Traditionally, sponsorships have been the lifeblood of countless associations’ meetings and events. But as events have become increasingly digitized, the relationship between sponsors and nonprofits has become a bit strained. In the past, sponsors could count on prominent branding and in-person presentation along with networking opportunities. With the transition to primarily virtual (mainly Zoom if we’re honest) conferences and the rare socially distanced in-person event, the conventional benefits to sponsorship are less enticing. So how can nonprofits create renewed interest in payout as a critical lifeline?

Pre-Covid Sponsorships

Let’s start by looking at the relationship sponsors had with pre-Covid events. For a fundraiser or auction, sponsors could donate an item and have their logo prominently displayed. Event merchandise like t-shirts, pens, and tote bags were perfect opportunities for a sponsor’s logo and message to go home with attendees. At a large-scale event like a convention, sponsors would have an opportunity to speak before presentations or have a booth on the convention floor.

What about these sponsorship opportunities made them so appealing? Having a table at a convention creates moments to connect with attendees. Logos appearing on signage act as advertising, and t-shirts and merchandise allow the brand to stay in attendees minds long after the event ends. With the move to primarily virtual events, there is the sentiment that guaranteed moments of connection are no longer present. Fortunately, you can adapt many of these practices to the virtual event landscape.

Entering The Virtual Landscape

The key to virtual events are creating moments of anticipation, participation, and connection. Sponsors are generally unimpressed with having their logo featured on a web page because it’s static. You can’t guarantee all event attendees will see it, let alone feel compelled to learn more about the sponsor company. But sponsors may be unaware that the lifetime of an event’s marketing opportunities extends before and after the event date. With most events being entirely virtual, online promotion is just as important as the event itself. Email, paid social media ads, and banner ads all provide opportunities to include sponsors and give them visibility. But aside from paid promotion, you can include your sponsors in more organic marketing measures.

The language of the Internet is content marketing. If you provide something of value, people will appreciate it, remember it, and (most importantly) share it. Invite sponsors to have a representative give a small talk during the course of your event, preferably on a topic related to the event. Create a slide deck in partnership with your sponsors that summarizes key event takeaways that attendees can save and share with their networks. Offer Zoom backgrounds that include sponsor logos as a watermark. These are just suggestions, but these kinds of free digital content encourage your attendees to engage with your sponsors in an analogous way to how they would at an in-person event. The key to attracting quality sponsorships is providing a clear value exchange. While these attendee-facing options are worth considering, there is also a more technological back-end worth discussing.

Crunching The Numbers

The true draw for any online advertising is data collection. While virtual events seem to attendees like a digital version of traditional events, from a sponsorship perspective, sponsors doubt that they’ll have attendees undivided attention. But in the process of registering and contacting attendees online, you gather data that can be extremely useful to sponsors. In Rosenthal and Gloede’s white paper, they discuss sponsors’ key needs, namely growing awareness, connecting with a specific demographic, and generating sales leads. Data collected from your event can fulfill these needs. After the event, you can aggregate event data and provide your sponsors with a comprehensive report that shows which speakers had the most viewers, where attendees were watching from, and which days and times were the most popular. This kind of information can give sponsors insight on what that demographic responds to, and where they can best focus their advertising in the future.

In a more casual approach, your virtual event can benefit sponsors by driving your attendees to certain social media pages and hashtags. Creating an event hashtag and encouraging attendees to share their own photos, videos, and reactions creates a well of content for your association and sponsors to draw from not only during the virtual event, but also after the event has ended. During the course of your event, you get to see in real time what attendees are responding to, and it creates opportunities for your sponsors’ brands to interact with attendees on a more personal level.

Get Creative

If your event has space for a virtual raffle or photo contest, you can make one of the rules for entry be to follow your association’s account and a sponsor’s account on social media. This way, both you and your sponsor guarantee a furthered relationship with your event attendees, and you provide value to your sponsors in a way that is enjoyable to the attendees. After the event, content you have created and curated can be used by both your association and your sponsors in newsletters, recap posts, and future promotions. Solid content about the event can not only be showcased through your website, emails, and newsletter, but it can also be repackaged as proof of concept for future events and collaborations.

In Conclusion

As the world has shifted from in-person events to virtual and hybrid events, the way associations work with sponsors also has to shift. The key to transitioning into a virtual environment is to create opportunities for your sponsors to connect with your attendees before, during, and after your event whether it’s through a speaker, event analytics, or social media. You know your attendees and what motivates them to attend an event. Use this knowledge to create natural moments for your sponsors to connect with them, and you’ll have a successful event that leaves everyone feeling happy.


Rosenthal, Bruce, and Chris Gloede. “The New Sponsorship Model for Virtual Events.” Ricochet, 17 Sept. 2020,, Ernie. “Virtual Events: Make Your Sponsor the Star.” Associations Now, 18 Sept. 2020,