How Virtual Events Help Chapters Recover Sponsorship Revenue from Cancelled Events

It’s not an exaggeration to say that nearly everyone in the association community is freaked out by the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis. A recent Partnership Professionals Network (PPN) survey found that 82% of respondents are extremely or very concerned that COVID-19 will result in less sponsorship revenue for their organization because of canceled events.

75% of the PPN survey respondents said their organization will incur a financial loss because of how they’re dealing with the sponsors of their canceled conferences:

  • Refunding the total fee to sponsors (35%)
  • Refunding a portion of the fee to sponsors (9%)
  • Applying the sponsor fee to the same event next year (33%), which will reduce next year’s sponsorship revenue

Only 49% are choosing a better option: applying sponsor fees or a portion of them to other events (virtual and/or in-person) and/or digital marketing opportunities this year. Why aren’t more associations and chapters choosing this route—a strategy that allows them to retain anticipated revenue and sponsors to receive anticipated marketing ROI?



Members—professionals and suppliers—rely upon their chapter to provide regular education and networking opportunities. In the midst of this isolating and nerve-wracking crisis, now is not the time for chapters to go silent, nor is it the time for chapters to close their eyes to revenue-generating opportunities. Virtual events give members and sponsors the chance to enjoy what those canceled events promised.

In March, NAIOP held a virtual town hall with their chapter leaders during which their vice president of business development presented options for replacing event sponsorship revenue. Ask your association’s sales team—colleagues who manage sponsorships, exhibitions, and/or business development—to suggest sponsorship strategies and tactics that chapters can use for virtual events and year-round opportunities. But, if you don’t have those resources, share the advice we’re providing in this post and the next one.

Leverage your event and content assets


Sponsors and exhibitors are your revenue partners. Get in touch with them right away to discuss how you can work together to help them achieve their marketing goals. Dan Kowitz, co-convener of PPN, suggests taking this approach: “What we’d like to do is start to look at ways we can work with you to recognize that you are sticking with us in tough times and being a supporter. Let’s get a proactive communication program out that says our value partners aren’t leaving us. We are going to figure out ways [our members] can interact with you.”

Revenue partners may already think of sponsorship and exhibit fees as money spent. They were expecting a return on their investment in your event. How can you still deliver that value?

Talk to revenue partners about their event goals, for example:

  • Spreading brand awareness
  • Showing thought leadership
  • Meeting and qualifying potential leads
  • Moving leads along the sales funnel
  • Deepening relationships with clients

What did they hope to achieve in person? How can that be accomplished in a virtual environment?

Show them the tentative agendas for your upcoming virtual events. Create a video that walks them through the online meeting platform so they get a sense of the look and feel of the event. Create a sales page on the chapter website describing the different types of event and year-round sponsorship opportunities you can offer.

Keep in mind these considerations:

  • Is the sponsor’s marketing budget affected by coronavirus crisis?
  • Is their business suffering?
  • Does their staff have the bandwidth to take on these new opportunities?


Think beyond the typical chapter event sponsorship and exhibit offerings—logos and tabletops. Look at your event app and event platform as virtual venues. How can you use that “real estate” to spread brand awareness for your sponsors?

Consider program goals too. What type of event-related content would attendees find valuable? Sponsors and exhibitors would rather teach than sell. How can they share their expertise during and after your event?

Sponsorship opportunities could include:

  • “Show daily” newsletter
  • Handouts
  • Tip sheets
  • Advertorials and other sponsored content

One advantage of virtual events is the attendee data they provide. You know exactly what attendees are doing, how many are doing it, what they’re saying, and what they’re clicking on. This engagement data can help chapters plan future content and programs, but it also helps sponsors and exhibitors learn about their leads and customers’ interests.

Don’t limit your brainstorming to event-related sponsorship opportunities. Sponsors would prefer to get in front of members throughout the year, not just a few days a year. In our next post, we’ll show you how to help sponsors achieve their marketing goals with thought leadership, brand awareness, and other opportunities at chapter events and throughout the year.


We have opportunities for CRPs to meet up virtually throughout the year. Check out our Events page for details on our next one. Or, follow us on TwitterFacebook and/or LinkedIn, and subscribe to our updates.

With all this talk about virtual events, are you getting a little FOMO? Well then, download The Complete Guide to Virtual Event Creation to learn how to best to engage and showcase presenters, sponsors, and exhibitors.

About the author

Charlotte Muylaert is the former Marketing Leader at Billhighway and greekbill. She oversaw the marketing and branding strategies for 10 years in the fraternal and association markets.