Fairway to Fundraising: Charity Golf Tournaments
Like any charity event, a golf tournament has the potential to raise a good deal of money for a nonprofit organization. Community members and local companies alike often are eager to participate with charitable contributions and other support.
But — also like any event, charity or otherwise — golf tournaments take a good deal of planning to be successful.
Bridget Baughn, events director at fundraising and philanthropy consulting firm Changing Our World Inc., recommends organizations give themselves nine months to a year to organize their first charity golf tournament. After that, plan on about six months to pull it together each year.
But even before the planning gets into full swing, you need to have buy-in from your board, staff and volunteers — all of whom will have to pitch in not only in the planning but also on the day of the event, when folks will be needed to do everything from running extra napkins to food and beverage stations on the course, to overseeing on-course contests, to helping participants find their parking spots.
Buy-in from the board is especially important, for example, because you’re bound to have a few members who belong to a golf club that would be willing to partner with your organization for the event.
It’s important that everyone understands the event, why the organization is doing it and which programs will benefit from it. That kind of early, thorough understanding and buy-in will translate into a positive experience for participants.
The next step is to create a strong committee. Steve Eskey, assistant golf professional at the Penn State Golf Courses at Penn State University, co-presents a seminar on organizing and managing charity golf tournaments. He suggests the committee be made up of people with key strengths that, when combined, cover all the bases for planning: community leaders, avid golfers and local business owners — people who can identify potential event sponsors and rally involvement in the event.
The Arby’s Charity Tour, a series of amateur golf tournaments held throughout North America to raise money and awareness for local Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies, has generated more than $20 million in net proceeds since 1996. ACT Chairman Greg Hawkins notes that committee members need to understand their commitment to raising money for the event.
“Dollars are really the most important thing,” Hawkins says. “And so we look for a group of 10 to 15 individuals who are solely committed to raising money for that organization.”
Identify someone on the committee who will be the champion of the event — someone who can spearhead the fundraising, find top sponsors and who, on the day of the event, will pull it all together and ensure that everyone mingles and has a good time.
Finding a sponsor or co-sponsors needs to be one of the committee’s first goals. The best sponsors are those that deal with a lot of individual vendors and who can leverage those vendor relationships to encourage participation.
“What that does for you is gives you what I call reach,” says Michael Soderlund, a member of Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation’s board and the founder and director of the organization’s Fidelco Fall Classic, an annual charity golf tournament that benefits Fidelco, New England’s only guide-dog school.
The three-year-old event is a significant revenue generator for the foundation that raised $12,000 its first year and saw 60 percent growth last year, raising $20,000. The event is sponsored by Stanley Corp., makers of Stanley tools, a partnership that has connected the foundation to a host of other companies.
But sponsors are good for more than just green. Co-sponsors of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass ACT serve on the tournament committee and recruit teams for the event, serving as veritable ambassadors for the organization.
“The co-sponsors are the folks that really drive this tournament in terms of getting individuals and companies and corporations to participate, not because it’s a great golf event but because it’s helping us accomplish our mission in regard to mentoring and serving children,” says Joe Gomes, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass.
Sponsors also are the first line of publicity for the event.
“It really initially is not necessarily a massive campaign of advertising,” Soderlund says. “It’s really word of mouth. It’s who you know, and you connect with that person and if that person comes to your event or sponsors the event and they feel good about that, they’re going to tell somebody else.”
For the ACT events, Arby’s runs a restaurant fundraiser and a series of PR and media mobile marketing events in advance of tournaments to increase awareness for each local Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter. If your organization doesn’t have the resources to do that level of publicity, Eskey recommends getting someone from the media — perhaps someone who owns a block of local radio or television stations — on your committee so that when it comes time to publicize the event, that person can help get the word out. He also recommends working with reporters.
“If you’ve got a local beat reporter for golf [at your local] newspaper, you want to get them involved in your event. They [might be able to] write articles prior to your event and after your event publicizing your cause and getting people thinking about your golf tournament,” Eskey says.
Coming in under par
The location of the event is paramount. The Fidelco Fall Classic is held at the Orchards Golf Club in Western Massachusetts, which has hosted a number of premier events including the U.S. Women’s Junior Championship, the NCAA Women’s Division III Finals and the U.S. Women’s Open. This, plus the fact that it’s a private club that most participants wouldn’t normally be able to golf at, is a draw for the event.
Hawkins agrees, noting that typically the courses for the Arby’s Charity Tour are LPGA, PGA or Senior PGA facilities, which attracts senior-level corporate support.
Also important are the events within the event, such as contests, prizes, raffles and auctions; the quality of the gift bag; the food; and the hospitality.
Keeping everyone fed is a must during a golf tournament. Private courses usually require you go through them for food and beverages, while public golf courses allow for more options. If you can, Eskey recommends bringing in a major restaurant chain as a food sponsor.
“What you want to make sure is that you have enough food and beverage out there to always have your participants covered,” Eskey says. “You never want a participant to be looking for something to drink. You never want a participant to be hungry while they’re out there on the course. The main part of food and beverages is the part of keeping those participants happy.”
On-course contests are great additional money makers that entertain tournament participants. These contests need to be staffed by volunteers, but otherwise are a no-hassle way to make a little more money during an event. If the course has a long par five, for example, you can set the tees that teams play from as far back as possible and also set up some tees about 100 yards closer to the hole. Have a volunteer stand at the tee and offer players the chance to move up to the closer tees for $20.
Other contests that can be held during a tournament include putting contests, shoot-outs and hole-in-one contests. Eskey says he sees on-course contests usually generate between $5,000 and $15,000.
Finer details like making sponsor signage visible on the course and starting and ending the event on time also contribute to an event’s success. Soderlund warns against overbooking the event and making participants spend an entire day on the golf course because there are too many foursomes at a hole at a time.
“We cut off our tournament at 128 players so that we don’t double up our foursomes on par threes, and we guarantee the golfing event to be about five hours,” Soderlund says.
The bottom line measure of a charity golf tournament’s success should be that participants feel like they’ve been a part of something beneficial to your cause. But don’t forget to communicate that cause during the event.
“Sometimes you can do events and you can get lost in the event per se, and you fail to really communicate the good work that you do in the community,” Gomes says.
Be sure to put brochures or other literature that explain the mission and programming of your organization in participants’ gift bags or in golf carts. To brand its mission in a more touching way, Fidelco has had its guide dogs at the golf course, and its clients have volunteered to be on the organizing committee. Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass has had big sisters, big brothers, little brothers and little sisters as greeters at the events.
“We let them know that this is a first-hand example of the children we’re serving,” Gomes says.
When communicating with tournament participants during and after the event, focus on selling your organization’s programs rather than
hitting them up for money again.
“I try to sell them on the work that we do and how important it is in terms of helping children accomplish their goals, strengthening families, building strong schools and communities,” Gomes says.
Send an acknowledgement or thank-you letter, or make a phone call, ask them how they enjoyed the event, and gauge how much they know about your organization and the work it does. This will give you an idea of what their interests are and if there are any possibilities for future involvement.
Research participating companies to find out what their niche is and what they support philanthropically. A golf tournament can be a point of entry for companies whose leaders ultimately could become board members and/or significant donors.
Eskey says the goal is to make everyone who participates in the tournament feel like a winner.
“Everybody has to leave the tournament happy, feeling that they got a value for the money that they invested in the charitable organization,” he says.
Sure, it’s golf, but golf with a purpose.
“While it appears on the surface to be a golf tournament with gift bags, we’re really golf with a purpose and the purpose is to make a difference in the lives of kids. That’s why we try and ensure that those who participate in the ACT understand that, value that and, ultimately, at some point along the way, choose to get more involved in it,” Hawkins says.
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