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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.

start-planning-next-springs-golf-fundraiser-now-interview_Tom-King.jpgTom 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.

Topics: Fundraising