With the recent declines in the number of golfers and golf courses, coupled with a reduction in golf consumer spending, many in the industry are asking: “Where is the game headed?” As fundraisers we’re all starting to wonder: are golf tournaments a dying breed? Are they worth all the trouble? Can we and should we do another one next year?

According to a study done by Épisode in 2012, nearly one in two businesses (42%) say they no longer want to participate in golf tournament fundraisers, while 38% of respondents no longer wish to take part in a fancy ball or gala fundraisers. This has set off a wave of panic through fundraisers who have, year after year, depended on these activities for much needed funds.

From the mid 1980s to the turn of the century, the number of golfers grew by about 50% in the US – from 20 million to 30 million golfers. That is very substantial growth but since the year 2000, the number of golfers plateaued and has been slowly declining, raising concerns about the future of using this sport as a viable fundraising method.

Let’s face it. The landscape in the golf market is changing. Since the economy took a turn for the worse, spending on golf among seniors, Boomers, and Generation X has declined. The good news is that consumers between the ages of 18 and 29 increased their spending on golf course fees and retail by over 25%. This trend bodes well for industry suppliers, but less for non-profits who are dependent on their annual golf tournaments to raise significant funds with the older generations.  

To understand where the fate of your fundraising golf tournament lies is to understand the different generations who play it, and who you choose to target.

Baby Boomers are the most obvious target but you should know that according to The National Golf Foundation (NGF) “Although their average rounds are lower due to increased job and family responsibilities, baby boomer participation rates are actually a bit higher than that of the previous generation. Moreover, the sheer number of baby boomer golfers on the cusp of retirement bodes well for the industry.” And what bodes well for the golf industry bodes well for your fundraiser. But are you ready for them? There are a number of fundraising activities competing for your donor’s dollars in the spring and summer, you have to know how to stand out from the crowd and please their appetite for both the game and their philanthropic aspirations.

Generation X is typically more family centric, so fundraisers that cater to this group will get bigger results if you plan for activities that the whole family can enjoy. Include activities for kids or non-golf activities for spouses who aren’t interested in playing but who want to support your cause. You can adjust your fees to have a second price point for non-golfers who will participate in other activities and the meals/banquet. We don’t recommend charging for the kids (unless they are old enough to play the round of golf!)

Generation Xers are considered to be less fortunate than their predecessors, The Baby Boomers. Generation Xers are unlikely to match their parents’ economic fortunes so their chances of picking up an expensive hobby such as golf is less likely. But Generation Xers are also connoisseurs of advertising. If you’re planning a fundraiser geared to this generation, you must have a fundraising campaign that targets their ideals, it must be well thought out with carefully chosen messages. Much of the current broadcast advertising that is targeted at Generation X seems to have a rather harsh and extreme feel and mood to it. That’s because Gen Xers want the rush and excitement of the activity (any activity for that matter).  Make sure you create attractive graphics and plan to put the “fun” in fundraising if you want to target this group. One more piece of advice is to have your registration available online. Generation Xers see technology as an essential tool and a shortcut to better communication. Build up your email lists, post your event on Facebook and get people talking about it!

Generation Y is also technologically savvy and needs to be targeted differently. Send them competition results, tee times and offers via SMS. Artez, Prodon, and Raisin are all great online tools for registration.

Consider how strict are you with dress codes and consider modifying it for the different generational needs.

At the end of the day you must be flexible enough in your fundraising event approach to cater for different players, or narrow in on one demographic and work to satisfy their needs and wants. Try to have a good cross-section of members who represent each demographic on your board or at least on a subcommittee.

Managing different generations can be a tough balance but if you succeed in finding the right mix, you will grow your participation and fundraising levels.

If you are going to have a tournament for your charity, do it right.

As with any project, define your goals:

1. Who is your audience? (determine if the tournament is even worth doing or not)
2. How much money do you want to raise? (If you need less than $3,000 a tournament is too much work!)
3. What do you want this tournament to do for your organization?
4. Define a “successful outcome” in detail (number of participants, number of donations, raffle tickets sold, auction amounts). Your objectives should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time based.

The event is a fundraiser first, golf tournament second.

From the minute people start arriving at the course to the minute they leave your banquet you can and should be making money.

A tournament is just the vehicle to help you raise money. People aren’t just paying to play golf, they are donating to your cause. If you approach this as a fundraiser first, you will have much more success. Don’t be shy to ask for players or sponsorships. Unleash your fundraising mojo and be willing to ask anyone and everyone for money!

A well-connected committee makes all the difference in your fund raising dollars. Meet with your group to see who has potential sponsors. A good rule is to have at least $5,000 in reliable sponsors or you will not make money and the tournament will not be worth the work. A successful tournament will have a committee of dedicated people determined to see that it is a success. The committee should use their individual contacts for potential sponsors. Therefore, it is best to have a committee who is well connected to the business community or those who can provide large sponsorships. Sponsorships make all the difference.  If you plan to market your tournament to single golfers and sign up friends, you will not make money.

Selling sponsorships raises revenue significantly. Selling Corporate Foursomes is the fastest way to reaching your goal as companies see fundraising tournaments as a write-off.

Opportunities are everywhere!

It is important to offer other opportunities to make money at your golf event. Running contests and draws offer additional revenue with no cost. Mulligans, tickets for draws, betting holes, silent and live auctions all make great contributions to your bottom line.

Let’s say you organize a putting contest. Each put is $5, closest to the hole wins a prize donated by a sponsor (dinner for 2 is always nice). If you have 100 participants and sell each person 2 puts at $5 each, 200 x $5 generates $1000 for your organization.

Raffles are another way to make great use of your connections and business community’s generosity. Reach out to the local businesses months before the actual tournament to get a variety of prizes donated. Showcase the items before the tournament starts so people can see the items they could win and sell the raffle tickets before they hit the course. Have raffle ticket sales also available at the awards ceremony following the tournament.

The Cash-bar Golf Cart is a great way to raise additional dollars is by hitting up golfers while they are on the course. The best way to do this is with a fully stocked cash-bar cart! Load up the back of a golf cart with snacks, ice and cold drinks, then drive the course and sell your golfers what they want. Cold beer and sodas are the best sellers, but don’t forget to include snack foods like pretzels and chips. You may also want to add items like small bottles of sunscreen or hats and visors in case people forgot the essentials. Have some made with your foundation’s logo on them! Don’t forget to load up your volunteer cash-bar cart driver with extra raffle tickets, just in case someone is in the “buying mood” after a great swing.

Timing is everything

If you’re looking at mostly business and corporate players, choose a weekday. Avoid Sundays, as that is a family day for many people, making for poor turnouts. Weekdays work well because many companies see a tournament as a business function and do not use count these as days off. A good compromise is a Friday afternoon tournament when most people can ask for the afternoon off for a good cause without their boss getting upset!

Looking forward

Only you can know whether or not a tournament will be a worthwhile investment of your organization’s time and resources or not. If you’re not sure, hire professionals to do a viability study. Do your homework. Ask your audience, do a short survey to find out what they want and what they are willing to participate in. The time you invest in researching before you start will be much better spent than finding out the hard way that you need to find new ways to raise money for your organization.

Written by Kim Fuller