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WordPress Community Support Program Recommends Cautious Spending Until In-Person Events Can Renew Revenue Stream

WordPress Community Support (WPCS), the subsidiary of the WordPress Foundation that handles financial and legal support for official WordPress events, has published an overview of the program’s current finances and a summary of 2020.

Harmony Romo, a financial wrangler at Automattic, reported that WPCS ended the year with approximately $1.2M of cash on hand. $293,000 of the total represents unused Global Sponsorship funds that were rolled over from 2020. Current estimated operating expenses are $276,000. The total cash also includes $216,374 in prepaid expenses that were allocated in 2020 for WordCamps Asia, Atlanta, and US.

Newly published WordPress Foundation financials for 2020 show the WPCS program ended with a net loss, which has qualified for a refund of $50,708.

The WordPress Foundation itself has a lean operating budget, with 2020 expenses totaling $3,438 and donations totaling $10,787. As the subsidiary handling events, WPCS ‘s primary expenses are fees, which total $55,000 per quarter or $220,000 per year. The program will be carefully auditing Meetup groups later in the year to remove those that are inactive, as WPCS is billed for each group.

The main takeaway from the recently published financials is that WPCS’ finances are heavily dependent on corporate sponsorships. With the exception of a handful of in-person WordCamps and meetups, WordPress events have largely been on ice since March 2020. Sponsorship revenue dries up when most events are held virtually, as these types of events tend to offer a less meaningful return for companies and WPCS cannot justify the same sponsorship tiers offered in previous years.

The proposal for the 2022 Global Community Sponsorship program did not include funding for WordCamps again this year, due to the unpredictability of hosting in-person events. The program was also significantly pared back from multiple tiers (ranging from $40,000 – $160,000) to a single package billed at $10,000 USD per quarter, due to lower volunteer engagement among those who administrate sponsorships.

“WPCS does have an adequate amount of cash on hand to meet the current needs of the program, so as we proceed, we should do so cautiously until there is a solid return to in-person events and thus a reliable revenue stream,” Romo said. “Responsible expense decisions have allowed the program to endure and stay flexible as in-person events slowly return from hiatus.”

There are six upcoming in-person WordCamps are on the schedule for 2022 so far. In the absence of Global Sponsorship Program funding for WordCamps, organizers have been told they need to be prepared to raise 100% of the funds for their events. While I don’t think lack of finances is fueling the controversial drive to restart in-person events while pandemic deaths are still high in many areas of the world, getting camps on the books for 2022 is undoubtedly critical to recapturing corporate sponsorship funds. The Global Sponsorship Program changes that were proposed in November 2021 are currently being finalized and the 2022 version of the program should be published soon.