Golf Tournament as a Fund Raising Special Event


Often this question is the most important one to answer. Should we do a fund raising golf benefit tournament, and if so, why? The only good reason is to make money for the charity. There are ancillary reasons, such as “friend-raising” or the identification of new prospects, and the esprit de corps that is created by the social aspect of the golf and the festivities of the afterglow party. Considering the staff and volunteer effort necessary for a successful event, the only good reason to have a golf tournament, or and other special event, is to make money for the institution!

The next question becomes: how can we create the most enjoyable, lively event while maximizing our income in a golf benefit tournament?

There have been so many tales of disasters with non-profits trying to run golf tournaments, only to discover that they broke even financially, and almost died of exhaustion in the process. Some charities even lose money, making them the butt of criticisms from their own board members, donors and the media. Having heard many such stories, and having learned through experience how to run an efficient and effective tournament (one that is fun but also made significant money) I thought I’d share with you some of my secrets.

The best advice I can give you is to involve a professional golf event management organization. They know the business, the price breaks, the best deals on clubs (and they can secure a better deal than you), the way to organize and orchestrate the whole process. And, even if you want to try to fly solo in year two, you will have been setup and organized properly, you have one success under your belt, and you have an opportunity to build on the success of that first year. Believe me, the small fee you pay, will ensure the best “bottom line” for your tournament. I rarely see people switch from a professionally run tournament to doing it themselves. But I do see a lot of small groups being penny-wise and pound foolish trying to save money doing it themselves. They end up with few people at the event the first year, and often few or none the second year. Go with a pro—it pays. We recommend Golf Events Management (see their ad and contact information in this newsletter).

It’s nice to be passionate about golf but you must be realistic about your potential profit. If you are a University, a Hospital or major medical center, or a large organization your chances for immediate success are obviously greatly enhanced. It will still take a lot of time and effort but you have the natural constituents in place to make it flourish. There are risks involved such as weather, competing events and perhaps even more importantly – not having enough golfers (Minimums are usually set by the Golf course). One of the biggest complaints of running golf tournaments is that the Golf club makes most of the money. This can happen if you don’t price it right. And negotiating the best price from the course is an important practicality.

In four different hospital settings, I’ve had the pleasure of starting, developing and implementing plans to conduct golf tournaments to raise significant money. Golf events are very social but let us always keep in mind that we are here to raise the largest net profit for your organization. Believe me, I have made all the mistakes and hope that some of my suggestions will help you save money, time and frustration as you maximize your net income.

Before you begin you must be very clear with the why, how, when, where, who and how much you want to realize for your organization. Fortunately, with the help of capable staff and committed volunteers, I was able to build some very successful events. Because this success attracted a lot of attention, I was asked to serve on multiple golf committees giving them direction and focus. This is where I met my friend from Golf Events Management.

If you are not a golfer, consider getting acquainted with someone who is a golfer, so you understand the lingo as well as the golf mentality of people who enjoy the game. Find out where people really like to play, and what other items might interest them, from celebrity attendees or golfers, to prizes and gifts, to entertainment after the event. Study the culture of the people you wish to attract (the affluent and influential crowd), and make plans to cater to them (and to charge them top dollar).

For Starters:

First and foremost, you must decide WHY you want to run a tournament. It’s a lot of work, both for volunteers and staff, and you can fail if you do not handle hundreds of details flawlessly. You must decide on the following issues:

  • Why the Tournament and who are the beneficiaries?
  • How much money do want to make, both gross and net?
  • How much do we realistically think we can make (net of costs)?
  • What golf course is appropriate for our event, and why (big margins between cost/value)?
  • How much should we charge (plenty)?
  • How much can we realistically charge?
  • When should we hold the event? (Spring, Fall, etc. Most held in Spring or Fall)
  • Who can be your leader or leaders? (Is there an honoree, or overall corporate sponsor?)

All of the above issues are all important because everything else falls into place after determining the purpose and goals and for your event.

Organizational Next Steps

General Chairman
You’ll need a general chairman who has a passion for golf, a person who is influential in the community and a person who can champion a good golf tournament. It helps if he or she is financially well off, because he/she knows lots of others for whom this (a foursome or sponsorship) will not present a financial challenge. You’ll need someone (perhaps a committee of four-to- six people) to be the driving force for the event. Begin planning your event a year in advance. It takes lots of time to do it right

Price it Right
Prices run the gamut and normal costs, including greens fees, carts, prizes and entertainment normally would be in excess of $200.00-$250.00—again depending upon your location, the course, and the quality of the food and entertainment. Of course, you could have a bare bones tournament with golf, hot dogs, hamburgers and prizes that would bring your costs to under $100. It all depends upon how much you are trying to make, and what else, if anything, you’re trying to accomplish. It’s going to take a lot of work, so do your homework before committing to running a golf tournament. You must be very cautious before you commit and sign a contract with a Country Club. Costs can include breakfast, lunch and/or dinner, refreshments on-course and off, prizes, favors, printing and promotional costs. Depending upon your target market or prospective participants, you can charge anywhere from $150.00 to $1,000.00 per player.

The Right Golf Course
Golfers have lots of options and your package must be designed to have special appeal to the prospective sponsors and golfers. You obviously then must select a suitable golf course for your group. Green fees, golf carts and food must be carefully analyzed to determine what is appropriate for your particular group. Whereas, more modestly priced courses don’t have the facilities to entertain guests lavishly, more popular or exclusive clubs usually insist that you use their food service (and pay handsomely for it).

Promotional Material
A brochure should be prepared with all the details of your event. It is the sales tool for volunteers, staff and board members. These should be hand delivered to all potential sponsors that have not yet committed, with an effort made to “close” their deal. Sponsorship opportunities and pricing are listed in the brochure, as well as the date, location, a synopsis of events and a timeline for the day. This brochure should be mailed to a database of former and potential attendees, vendors, donors and sponsors, two months in advance of the event.

In addition, a “Save the Date” card should be sent out 90-120 days prior to the event. In fact, it is a good idea to send a notice to prospective golfers around the first of the year so they might pencil the date into their calendars. Busy and influential people plan their calendars well in advance. And corporations plan next calendar year’s spending (and sponsorships) in the latter part of summer. If you spring this on them in March, with your event is scheduled for May, they may have to respectfully decline.

The Budget
Depending upon your institution, what is a realistic budget? Only you can determine how you want to approach this point. I would hope that you would at least double your costs (net 50%) to make a solid profit. To accomplish this, you must attract sponsors for the tournament, the dinner, as well as for each golf hole. Sponsorships increase your revenues, and everything can be sponsored. You can have the refreshments sponsored by one person, each tee and each green by another person or business. Some groups publish a journal chronicling the event, listing sponsors and advertisers in there too. Whatever works in your organizational culture, and whatever the market will bear is the way to go.

How do you find and solicit sponsors? You must borrow from the principles of major gift fundraising—people asking people, for large and specific sums of money, for a particular project, with a set purpose and specific recognition appreciation. Get the event chairperson to solicit his or her friends for support both through buying sponsorships and foursomes. And get your board members, staff, and volunteers to do likewise. You must make an exhaustive effort to realize your potential.

Honor Someone
A strategy I have used in the past is to honor someone that evening, at the dinner. If you honor someone who is influential and popular, everyone in their business and social circles will buy tables, send golfers and support the event in general because of the association with this person to whom they wish to honor, or to whom they wish to be endeared. The right honoree could make the difference between success and failure.

Prizes can make a real impact on your tournament. The right prizes will in many cases encourage 80% – 90% return of players. Normally, golf shirts, golf balls, and a wide assortment of options are available for you to consider as gifts & prizes. Raffle prizes, 50-50’s and other methods to generate revenue are highly recommended. The point being is that a salesperson whose employer (say GE Imaging) spends $1,000 sending them to your tournament, where they enjoy a remarkable experience are likely to return—again, and again, and again.

What makes for a wonderfully choreographed day of golf? An opportunity to be on a top course, rather than at the office; the enjoyment of playing with great people; having wonderful meals and refreshments in a grand setting; topped off with entertainment, prizes and gifts (you send them home with a new box of Nike Golf Balls and a new Taylor Made lob wedge). Since the company paid the $1,000 and the salesperson got the goodwill and the $500 worth of experience and equipment, how do you think they will feel about coming to next year’s event? This salesperson will fight for their company to continue supporting your event, for more reasons than one.

Tennis with Golf?
My experience has shown me that you’ll get little return by including tennis. Do Tennis only if your leadership feels it would be essential for success. If I have the option, I would not make this a golf & tennis event. If you want to conduct a tennis tournament separately – that could make more sense. There is just too much to do with an anticipated minimum return for tennis.

In Conclusion
Don’t waste your time running a golf outing to break-even. Some organizations do this and I feel it is a big mistake. It takes too much time and energy, so always strive to make money—as much money as possible!

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