How Virtual Events Help Sponsors Achieve Their Marketing Goals—and Chapters Achieve Their Revenue Goals

We’re at the phase in the coronavirus crisis when everyone is exhausted by their present circumstances and searching around for silver linings. Here’s one we’re seeing mentioned quite often: associations are having to shift directions and experiment with new ideas. Yes, these pivots hurt in the short-term but the long-term impact could be marvelous.

Take for example, virtual events. Members want to continue learning and connecting—more than ever, perhaps, given the economic and societal impact of this crisis. To meet that need, associations and chapters are hosting virtual events to replace their canceled in-person events. In the future, they may continue offering virtual events for professionals who normally can’t or won’t attend the usual events.

Associations are also lining up new sources of revenue from virtual event sponsors. In our last post, we suggested that chapters talk with their sponsors and exhibitors about how virtual events can help them achieve their marketing goals. Now, let’s take a look at some of those goals and the sponsorship opportunities your chapters can offer to support them.



Many chapters have drawn a line between content and vendors—never the two shall meet. Unfortunately, this rigid attitude causes chapters to miss out on sharing the expertise of sponsors. These members of your professional community interact with a wide range of clients, leads, and partners. They have valuable knowledge and information to share with members.

Sponsors would rather teach than sell, so give them that opportunity—more accurately, sell them that opportunity. For example, give sponsors the opportunity to co-present a live or recorded session, perhaps a case study with a member client or a recap of research findings.

Other thought leadership options are:

  • Panel moderator
  • Keynote/speaker interviewer
  • Q&A or chat go-between/facilitator

Sponsors could host Zoom or web-conferencing breakout rooms for session “table” discussions and informal roundtables. Allow them to invite purchasing decision-makers (VIPs) to exclusive deep dive sessions with keynote speakers.

Offer year-round thought leadership opportunities to sponsors who have expertise to share with members, for example, a sponsored webinar or video series. IASA offers active (speaking) and passive (advertising) sponsorships for their webinars.

Sponsored content is another option: articles, white papers, research reports, tip sheets, checklists, and templates. A sponsored pulse survey would be helpful to members right now given their interest in the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and responses to the crisis by others in their industry.

“Sponsors could provide information to help members with challenges identified in recent member surveys, issues related to changes in the marketplace, or new pain points as a result of the coronavirus,” said Dan Kowitz and Bruce Rosenthal, co-conveners of the Partnership Professionals Network.


Help sponsors get their names and faces out there by giving them the opportunity to host pre-event virtual coffee breaks or happy hours. They could also pay for the privilege of serving as volunteer orientation guides for your virtual event platform.

Display sponsor logos on slides and thank-you videos between sessions. Play video ads or informercials before sessions—and keep those ads with the recording for on-demand viewing. Just like in-person events, let sponsors make speaker introductions and run Q&As at the end of sessions.

Get creative with how you leverage your virtual event platform for sponsorship opportunities. For example, let sponsors host virtual happy hours, breaks, and lunch tables during the event. In their breakrooms, they can host fun activities during breaks, for example, chair yoga, lessons on juggling household items, trivia contests, or Jeopardy.



A more challenging task is replicating an exhibit booth or tabletop exhibit, but associations are attempting it. Assign exhibitors a web-conferencing breakout room where they can showcase or demo their product/service. A company representative can act as the room’s host and provide downloadable materials or links to a special event landing page.

If you’re using an event app in conjunction with the virtual event, encourage exhibitors and attendees to take advantage of its appointment scheduling tool.

Turn a section of your website into an expo hall with a page for each exhibitor that includes promotional information, videos, and a link to more information. Encourage exhibitors to create a special landing page or URL so they can track referrals.



In an ASAE Collaborate discussion, the CEO of the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools (ATLIS) wrote about their recent virtual conference success. Sponsors were assigned a time and Zoom breakout room for “meet and greet” sessions during breaks. They gave presentations and demos—the “virtual equivalent of exhibit hours.” Depending on the number of sponsors and exhibitors, you could assign limited hours like ATLIS did or provide a breakout room for the entire event.

You could also ask sponsors to host virtual pre- or post-event lunch and learns, coffee breaks, or happy hours. The sponsor pays for the opportunity, but also sends gift cards (UberEats or GrubHub) for snacks/beverages to attendees. While attendees break bread (or pop corks) together, they can discuss work-related and other hot topics.



Looking back a year from now, it will be interesting to see what new strategies, tactics, and programs came out of this crisis. It’s a good time to experiment and consider ideas you may have dismissed in the past as impossible, impractical, or inappropriate. It’s also a crucial time in your relationship with sponsors. To get through this financial crisis, you need to be there to help each other.

Keep your eyes open for sponsorship ideas from all kinds of sources, including other associations and for-profit organizations. We’ve seen good ideas in blog posts and webinars from PCMAMPIEventMBMeetingsNet, and Meetings Today.

We found these resources valuable too:

In an Associations Now article, Bruce Rosenthal said, “One key lesson learned… is for many years, most have put our sponsorship eggs in the conference basket. While this is an extreme instance, it’s really risky because of the presence of disease, weather, and other calamities. We have to ask what can we do differently in the future.”

You can help your chapters develop a more sustainable approach to non-dues revenue by showing them how to develop virtual and year-round sponsorship packages for their revenue partners.


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.