Plan your golfing fundraisers carefully to avoid the rough

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 It's Spring. What could be more attractive than a beautiful day on manicured green, playing golf while helping to raise money for a good cause? That is exactly why there are approximately 50,000 charity golf tournaments held throughout Canada each year. It appears that golf tournaments are becoming the "choice of charities" for raising revenue, but what does it take to run one successfully?

Shelley Soles, Project Director for ABC Canada, has worked on over 50 charity golf tournaments and organizes the Peter Gzowski Invitationals (PGI), which have raised over $4 million for literacy in Canada, so she has a good idea of how to run a successful charity golf tournament. "There is no one aspect that can be identified as the most important in making a golf tournament successful in raising money for charity," says Soles. "It's a combination of planning, volunteers, good budgeting, corporate partners and general organization of a memorable event."

Know your audience, and create a unique event

"A great deal of research and preparation is needed to run a fun and successful tournament," says Susan Vendryes, co-ordinator for sales support for Canadian Airlines. She organizes the company's golf tournaments, in which they have raised money for various charities. "You must know your audience and create a unique tournament that suits the group involved. Some tournaments need to be more fun, and others are geared towards more serious golfers. As an organizer, you need to know the needs of your participants," she says.

PGI tournaments are held in every province and territory and each is unique. …Each tournament has its own flavour and you need to tailor your tournament to those preferences, whether it is getting a local entertainer involved, a political leader or varying the types of on-course activities you plan," says Soles.

Some tournaments use celebrities to draw in a greater number of participants and find it helpful in their marketing and promotion. Holy Trinity School in Richmond Hill, Ontario, for example, is counting on New York Rangers alumni, including Pat Hickey and Ron Duguay to attract more participants to its upcoming golf tournament to raise money for the school. "We found that last year's golf tournament to raise money for our school was not as successful as we had hoped, so one of the things we're counting on this year is our celebrities," says Sherry Rioux, Director of Development at Holy Trinity. "We can now market that we're going to have these special guests, and hope that we can get those sports fans out to our tournament."

Special guests can be a big draw

Peter Gzowski, host of the CBC Radio's Morningside, originally organized these tournaments as a great way to raise funds for literacy in Canada. "I think it's a good opportunity for my friends and me to get together for a good golf game and raise some money for a good cause." Other celebrities who have been involved with the PGI tournaments are authors Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood, broadcaster Peter Mansbridge and entertainers including Barenaked Ladies, Murray McLaughlan and Loreena McKennitt.

"When Peter picks up the phone to ask people to get involved, he carries tremendous weight, and that's what you need when you are trying to get celebrities to a tournament, because special guests can be a big draw," says Soles. Although it is not imperative to have a celebrity to invite guests and make pitches to sponsors, it does help to have people who are not only well-connected but believe in the cause for which they are raising money.

"Peter is integral to the success of the tournaments because he is a vocal advocate of literacy, and invites people to join in making his vision happen," says actor Tom Jackson, who has become a fixture at many of the PGI tournaments.

Sponsors are crucial

Although people may come to these tournaments to play golf and hob-nob with celebrities, one of the most important aspects of ensuring that the event raises money is sponsorship. "We go after new sponsors every year and we definitely focus on the fact that we can provide national exposure. Part of the attraction for corporate sponsors, however, is that it's a feel-good thing for an organization that not only cares but wants to show that it cares about social issues," says Soles. Sponsors not only want to donate, but also need to be recognized for their contribution … in a tournament program, a media release, through verbal announcements or signs on the golf course.

Establishing good relationships with corporate partners is essential. For example, the PGI tournaments work with Air Canada, which provides special passes - about $60,000 worth of air travel - to bring in special guests to tournaments across the country, as well as chairs of committees and the national co-ordinator. Without this arrangement, organizing the tournaments and arranging for special guests to appear at tournaments outside their province become tremendously difficult.

Add-ons and in-kind gifts can make a difference

Financial donations from sponsors, however, is only one aspect of raising revenue at a benefit golf tournament. Dave Finn, president of Golfinn International, a mail-order golf catalogue which has provided merchandise for numerous golf tournaments, suggests items which can be raffled or auctioned off. "Many people who attend these tournaments are sports buffs who would pay a lot for a collector's piece or signed memorabilia, so it's a great way to generate more money."

Putting contests and "Mulligans", where guests can pay to improve their score are some other on-the-course options. Another source of donations can be in-kind gifts, where sponsors can donate beverages or food, rental vehicles, books or small prizes. All these donations can make a difference in your tournament's success.

Volunteers - the key to success

Much of the success of a tournament rests on the shoulders of volunteers, who are responsible for everything from finding 18-hole sponsors from local businesses to registration when the golfers arrive and directing cars in the parking lot. "A lot of the real work is done at the local level, with strong volunteer committees who focus on special tasks unique to their particular tournament," says Soles.

The volunteers, of course, not only serve on committees, but also help on the day of the tournament. When participants are paying $200 to attend a tournament or a corporation has put a substantial amount of money into a sponsorship, they expect an organized, well-run event without many hitches. Soles estimates that at least ten volunteers are required on the day of the tournament to make the event run smoothly. "You need to make your event memorable, so it's paramount that you have enough man-power to answer questions, provide directions and help with golf carts. You want people leaving the event with not just a positive feeling about the tournament, but also about the cause, which will encourage them to come back next year," says Soles.

Getting people out to the tournament year after year is one of the challenges, Soles points out. "You need to let enough people know about your event and generate enough interest to make the attendance substantial and not just cover the cost of running the event, but to make money."

Don't forget the follow-through

After the event, it's crucial to plan for good follow-up. Soles emphasizes the importance of sending out letters of appreciation to sponsors and guests. "Send thank-you letters after the tournament and make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to remind them about next year's event."

Vendryes also finds that after the tournament is the time to find out what can be improved for next year's event. "You'll get invaluable information about your tournament if you survey the participants to see what they liked and didn't like about your day, so you can gear your next tournament to them."

Organizing a great day is of course only one of the aspects of charity golf tournaments. Another mission, naturally, is to raise awareness about the cause for which you are raising money. "We have found that one of the most powerful elements of our tournaments is the dinner event, when we have a person who has benefited from our programs give a five-minute testimonial to reinforce the reason why everyone has come out for the tournament," says Soles. No matter what fund-raising endeavour is being taken, it is important to highlight the reason for your efforts. The participants must be given a sense of the cause and the importance of their support.

Actor Cynthia Dale, for example, has been involved with the PGI tournaments for the past seven years and is a familiar face at tournaments from Victoria, British Columbia to Jackson's Point, Ontario and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. "I initially got involved because Peter asked me ... but you learn how important the work that these tournaments support is. You just naturally want to help and get involved in the effort."

"The work that the tournaments support affects people from all walks of life, which is why it's so important that they take place in every region of Canada - not just in the south but also in the Beaufort Sea, where people play golf on the ice," says Jackson. "It takes the message out to people wherever they are."

As the trend of using golf tournaments as fundraisers grows, it is becoming increasingly important to plan ahead and be prepared for the event, so your tournament will stand out from the dozens of other charity events vying for support. "Charity golf tournaments are a great way for people to have fun and take an active role in their contribution to a good cause, but in the end, it is the well-organized and smoothly-run tournaments that raise the most revenue and ensure continued support for their causes," says Vendryes.

Eight tips for a successful golf tournament

  • Choose carefully when organizing your tournament committee to ensure they have both the interest and time to get involved; assign committee and sub-committee tasks early.

  • Always book your golf course as soon as possible.

  • Always give advance notice, and respect that the participants may have very busy schedules.

  • When budgeting, keep in mind the balance between income and expense. Income can be generated from golfers' registration fees, hole sponsorships, on-course activities and merchandise sales. Expenses can include green fees, accommodation and travel (guest host), food and beverages, mementos for the guests, trophies or a photographer. Try to adhere to the general rule that all expenses associated with fund-raising events should not exceed 50% of the total revenue.

  • Be creative when organizing on-course activities and any other fund-raising efforts at your event.

  • Follow proper accounting procedures. Keep an accurate accounting of expenses and income to evaluate whether the effort was an effective fundraiser.

  • When issuing receipts for tax purposes, deduct from the ticket price the cost of the green fees, meals and other pro-rated costs (the chance to win a prize).

  • Maintain a current and accurate database of golfers, sponsors and other contacts. Remember to send thank-you letters, and if you prepare a report on your event, make sure your sponsors are sent a copy so they know where their money is going.

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