Fun on the Fairway

Golf outings are a staple of athletic fund-raising. But are you getting the most out of yours?

By Dr. Kevin T. McGinniss

Kevin T. McGinniss, EdD, is Director of Athletic Development at Quinnipiac University. He has also coached college basketball and served as an athletic director at both the high school and college levels.

Athletic Management, 14.4, June/July 2002,

If you've been involved in athletic fund-raising for even a short amount of time, you've probably put on a golf outing. They may be the most common fund-raiser in high school and college athletics.

But while they are conducted from coast to coast, at schools large and small, they aren't always utilized to their full potential. Sometimes they are used strictly as a way to put more money in the coffers. Other times, they focus on entertaining donors. In many instances, these two aims are combined, with neither objective truly met.

However, it is possible to use a golf outing as both a fund-raiser and a friend-raiser. The key is to separate the two objectives. One goal is to friend-raise, identify, and cultivate donors. The other is to raise funds through corporate sponsors.

Before you even think about how to raise money with a golf outing, or any other event, you need to start at square one. Do you have a fund-raising philosophy? Do you have long-term objectives and strategies? You may not have given it much thought.

Fund-raising needs to be more than merely asking people to give to your program or attend an expensive event. The assistance you are looking to attain must evolve.

Many people are not comfortable asking for support. I think this is human nature. In fact, many successful fund-raising professionals are not comfortable soliciting donations. So what makes their efforts successful?

To obtain support for your program you must invest considerable time and effort in nurturing and developing this assistance. This is often called cultivation and stewardship. A sustained development effort neither begins with asking for support, nor ends when you obtain a gift. It is a cyclical process with many components.

Think of it in terms of building and maintaining lasting relationships. Three years ago, one of my former colleagues secured the largest individual gift to the institution, almost $2 million to endow an academic chair. The best part is, he never asked for a donation. He re-connected this alumnus with the institution and concentrated on building a relationship with the potential donor.

You must position your potential donors to want to help you. Contact them through a monthly newsletter or even better, a personalized note or phone call just to say hello. Ask what you can do for them. Whether it's a business relationship or a personal relationship, you cannot continually ask for people's help without, as author Stephen Covey puts it, "making deposits into their emotional bank account."

Once you receive a gift, thank them. And thank them again. Then resume the process of cultivation. If you employ this philosophy, you will not only improve your chance of securing more and larger gifts, you are more likely to have repeat givers and donors who are strong advocates for your cause.

So, what does this have to do with a golf outing? Plenty. The key to a successful golf outing isn't making a profit on the golfer, but using the event to cultivate your new and old donors. Make the entry fee reasonable and do not nickel and dime participants throughout the day. Remember, cultivating donors is about giving a lot and asking less frequently.

The preparation for the event should be focused on ensuring that every participant has a great time. And the actual event should be conducive to athletic administrators and coaches having the opportunity to speak with, joke with, and bond with these potential donors. Have coaches and administrators meet and greet golfers, drive the beverage cart, hang out at signature holes, or be part of a foursome.

But you also want to make money on the golf outing. The solution: maximize sponsorship opportunities. Everyone likes to see their name in lights, and sponsors are no different. Offer companies a way to get their name and logo in front of your crowd of golfers and, believe me, they will open their checkbooks.

There are, of course, the traditional tee and cart sponsorships. You can expand these opportunities by enabling interested parties to underwrite some of your expenses. They can sponsor give-away items (such as shirts or balls), lunch, the social hour, or the post event dinner. And don't forget about soliciting a title sponsor for the entire event. Sharing the spotlight with a company willing to pay the right price will not diminish the friend-raising effect.

Our title sponsor receives major name recognition. For example, we publicize the event as "The Quinnipiac Roundball Golf Tournament presented by Hudson United Bank," its CEO speaks at the dinner, its logo will be on our give-away item, and the company receives a foursome.

How do you figure out pricing and benefits? It depends mainly on what the market will bear, but you can start by looking at your costs. For example, we always solicit a golf ball sponsor, allowing us to give participants a sleeve of balls to take home with them. We put the sponsor's logo on the balls and provide the company a foursome at the event. The cost for the sponsorship is approximately the cost for the balls and for four golfers to participate. It could even include a slight profit for the athletic department.

A key factor in obtaining (and retaining) sponsors is to give them more than they might expect. For example, in one outing I helped organize, we put a twist on the traditional tee sponsorship. Instead of the stick-in-the-ground signs, we made an engraved wooden plaque for each tee sponsor. We displayed the plaques at the appropriate tee boxes during the event, then gave them to the sponsor to take home and hang at the office. The sponsors loved it!

Thank-You Gifts
To sow the seeds for continued success, provide both participants and sponsors with gifts at the event. In most cases, you can put together a fine gift bag for each participant without spending a lot of money. Major sponsors can receive something for their offices, such as an engraved clock. Smaller sponsors can be given additional golf balls and specialty items.

Thanking everyone involved and providing them with mementos is all part of the process--the process of developing donors and sustaining sponsors. The process of friend-raising and fund-raising.