on 5/4/2004.