Sage Advice on Charity Golf Outings

I absolutely love this post from Guidestar by Tom King on the special event charity golf outings. This article quickly dispels many false claims about special events, helps to set some reasonable expectations of success, and emphasizes the importance of early planning.  Why is this article timely, as the summer season is winding down and we approach the final weeks of the golf season (for much of the country)?  Because now is the time to plan next year’s event.

Special Events can be necessary and very beneficial to a comprehensive development strategy.  But only if they are but one part of your overall development program.

Top Five Damned Fool Questions about Charity Golf

by Tom King  August 2014

I get asked all kinds of questions about charity golf tournaments by people who have never done one. I’ve answered them all in my book, Going for the Green. But here are five that are continually teed up.

Our budget has been cut this year and we need money right away. What do you think about our hosting a nice charity golf tournament? I’ve heard these can make a lot of money.

You watched a lot of Disney flicks when you were growing up didn’t you? Those of us in fundraising are always looking for the magic wand. Who can blame us? But believe me, charity golf isn’t it. Sure, golf can make you a pile of money, but for that to happen you’ve got to be able to wait six months to a year to cash in, and, even more challenging if you’re having a budget crisis, you’ll have to ante up some of your own money for up-front expenses.

My first experience with charity golf will seem to contradict what I just said, but in reality it was the exception that proves the rule. In six weeks we put together a first tournament and cleared $19,000, which isn’t bad for a debut effort. First tournaments usually net around $2,000, and many actually lose money. There were two reasons we came out ahead. First, we had a wealthy oilman as tournament chairman who fronted the money, could organize a golf tournament in his sleep, and whose wealthy buddies owed him for his own support for their charities.

Second, we had a development director who enjoyed asking for money as much as a crack addict enjoys cocaine. He was relentless. The oilman lined up players and pointed out potential sponsors who were friends and our DD went after them like a coon hound on a scent. The man was tireless. If you can find two people like that, your tournament will be a success, and you might pull it off fairly quickly. If not, forget the tournament and go ask people for money. It’s not nearly as much fun, but it’s more effective.

Can we get the golf course for free?

Short answer: NO. Slightly longer answer: Not bloody likely.

Charity tournaments are a golf course’s bread and butter. Asking clubs to let you have the course for free is like asking a herd of starving wildebeests if it’s okay to mow the grass. Occasionally, some private club might host a tournament gratis, but you can bet it’ll be their idea and they’ll choose the beneficiary.

Won’t a golf tournament be good for PR and a nice boost to staff morale?

That depends. A successful tournament may be good for public relations and even kick up staff morale (once everyone recovers from their collective nervous breakdown). However, if you don’t watch the booze and, say, your alcoholic mayor makes a spectacle of himself at the awards dinner, you may find yourself getting some very bad press. Also, a tournament that loses money gets you bad PR, which causes staff morale to sink.

When do we start planning for our golf tournament?

Now would be good.

I have a friend who runs two golf tournaments a year to support his private cancer foundation. He started next year’s tournament planning a week before this year’s tournament was held.

You have to start early because most of your serious funding will come from companies and individuals that put you in their advertising budget well in advance. Many companies date their fiscal years from the first of January. So budget decisions regarding advertising and charitable donations tend to be made during the last quarter of the year. You need to appear on their radar sometime in September to give them time to slot you into their budgets.

Selling sponsorships is the most important thing you’ll do in preparing to host a tournament. If you don’t have your tournament entirely paid for a month or two before tee-off, it’s probably best to cancel it. A tournament that loses money is worse than a tournament that’s cancelled.

What kind of tournament should we do?

The kind that makes money.

The most popular format is the scramble. The structure is much looser. Good players can help the team, but even a poor player who gets lucky can make a contribution. But, really, all kinds of formats work. Just don’t be boring.

* * * * *

People make hundreds of thousands of dollars with charity golf tournaments. And don’t worry if you don’t know anything about golf. A charity golf tournament is first and foremost about making money. If you focus on that, the rest is easy. The club pro will walk you through the tournament details.

I’ve laid out all the steps for you, in sequential order, in Going for the Green. You have no excuse to fail. Go forth and raise funds whacking little white balls into little round holes. It’ll probably be one of the most fun ways you’ve ever raised money.

Tom King
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Tom King is author of Going for the Green.