The pros and cons of special events

Posted June 9, 2014 by Guest Author

Intro from LGL: Mission Advancement Professionals (MAP), a new affiliate of Little Green Light, specializes in relational fundraising. They help nonprofits with capital campaigns, annual giving, major gifts and more. They complement LGL nicely by taking fundraising to the next level, often starting with the information you keep in your donor database, but helping you infuse the personal connections needed to make large gifts possible.

In this article, MAP explores the world of events, specifically golf tournaments, and asks some critical questions that will help you think through the costs and benefits of hosting events. 

Tell me again – why do we do this golf tournament?

by Schuyler Lehman – Founder & CEO, Mission Advancement

‘Tis the season – to be completely immersed in the annual golf tournament. 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’s 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, another idea – hey, to raise more money, let’s sell mulligans (permissions to cheat) and chances to win spectacular stuff to the golfer who makes a hole-in-one. (By the way, the odds of an average golfer making a hole-in-one in a golf tournament are about 12,500 to 1.)

Next, out of a desire to raise still more money, someone suggests selling sponsorships. For a nominal fee, a local business can be recognized on one of the 18 holes, or perhaps have greater recognition with a larger donation. Why not? It’s for a good cause.

Finally, the idea of adding in a cookout and auction came along, and there you have it: the modern-day charity golf tournament. Again, great fun – but at what cost?

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 for relatively modest net revenue.

There are very few golf tournaments that raise an extraordinary amount of money. But 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 article 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:

  • What is the primary reason we conduct the (insert your event here) each year?
  • Is the event truly designed to achieve its objective?
  • Does the event achieve its objective?
  • Is conducting this event the best use of our resources?
  • Could our resources be better invested in activities that provide a better return?

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, “OKAY!’ 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. But 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! But be smart about fundraising.

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