Tell Me Again – Why We Do This Golf Tournament?

Mission Advancement

A charity golf tournament is always great fun – especially when the weather is fine. Personally, I love playing in golf tournaments! It’s a day away from the routine, an opportunity to be out in fresh air and spend time with fun people while supporting a good cause. Here is to playing in golf tournaments!

Now, for a reality check. Exactly why do nonprofit organizations put on golf tournaments? I think I know what the answer would be for most nonprofits – and if that answer is to raise money, then someone has been seriously misguided.

Somewhere in the historical log of fundraising achievements, someone thought of the charity golf tournament. “What if we get a bunch of golfers to take a day off of work, pay higher than normal green fees, and play a scramble with their friends, while perhaps drinking beer and smoking cigars?” I like it so far.

Then out of a desire to raise more money, we begin adding all sorts of stuff: selling sponsorships, charging for mulligans (permissions to cheat), chances to win spectacular stuff for a hole-in-one, cocktail reception, holding an auction, and the list goes on.

So back to the question that is the title of this article: Tell me again – why we do this golf tournament? Development staffers, especially, must be wondering: why bring the development operation to a screeching halt for the 45 days leading up to the golf tournament – all so that a whopping net $35,000 (and, in most cases, less) can be realized?

To be fair, there are a very few golf tournaments that raise an extraordinary amount of money. It is these few events that entice other nonprofits to try a golf tournament as a means of funding their mission – “if they can do it, so can we.” But, make no mistake, those few extraordinary golf tournaments are successful because of a few large donors who engage with the organization through other development strategies.

So, why do the golf tournament? If the first answer that comes to mind is “to raise money,” then you have a problem on your hands. Golf tournaments are fun, but they are not effective at engaging donors in the mission of your organization, and they rarely provide a reasonable return on investment – especially when you consider the staff and volunteer resources needed to pull it off.

On the other hand, if the answer is “to build camaraderie among the constituency, meet new prospective donors, and deepen the relationship with key donors,” then maybe, just maybe, a golf tournament makes good sense.

I did not write this blog to slam golf tournaments or special events, in general. Special events have their role in every development operation – to acquire new donors and network with current donors. Sadly, too many nonprofits see golf tournaments (and other special events) primarily as a means of raising money.

So, here is a special events test for you and your development committee. Answer these questions honestly:

The answer for many organizations is: the event is not the best possible activity for generating funds, but it is so much a part of our culture that we need to continue doing it. To that I say, “Awesome!” But, look for ways to better utilize the event to feed your development strategic plan.

To some organizations, the answer may be to stop doing an event – and redirect resources into other fundraising strategies. This is a more difficult decision to make. Just remember, the event you stop doing will only be mourned until you introduce the next fun way for the constituency to engage.

Have fun! And be smart about fundraising.

Advance your mission. Today.