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Chari-Tee Time: 10 Expert Tips to Host a Flawless Benefit Golf Tournament

Posted by Summy Lau

10 tips for hosting a charity golf tournamentSpring may have only begun last week, but it's already time to start thinking about fundraising ideas for the summer. Thanks to a slew of holidays and more relaxed schedules, summer is the perfect opportunty to engage donors with smaller events and short giving campaigns. Even better, you'll be competing with less competition from other nonprofits to stand out in a crowded space.

One strategy is hosting a charity golf tournament. Why are they so popular?

  1. While time consuming, overall golf tournaments take less planning than the annual gala or charity ball.
  2. Perfect for the "summer slump" when donors are looking for new ways to enjoy warm weather.
  3. Provide another angle to reach donors uninterested in attending a gala.
  4. Simple to cover costs through golfer registrations.
  5. Easygoing pace allows plenty of time for socializing and networking.
  6. Engages supporters in between the annual gala and year-end giving campaign.

If you're looking to fill some holes in your summer development strategy, golf tournaments can be a good place to start.

To help, we sat down with Holly Kennedy, PGA Pro and co-founder of Kennedy Golf Tournament and Event Planning in San Diego, Calif., for an episode of our fundraising podcast, Events with Benefits. She shares critical best practices and ideas for unique golf events, including:

  • How to get players, donations and sponsorships
  • How to combine with an auction (Did you know 92% of all tournaments have an auction?)
  • Unique, entertaining mini-contests to play on the course
  • When to include a paddle raise
  • Tips to run a lower-cost golf tournament, and more!

Whether you've done a golf event for years or are considering one for the first time, read on 10 concrete strategies to make the most of your tournament. (Plus, check out the full podcast for your chance to play a free round of golf!)

1. Consider the three arms of a profitable golf tournament.

  • Players and participants. Without players, you can't have a tournament.
  • Donations. In-kind donations can be gifts to the players, contest prizes, raffle prizes or auction items. They add value and excitement to the event.
  • Sponsorships. These are any kind of financial donation you receive to underwrite the costs of the golf tournament. To entice sponsors, plan to feature your sponsors front and center as often as possible. It's better to err on the side of "too much" visibility than not enough.
    • Try posting logos on the rule sheet, signage, the tournament website, social media and more.
    • You can also assign sponsors for mini-contests and games (more on that below).

If you can, assign one member of the golf committee to oversee each arm. With all three working together like a well-oiled machine, your event will be profitable and raise significant dollars for your cause.

Download the free Sponsorship Kit today

2. Incorporate an auction.

"Over the past six years, I've done around 12 events a year, and I would say all but one or two end up incorporating an auction of some sort," asserts Kennedy.

Auctions are a great opportunity to raise extra money for your cause beyond entry or registration costs.

Here are Kennedy's tips for pairing your golf tournament with targeted, strategic auction items.

3. Only auction off items that are both unique and valuable.

One thing groups often underestimate is the importance of the type of items you have, and how you put them together, says Kennedy.

"I see a lot of groups try to use all their donations as auction items, but they don't have the value or uniqueness that's required for people to actually bid a lot of money."

Her solution: Be choosy. Stick to items that are exclusive and valuable.

"Consider including any experience people may not be able to get their hands on or be a part of otherwise, like an amazing golf trip. You can also combine items to create extra value," she advises.

Download our free list of over 300 amazing auction item ideas

4. Don't use too many items (4 to 6 works fine).

Unlike a gala, where everyone has come to a party knowing the fundraising and entertainment highlight is the auction, golf tournaments have many components. There's dinner, awards, contests...not to mention the main event: 5 hours of golf.

charity golf tournament silent auctionSo, how many items are appropriate for this unique environment?

"I've seen the most successful live auctions stay between 4 to 6 items. The silent auction can offer anywhere from 10 to 25 items," Kennedy says. "Larger, more established events can have up to 60 items, but those are a rarity."

After a long, physically tiring day, you don't want to lose the interest of the audience.

Keep the live auction quick. Your donors will still have fun and spend a lot of money on the right items, without getting too tired, or worse, feeling nickel and dimed.

5. Procure items with wide appeal (not just golf).

First, let's talk golf trips. With an audience of golfers, a tournament is undoubtedly a prime opportunity to raise money for your cause using bucket list golf Experiences.

Winspire offers over a dozen incredible golf excursions in Pebble Beach, Scottsdale, Ireland, all the way up to attending the legendary Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. They take just minutes to reserve and cost nothing upfront to include in your event. Check out our entire selection of golf trips below.

Check out our catalog of over 200 unique Experiences for your auction.

That said, auctions that stick only to golf items - the set of five irons, the rounds of golf - don't do as well. "If you can package them with something else not necessarily golf, I've seen a lot more success," Kennedy asserts.

Instead of focusing solely on the theme of golf, try brainstorming items people love to do that they wouldn't normally spend the money on themselves to buy.

Unique local experiences like box seats at the racetrack with dinner at a gourmet restaurant, or trips to a timeshare at a local ski resort, work wonders. Also popular: excursions on water (like dinner cruises or sailing adventures), and "vice items": think fine scotch selections, wine trees and Cuban cigars.

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Finally, while golf tournaments tend to attract more men than women, keep in mind most of these men have significant others. So it's smart to include indulgent items like a wine tasting trip or shopping spree.

The wider the appeal of an item, the higher bidding will go.

6. Offer the option to purchase dinner-only tickets.

Speaking of significant others—consider allowing partners or friends of golfers to attend the after party, dinner or reception.

This is an easy way to sell more tickets, up the head count and raise more money.

Charity golf tournament catered dinnerSimply mention the option on the promotional collateral, then have a box that says something like, 'Don't golf but would like to join for dinner', on the registration forms.

7. Plan out the flow of the day.

Golf tournaments are a long, full day, with many moving parts. Just like charity auction timelines, the flow of a golf event is paramount to success. 

Check out this question we recently received from Stephanie B. in Bend, Ore.:

"Hi Winspire, our auction is following our Golf Tournament and I am concerned about the timing. Most of the people will have been out there all afternoon. We are encouraging them to get bring a guest to the dinner and inviting others to attend the dinner and auction (who aren’t golfing). Can you give any advice on timing with this in mind? There will be golf prizes to give out, too."

The players' experience has to be great from the moment they step onto the property until they leave.

Benefit auctioneer Heath Hale's take on the situation:

"Hi Stephanie, Thank you for your question. This is a tough strategical question but can be executed for success. I think you are right on with the schedule and asking them to have additional guests show up after the tournament.

We have a very successful golf tourney / auction / dinner event each year that looks like this: The golf tourney ends, bar is open, silent auction items are out and buffet dinner is being served. On a small stage, someone welcomes everyone and says the tourney winners will be announced shortly - but first, watch this video on why we are all here and the impact we can make. We play the video, have the live auction, then incorporate a paddle raise. Finally, the golf winners are announced, and a band or DJ closes out the night.

Hope this helps and good luck! Heath."

To minimize confusion and "dead time" for your donors, make sure everything has been coordinated down to the minute with the golf course.

"You never want gaps in between," Kennedy emphasizes. "Make sure your event planner is communicating with the golf shop and giving the catering department constant updates: 'Our group has maybe 20-30 minutes left, let's prepare for them to get off the course in that time.' Get touring done in coordination with golf staff; get guests into the venue; and stick to that strict evening program timeline."

Bottom line: Have someone at the helm overseeing the timeline and ensuring a smooth flow.

8. Set the budget early on.

If it's your first time hosting a golf tournament, chances are you're wondering how much to charge for entry and registration.

The answer is, it depends on your budget.

"Creating a budget is so important - even before you pick a date or a course," Kennedy says. "Sit down with your committee and work on a budget that takes into account what you want to make, and how much your audience can spend to participate."

9. Figure out if a paddle raise is right for your event.

charity golf tournament - guest speakersWe've said in the past that virtually every charity gala can benefit from a fund-a-need, special appeal or paddle raise.

However, golf tournaments are a different beast.

"Paddle raises are not a fit for every event, and I've seen it go both ways," Kennedy says. "If the audience has participated in other events with your charity where there is a paddle raise, or they're familiar with the concept and are expecting it, then you can consider including one.

"On the flip side, I have seen groups, especially first time groups, that try to layer in a paddle raise on top of an auction, a raffle, an opportunity drawing...and the momentum just never got going."

There's nothing more cringeworthy than sitting in a room where someone is asking for money and no one is raising their hand.

So you want to take a good look at the audience, who's going to be in that room, and their capability to give.

10. Mix things up with fun mini-games or contests.

You can run contests on the course, or mini-games. Examples include getting the ball closest to a target, or awarding the longest putt, straightest drive, longest drive, and so forth.

Try upselling a typical golf tournament registration with a full "game package" that includes eligibility to play the games and win prizes. (These are sometimes called "mulligan packages", but the term mulligan tends to imply longer time on the course and people cheating...so keep it fun with "games"!)

Here are two fun game ideas Kennedy has seen nonprofits use recently:

  • Roll the Dice: Bring giant inflatable dice for players to roll when they arrive at a certain hole, then assign different positions for each of the outcomes. For example, if someone rolls an odd and even number, they can hit from a certain tee; if a pair is rollled, the player can hit at the 150 yard line; and so forth. "It's a fun way for players to interact with staff from the nonprofit, plus possibly get a lower score at the hole because they were able to hit their drives from further along the green," Kennedy explains.
  • Guess Your Distance: Get two volunteers: one to stand at the tee box with a rangefinder or yardage finder, and another down on the fairway. Have the player guess how far they're going to hit their drive, then hit the ball. (The volunteer on the fairway then walks to the location of the ball.) You can then record the distance and award prizes to the closest guesses, either on the spot or at the end of the day.

Happy golfer cheering at a charity golf tournament

Bonus tip: Games are a great opportunity to involve sponsors. For example, you might have a local insurance company donate a $50 restaurant gift card, plus $500 to sponsor the "Guess Your Distance" game at Hole 9.

Players aren't expecting to win big money items from games, but something like a nice bottle of wine, gift card to Starbucks or electronic gadgets are fun incentives that break up the day.

🔊 This week on Events with Benefits: Golf Tournaments with Holly Kennedy

Today's post was just a taste of the information provided by Holly Kennedy, professional event planner and PGA pro, in the latest episode of our event fundraising podcast, Events with Benefits. Kennedy offers invaluable tips for setting up the perfect golf tournament.

Hit play below to listen to the 40-minute podcast (or click here to visit the full site).

Events with Benefits Podcast - Listen Now

Topics: golf-travel-package, golf-experience, golf, event-production

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Meet Winston & Winnie, the Winspire Twins

Winston & Winnie love to help Nonprofits raise money for amazing causes. They also love to travel and have a bucket list of amazing Experiences they are determined to complete in their lifetime. Winspire News is the result of this shared passion, offering fundraising advice, industry news and insight into charity fundraising with travel.