Begin early. Our tournament was scheduled for the Thursday after Labor Day. We formed a committee to plan the event in late May. The committee had six members. One was our campaign’s finance chair, two were very avid golfer and veterans of many previous charity, corporate and fundraising golf tournaments. Three were enthusiastic volunteers who were bad golfers but hard workers with great connections in the community.
The first order was to meet and negotiate with the chosen golf course. We wanted a day in mid-August. They weren’t interested since that was the peak of their members’ use of the course. They would have preferred early October. That was bad for us, so we settled on early September. The club manager had a set price for tournaments and wouldn’t budge, noting that this was the same price paid by the hospital foundation, the United Way and every other charity, and he couldn’t be offering a further discount to a politician. His price included standard fees for breakfast and coffee, 19th hole snacks and a full course early supper, and green fees. There would be a cash bar. The full cost would be $75 per golfer. We aimed at 300 people so that meant we had to pay $22,500 before we had anything to show for the campaign. The deposit was $10,000 and non-refundable after August 15. We were at first taken aback by this level of risk but the manager explained, “It’s not personal, it’s business.” He even claimed that he was a Republican (some us had our doubts), but that the club had learned the hard way that many non-profit groups had great visions about golf tournaments that fizzled, leaving the golf club with a last minute cancellation and scrambling to re-schedule staff and fill empty tee times. And, by the way, political campaigns were the worst offenders and often left bills unpaid for months.
Before signing the binding contract we had to find a couple of major sponsors/hosts. We approached two leading businessmen and the mayor. The mayor, a conservative, would not serve as a named sponsor but would give an endorsement encouraging people to participate and would come herself (but would not pay). The two business owners were invaluable. One owned the largest house construction firm in the county and the other owned the largest hardware and construction store. They were good friends, loyal conservatives and golfers. They agreed to sign the invitations and invite all of their suppliers to come and pay and play. They were confident that they could come up with at least 300 golfers. One of them offered to loan the campaign the $10,000 needed for the deposit. We budgeted another $10,000 for expenses, including vehicle insurance for volunteer drivers, fees for the mayor and about 10 other local VIPs who would be compted, press kits and media freebees, prizes, volunteers’ meals and T-shirts, hole-in-one insurance fee, committee planning expenses and signage. We would not have taken on the risk without the loan and the role offered by the hosts. There was no way we could have come up with the assured participants just using the name of the candidate. But with this help we agreed that we could sign the contract with the club and take the risk.
Next step was the budget and plan. The fee to the club included all the catering and they would not allow any other caterer to participate, so that was easy. All the food and hospitality logistics were up to them. Taking this route is much more expensive than self-catering but took a whole lot of hassle out of the event.
Because it was an invitation event from the sponsors, we did not need any publicity for the sale of tickets. Unlike open invitation events, we did not have to publicize and recruit the golfers or get them to sign up pledge sponsors. The hosts/sponsors offered their confidential lists of suppliers, best customers and contacts, professional associates and friendly competitors. We added a few other community business leaders. Since we were targeting the construction sector ninety-five percent of the list was men. A faint voice of protest was raised in the committee about the optics of gender equality but we acknowledged that the event was about golf, construction people and raising cash. We could have a ladies day some other time.
On August 1 over 150 invitations were sent out on the hosts’ letterhead. Every corporate invitee was asked to bring a foursome. A lift note from the mayor was included as was our standard campaign brochure introducing the candidate. It worked. Within two weeks we had over 250 confirmed participants. At that point we knew that we at least were not going to lose money. The feelings of stress were lifted.
The difference between a decent golf tournament and a fabulous one in terms of fundraising is what you do to raise money over and above the fees. We knew that we would have about 280 paying players and 20 non-paying. If we charged $300 per person that would give us $84,000 in income from fees against which we would have around $24,000 in costs, leaving us with a net income of $60,000. Not bad for one day, but the challenge was to push that up another $40,000 to $100,000. Do the math and that meant we had to squeeze another $143 out of every paying player.
Here’s what we did. We went to 18 of the largest corporations that were participating and asked them to “sponsor a hole.” That gave them a small billboard erected at the tee, a banner in the club house, an acknowledgement in the media release and a brief presentation at the diner where they gave prize corporate T-shirt or comparable favors to the foursome that had the lowest collective score on their hole. For this honor they paid another $1000 for a total of $18,000. We hit up about 20 local firms that were too small or unable to send a foursome and asked them for a donation to the silent auction. The trick on silent auctions is to get items that are perceived as valuable but have a marginal cost, not an absolute cost to the donor. For example, the golf course offered several foursome rounds of golf. The marginal cost to the club was minimal since those who bid the highest were not likely to have paid that course for that round of golf if they hadn’t won the auction. Meals at fine dining restaurants worked the same way. So did theatre tickets and tickets to sports events. Some donors gave actual hard goods out of their inventory, but these meant real out-of-pocket expenses to the donors.
Of course the other trick with either a live auction or a silent auction was to announce the winner but then to ask the donor (with agreement beforehand) if they would double the donation and give the same thing to the next highest bidders as well, with the price to the highest then discounted to the second highest bid. Doing so results in almost doubling the income from that auction item (200% of the second highest bid instead of just 100% of the highest). The high bidders think they just got a bargain because they paid less than they had been prepared to and the second highest bidders got what they wanted at the price they had already agreed to part with.
The real work in making any type of auction work is done weeks beforehand when the volunteers go out and scrounge for items that will be perceived as “hot” and desirable.
By the time it was all over we had just over $16,000 in auction income.
Then the mayor, a fine GOP lady if there ever was one, stepped up and challenged any and all of the golfers to a one-on-one at the practice green. In a gutsy move she bet any of the players (mostly local business guys from the construction trade and therefore overflowing with testosterone) that she could beat them at a closest-to-the-hole one-shot-only putting contest. And she bet every one of them $100. Over fifty of the boys lined up. She beat 45 of them. Of course it was “rigged,” but honestly. She was actually a very good golfer and had been coming out to the practice green for several weeks just working at getting that single shot perfect. The guys were already tired from a full 18 holes, had already had a couple of beers, and had never done that shot on that green before. Of the five who beat her three donated their winnings anyway and were more than happy with bragging rights. End result: another $4300 net income.
In addition, we did the very popular hole-in-one prize for $250,000, using a reputable and reliable golf promotion firm that insures such events, for a hefty fee. Over 100 players teed up to take three drives at a 200 yd. hole for the chance to win, and paid $50 to do so. Nobody won. Another $5000.
As the golfers came in off the course and during the reception before the rewards dinner, a group of the volunteers (ok . . . some of the really cute young college girls) worked the crowd of (almost all) thirsty men, with trays of “Obama-blasters” (rather potent Long Island iced tea). The price per drink was $20 and they sold over 100. Another $2000. But this was the only drink we could sell by agreement with the club. They demanded all the rest of the proceeds from the bar.
We put on a great dinner. Good food. Great comedian. Prizes for everything imaginable. But a program no longer than 30 minutes. Then the mayor did her thing and ended up introducing our candidate. He spoke for just 10 minutes and included a few sharp attack comments on tax-and-append anti-business fanatically regulatory liberals, and a few strong campaign promises. Then our communications chair just stood there and asked everybody to make a donation, using the credit-card forms and envelopes on the tables and dropping the completed envelopes into the basket that was there for that reason.
They went home, all having had a great time. We counted it all up and after deducting all our expenses, we knew we had over $100,000. Those additional funds gave us enough money to have a huge media campaign throughout October. It worked.
(Note: the above story is fictional. It has been provided to give potential contributors an example of they types of stories we hope they will share with fellow conservatives.)