Engaging Sponsors During COVID-19

As more and more events go virtual, we’re seeing an increase in conversation around the role of sponsors with virtual or modified events. We have collected some of the best ideas we’ve seen, and will break down our insight on sponsors during COVID-19 in this blog.

Note: while most of these ideas are universal, many of the descriptions assume that you have setup your sponsors in the Sponsor Management Platform on RunSignup. There’s a refresher on Sponsor Management at the bottom of the post.

The Role of Sponsors in Traditional Events

  • Many nonprofits rely more on sponsors for revenue than on registration dollars
  • Sponsors provide connections between an event and the community it serves
  • In-Kind sponsors offer perks and swag for participants that an event may not otherwise be able to offer
  • In return, the sponsor is looking for exposure, traffic (in person or online), and goodwill in their community

The Challenges Today

  • Like many nonprofits, many sponsors are also facing revenue shortfalls
  • The usual playbook of sponsor opportunities – a table at the expo, signage on-course, free bananas on Event Day, etc., – aren’t logical for virtual events

Think Long-Term

The best sponsorships are always going to be those that are long-term partnerships where there is an understanding of mutual goals and mutual benefit. Those relationships are more important now than ever, and step 1 of your Sponsorship efforts should be a simple contact with previous sponsors.

Don’t throw away a sponsor because they cannot maintain their “normal” sponsorship. Instead, work on ways to keep them in the fold in some capacity, and to bring them back in future years.

  • Don’t forget to ask how they are doing. In both a business and personal sense, this shows respect for their organization.
  • Offer a range of sponsorship options to allow them to reduce their commitment instead of cancelling
  • Keep long-term sponsors who cannot financially contribute this year on your website as a gesture of goodwill and a nudge to return when able
  • Ask if there’s anything your event can do to help their business while providing a perk for your participants – for example, if you can offer a coupon code for their take-out food to drive traffic to their restaurant while adding value to the event to help drive revenue through registrations
  • Create creative agreements that include incentives for registrations and donations driven by their network, not just cash

Areas of Activation

This is the meat and potatoes of the sponsor question. What opportunities can you offer when your event is all online?

Direct Mail

Shipping swag is a big part of virtual events and challenges. Offer sponsors a place in your mailer, knowing it’s something participants will eagerly open. You’ll need to balance value and weight here, since shipping can be expensive, and ensure that you have a plan for your shipping and fulfillment. Ideas include:

  • Simple flyers about a product or company are lightweight, but more likely to be tossed
  • Coupons for services/goods also add little bulk, but provide more incentive for the participant to keep
  • Small products with the sponsor’s logo (like a dog leash for a puppy-themed 5K). These provide the most exposure for the sponsor, but also increase their production cost and could increase shipping costs.

Demonstrating the value of Direct Mail to your sponsors:

Swag is always a draw for an event, and that’s never more true than for a virtual event. Including their brand in a direct mailing is an opportunity for your sponsor to be a part of a positive memory for participants.

Key metrics of interest to demonstrate to your sponsors that there is value in a direct mailing include the number of participants, and the demographics of your participants. If you include a coupon, the rate of use can provide an additional data about the reach of their mailing.

Specialized Swag

Take your direct mailing a step further with premium swag featuring your sponsor (tastefully). Current hot commodity: fun, branded facemasks or buff-style face coverings. Design matters if you want to maximize a sponsor’s investment and get people to wear them, but if you can combine form and function, your sponsor could see themself all over people’s faces.

Demonstrating the value of Specialized Swag to your sponsors:

Like with any direct mail item, your metrics are relatively simple: how many runners received the swag. If you want to impress your sponsor, ask participants to post pictures to social media showing off their sweet new look!

Website Display

Sponsors can be highlighted on your website in a variety of ways, from simple to prominent.

Sponsors can be automatically added to your RunSignup website from your dashboard by going to Sponsors >> Manage, and Adding a sponsor. Once sponsors are added, you can control their visibility in two ways:

1. Mark “visible” (or not) with the “visible” button at Sponsors >> Manage

2. Navigate to Sponsors >> Setup >> Display to access additional options, including:

  • Include sponsors automatically on the Event Info Page
  • Include sponsors on the bottom of all pages
  • Include sponsors on the right column of all pages
  • Include sponsors on the right column of all pages, with scrolling partners

Alternatively (or in addition) you can add sponsor to your Cover Page (Race >> Race Page >> Cover page). Add a new content selection, pick “Data” for the content type, and pick “Sponsors” for the Data Type.

Example of Sponsors at the bottom of each page

In addition to the automatic placements of sponsors on your website, you can individual feature them in the content of your website. For example, highlight your Brewery Sponsor on the page for your Virtual Party.

Demonstrating the value of Website Display to your sponsors:

With no on-site directives, participants rely on event websites for every piece of information – from swag details to results submission.

It’s easy to grab metrics for all your sponsors right from your dashboard at Sponsors >> Report. Additionally, each sponsor tile at Sponsors >> Manage will include the number of views for that sponsor – that is, the number of times a page that includes the sponsor has been visited. To increase these views, make sure you’re including quality content on your website and driving your runners to the site.

Email Marketing

If you’re using the Sponsor management program in GiveSignup (and they are marked as visible), your sponsors will automatically be added to the default GiveSignup Email Template. Each email is optimized for both mobile and desktop views.

Demonstrating the value of Email Marketing to your sponsors:

Like your website, email marketing takes on new importance for a virtual event. Participants are often new to the process, and need guidance to ensure they get credit for their accomplishment. In the meantime, they’ll also see your sponsors!

Use the built-in email reports to let your sponsors know how many times they’ve been seen by your participants. Go to Email Marketing >> Email Reports >> SendGrid Email Statistics and select a date range to pull information about the number of emails send and opened.


RaceJoy is a runner/walker tracking app that can be offered by Certified Timers. Virtual events can either be run on pre-loaded, specific race courses, or on “RaceJoy Anywhere” mode for participation in any location. The same features that make RaceJoy fun for participants and spectators also make RaceJoy ideal for promoting your sponsors.

Areas of Sponsor Activation in RaceJoy include:

  • Obvious: An In-App Banner ad that every participant sees when they open the app.
  • Subtle: Add race content and highlight your sponsor in the Race FAQ. For example:
    Q: “I need to hydrate after my event. Where can I get a selection of beverages to help?”
    A: Stop by your local ASC Grocery Store. They have all the gatorade, Nuun, and sports drinks you could need, as well as a selection of beers and wines.
  • Public: Reach spectators as well as participants with Progress Alerts in-app and via social media.
  • Fun: Create custom audio cheers for participants on-course. Give a shout-out when the participant “passes” the sponsor’s building or a specific milestone.
Sponsored Progress Alert

Customizations to promote Sponsors via RaceJoy can be made through your Certified Timer, or at RaceJoy >> Custom Options

Demonstrating the value of RaceJoy Activations to your sponsors:

RaceJoy is all about creating an exciting, fun RaceDay experience no matter where the finish line is. This makes it the virtual equivalent of signage and a physical presence at your standard event!

RaceJoy reporting is ideal for getting metrics to your sponsors, quickly and easily. Navigate to RaceJoy >> Usage to pull information about the number of participants and spectators using the app, the number of progress alerts and tweets served, and the number of clicks on each banner ad.

Virtual Swag Bags with Sponsor Offers

Use Sponsor Offers to create a virtual edition of your swag bag. This allows your sponsors to provide unique coupons and deals for your participants, and have them automatically sent to participants before and/or after the event. Either the nonprofit or the sponsor can create the offer from Sponsors >> Manage by clicking on “Manage” under the sponsor of choice and navigating to “Offer”. The offer is created by inputting a few quick fields.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 8.30.08 PM.png

To send out your sponsor’s offers in a clean, actionable email, you’ll return to email marketing at Email Marketing >> Automated Emails >> Sponsors, enable the emails, and set your options for sending. Alternatively, you can create your own email (Email Marketing >>Send Email) that includes the Sponsor Offers by using the replacement tag for Race Sponsors and Offers.

Best Practices for Sponsor Offers

  • Make the action clear and easy. A coupon code (or unique link with an associated discount) that can be used at an online store is ideal.
  • Focus on products or services that will appeal to your audience.
  • Make your offers time sensitive to reduce procrastination.
  • Use appealing images and congratulatory language. These emails should feel like a celebration!
Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 8.29.29 PM.png

Demonstrating the value of Virtual Swag Bags with Sponsor Offers to your sponsors:

Everyone likes a discount, and providing one can be key for getting your participants to engage directly with your sponsors.

You can use email statistics (Email Marketing >> Email Reports >> Automated Emails) for basic open information to share back with your sponsors. But the best metrics may go directly to the sponsor – make sure the code and/or link they share in the offer is unique to your event so they can easily track their ROI on the offer.

Virtual Event Day

The event is where memories are made – and believe it or not, they can still exist in Virtual Events. Two key areas to include sponsors:

  1. Event Day Announcing. If you have a short time frame for your event (or just ask for all results submissions in a short time frame), consider using technology for a virtual finish line announcer. Your announcer can give progress updates for runners using RaceJoy as well as finishing stats for RaceJoy runners and runners submitting their results on RunSignup. And while you have everyone’s attention, make sure your sponsor is getting some attention during the down time.
  2. Photos. Our free Photo Platform allows for unlimited photo uploads. Encourage participants to share their photos of the event, then upload them to the Photo Platform to add sponsor watermarks to each photo set at Photos >> Setup. Encourage participants to scroll through your watermarked photo set to see where their fellow competitors are running and view their friends on their various courses.

Demonstrating the value of Virtual Event Day to your sponsors:

Event day is the celebration. Use basic metrics to let sponsors know how many eyes were on them.

For any sort of Event Day announcing or virtual, use the insights directly from the social platform (like Facebook or Instagram) to let sponsors know how many people interacted with their content.

For Photos with sponsor watermarks, navigate to Photos >> Locations and you will find a Photo Stats box to show you how many views your photos have – each of which represents a view of the sponsor logo.

Sponsorship Through Participation

Have a sponsor who wants to stay involved, but is short on cash? Ask them to use their network – employees, customers, etc. – to get more people involved in your event. Work out an agreement with your sponsor to include them on your website, etc., in exchange for them recruiting a set number of registrants or donors.

You can setup a specific link for your sponsor to share with their network.

Promotion >> Source Tracking >> Source Tracking Codes

Add a code, label it logically, and click on the link icon to get a shareable link.

You can use GiveInsights on your dashboard to track the number of registrations and donations you get from that link. While this is an unconventional form of sponsorship, it can help you build your revenue through registrations while keeping valued sponsors in the fold during times of challenge.

Review: Using the RunSignup Sponsor Platform

RunSignup’s Sponsor Platform is simple to use and automates some of your sponsor display options and reporting. While you can pick and choose the sponsor features you use, sponsors must be uploaded to the site for them automatically display on your website and emails, as well as to use Sponsor Offers. A quick review of capabilities:

Sponsor Levels

Sponsors >> Setup >> Levels

Sponsor Levels are optional, but allow you to differentiate your sponsors by their committment type (monetary or otherwise). If you want to have your sponsor opportunities listed on your website, the sponsor caps in this section will show those limits.

Add a Sponsor

Sponsors >> Manage >> Actions >> Add Sponsor or Invite a Sponsor

You have the option to either:

  • Add a sponsor on your end (Add Sponsor). This allows you to enter the partner name, URL, description, and logo, as well as contact information and any sponsor level and/or commitment and payment status. Only the name and logo are required.
  • Alternatively, you can choose (Invite Sponsor) and enter the email address of your contact with the sponsor. While you will still be able to control settings like committment status and payment, this option allows the sponsor to upload their own information and description, as well as create their own offers (later).

Sponsor Display

You can determine where sponsor show on your website, as well as if a sponsor should show on your website and emails.

Sponsors >> Setup >> Display

The display page allows you to choose where your sponsors show on your event website, collectively, as well as whether you display the partner levels and if you want to customize your wording.

You can use the “Edit Sponsor Order” button to update the order in which sponsor are displayed on your website.

You can also set the visibility of an individual sponsor at Sponsors >> Manage.

Click on the green “Visible” button and opt to hide the sponsor to remove it from visibility.

This setting allows you to display or remove specific sponsors, and is useful if you have a minimum sponsor threshold for website display, or if you only wish to display sponsors after their payment has been received.

Sponsor Payments

You can use the sponsor platform to track the payment status of your sponsors.

For each sponsor, you can enter their online payment by going to Sponsor >> Manage, and using the drop-down menu on the specific sponsor and navigating to “Payments”.

From the following screen, you will be able to either input information for an offline payment (like a check), or send an invoice. The invoice can be paid online through RunSignup (but this will incur a processing fee), or can include details for the sponsor to pay offline.

To track sponsor payment information on an aggregate basis, you can look at financial reports:

  • Sponsors >> Financial >> Payments will show you the payments made by sponsors
  • Sponsors >> Financial >> Invoices will show you any invoices sent, the status of the invoice, and the ability to manage or update that status.

More Sponsor Setup Resources

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