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Tom King

Recent Posts by Tom King:

Top Five Damned Fool Questions about Charity Golf

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.

Start Planning Next Spring's Golf Fundraiser Now: Interview with Golf Fundraiser Par Excellence Tom King

Tom King, author of Going for the Green! An Insider's Guide to Raising Money with Charity Golf, recently spoke with his publisher about golf fundraisers. GuideStar has published an excerpt from the book, and we're pleased to be able to share Mr. King's additional thoughts with you.

This is our first tournament. We're able to mobilize a decent number of volunteers and our cause is fairly well known. We've even got a connection to the local country club. How much can we hope to net on this virgin effort?

If your tournament is supported by the right people, you can raise an enormous amount. I have a friend in California who took a losing tournament and transformed into a massive event that in five years was turning better than a quarter million dollars net profit and had to be expanded to two tournaments.

It's salespeople who are critical—even more than experienced event organizers. There are plenty of folks who can make your event fun and exciting. But if you don't have a fiery sales committee selling sponsorships, your event will fizzle.

How much lead time will we need to organize this?

You want to start as early as a year ahead. Most of the companies you'll be approaching for sponsorships set their budgets for the next year in September or October. Fall is the time to have them commit advertising dollars to your tournament. I like having half of my sponsorships committed by the end of the year for a tournament in the spring or summer. Then I aim to have the whole thing paid for by four to six weeks out.

Everywhere I look organizations are hosting golf tournaments. Should I be concerned about saturation? There are only so many golfers, after all.

In a word, "Yes." Still, golfers love to golf. If you create a tournament different from the others, get some buzz going, and can draw enough sponsors to support it, you can outdraw the competition. It's hard work, but like any business endeavor, the spoils go to whoever creates the best product.

In Going for the Green! you mention the four key ingredients to attracting players. Say a few words about each.

The cause is the most important thing to the organizer, but it's not necessarily the main attraction for players. A lot of golfers play charity tournaments because it's an excuse to take the day off, hobnob with local big shots, and, well, it's golf.

The buzz you create around the event itself is more important. If you attract the right people and get the word out that something special is happening at the event, you'll attract players.

The location can be a big draw. Look for new or exclusive courses that few have played—you'll get players knocking down your doors to buy tickets.

The tournament format can be just the thing to draw players. Everybody does scrambles. They're easy. But other formats like golf marathons, turkey shoots, and off-road golf tournaments can provide the wow factor that can help attract a full crowd, especially if you're hosting a fledgling tournament.

Describe what I need in a tournament chair.

A golf tournament is, in reality, a fundraising campaign. So first and foremost you need a campaign organizer. The rest can be learned. The job is NOT for shy people. The chairperson has to be part slave driver, part cheerleader, and part diplomat.

I take away from your book that golf tournaments are labor-intensive events. How many volunteers are we talking about for a goal of, say, $50,000 net?

That'll vary depending on the length of the tournament, sidebar events, how you handle lunches or dinners, and a dozen other things unique to your tournament. What you want to keep in mind—what you MUST keep in mind—is the critical need for volunteers who love to sell stuff, who won't take "no" for an answer, and who love your cause enough to put in the hours it takes. Find those people first, and the rest will take care of itself.

If we're going to go through all this effort, I hope it means we can convert a good number of players into regular supporters, maybe even volunteers for our organization. What's your experience with this? Is a tournament simply a money raiser, or can it function as a means of recruiting people to join our cause?

The way I see it, a golf tournament at its best is a community saying to you that they care about your cause enough to come together in a big way to raise money to support what you're doing.

By all means, use the event to introduce yourself to potential donors and talk about what you do. But I think it's a mistake to stake your hopes of future fundraising on a charity tournament.

A lot of tournaments use celebrities as a draw. Is it worth the time, effort, and expense?

Celebrities can be a godsend or a drain on profits. I've seen celebs paid good money to show up and then be rude to players, refuse to sign autographs, and generally alienate everyone. On the other hand, I once saw Dallas Cowboy coach Tom Landry show up for a fundraiser and raise a million dollars. Don't get a celebrity just because you think you need one.

Participants pay to play, so that's one source of revenue. What are the other revenue sources for a tournament?

It's almost unlimited what you can sell sponsorships for. You can have sidebar event sponsors, pre-tournament and post-tournament event sponsors, registration table sponsors, beverage cart sponsors, driving range sponsors, T-shirt sponsors, hat sponsors, score card sponsors, pencil sponsors—virtually anything you can hang a name onto can be sold as a sponsorship. Also, you might be able to get a company to donate something for an auction or raffle drawing. You may not sell all the sponsorships you have available, but the more you have the better.

Of all the tournaments you've been involved with, if you talked with the organizers, how many do you think would say "We'd definitely do this again"?

Everybody I know who's done a golf tournament wants to do it again, even when they lose money on the thing. Golf tournaments are a flat-out fun way to raise money. Just make sure you choose your tournament committee wisely. One duffer and you'll find yourself in the woods.

© 2013, Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Tom King has worked with nonprofit organizations for more than a quarter century as a teacher, recreation therapist, program director, executive director, PR director, development officer, workshop facilitator, media consultant, advocate, and organizer. A veteran charity golf tournament organizer, he has planned and directed a string of successful charity tournaments and special events.

Golf Tournaments Can Be Record Fundraisers, but...

Excerpt from Going for the Green! An Insider's Guide to Raising Money with Charity Golf

Mark Twain once called golf "a good walk spoiled."

Twain's jibe at the sport of kings captures the love/hate relationship so many golfers have with their sport.

Charity golf tournaments often inspire the same conflicting emotions among the volunteers and organizers who host them. Yet, despite the work, the headaches, and the risk, golf tournaments are some of our most popular special event fundraisers. How can this be?

The answer's pretty simple really. While golf tournaments can be exhausting, time-consuming, and fraught with risk, they can be downright satisfying and profitable if done right. Ultimately, a golf tournament may be the hardest work you'll ever love.

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