Raising money and awareness

Charities use golf tournaments to reach donors

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Print this page by Gary Robertson

You might call it, teeing off for dollars.

Nonprofit groups in Virginia are finding that golf tournaments can be an important part of their fundraising activities.

But it’s not all rosy. Some nonprofits report that the slow economy has reduced turnouts, raising doubts about the viability of tournaments.
First, let’s turn to a recently converted true believer in the power of golf as a fundraiser.

The Child Health Investment Partnership (CHIP) of Roanoke, which coordinates health-care service for low-income children, had never considered a golf tournament as part of its fundraising activities.

But a legendary sports figure in the Roanoke Valley, basketball star J.J. Reddick of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, was looking for a way to help children in his hometown. He thought a golf tournament would be the ticket.

Through local connections, Reddick approached CHIP about being a primary recipient of the tournament’s profits.

The outcome? “I was bowled over by how well it went,” says Robin Haldiman, CHIP’s CEO.

Nancy Fralin, CHIP’s annual fund coordinator, says that last year’s inaugural J.J. Reddick Celebrity Golf Tournament raised $40,000.

The organization’s other signature fundraising events – Tug for Tots, in which corporate tug-of-war teams compete, and Breakfast with Santa – raised $30,000 and $28,000, respectively.

CHIP is now looking forward to the second tournament, hoping to build on the success of the inaugural event.

Success in golf tournaments has not been as forthcoming for the American Red Cross’ Mountain Empire Chapter in Bristol. “We had golf tournaments for 12 years. Two years ago, we stopped doing them,” says Felisha McNabb, the chapter’s executive director.

Because so many groups were holding tournaments, the pool of participants was shrinking, making it hard to find enough golfers for the Red Cross event. Its last tournament drew 15 teams and raised only $8,000.

The Red Cross chapter now relies on leadership gifts and other donations associated with a fundraising luncheon. The most recent luncheon raised $74,000.

Burch Sweeney of Golf Events & Meetings in Roanoke, which organizes charitable and corporate golf events across Virginia, says the economy has hurt tournaments.

“In the salad days, I was managing 25 to 30 tournaments a year,” Sweeney said. “In 2009, it dropped to 20-22.  It’s starting to come back, but slowly.”

Across the U.S., about 1 million amateur tournaments are held every year, and the average charity event nets $5,000.

Andy Brinkworth of the Golf Charity Network, a family-run business operating in Fort Myers, Fla., matches charities that want to stage a golf tournament with planners such as Sweeney.

“The biggest problem a few years back was that a lot of smaller organizations wanted to put on a tournament but didn’t know how. And they didn’t know how to use the Internet to get the word out,” Brinkworth says.

The Virginia-Beach based Wings Over America Scholarship Foundation, which provides scholarships to spouses and children in the Navy aviation community, was a latecomer to golf tournaments for fundraising.

Founded in 1987, the foundation didn’t hold its first tournament until 2004. “It was our first real fundraising event,” says Executive Director Christine Wilson. The event raised about $45,000.

This year, Wings Over America will stage four golf tournaments in various parts of the country.

She says past tournaments had not only raised a lot of money for scholarships but also had boosted the profile of Navy aviation.

The tournaments were the inspiration of two women golfers, who also happened to be married to naval officers. “They had been to tournaments and understood them,” Wilson says.

In 2010, Wings over America awarded 43 scholarships of $1,500 each, and two other scholarships of $2,000 and $3,000 each.

Amy-Beth Johnson, executive director of a sister organization, the Dolphin Scholarship Foundation, has not had as much luck recently with the tournaments her organization staged to raise scholarship money for the children and spouses of submariners.
Other types of fundraisers have produced more income and were not as labor intensive, she says.

Her organization is weighing whether to continue to use golf tournaments as a fundraiser and, if it does, whether to move the tournament closer to Washington, D.C., to be nearer submarine leaders and defense contractors, both of whom are big contributors.

This year’s tournament in Virginia Beach raised about half of what the previous year’s event collected, she says, and the tournaments have declined during the past three years.

The Dolphin Scholarship Foundation sponsors more than 120 students, who each receive an annual scholarship of $3,400.

The Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Richmond will hold its ninth annual fundraising golf tournament this year, and executive director Sherry Peterson says the tournament not only raises money – more than $40,000 – but also significantly increases awareness about Alzheimer’s.
The association’s signature fundraiser is “The Walk to End Alzheimer’s.” But Peterson says the group that shows up for the walk is typically far different from the one that shows up for the golf tournament. That builds diversity in the association’s fundraising program.  “Last year we had 180 golfers and the walk drew 1,600 people,” she says.

For the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg, golf tournaments are a huge piece of its fundraising effort.

“Depending on the year, we either have three or four tournaments,” says Dani Hottle, director of marketing and development. “One tournament has gone down in size, but the other two have doubled.”

She says the tournaments provide nearly 10 percent of the Boys & Girls Club annual budget, or about $35,000-$38,000.
Increasingly, she says, tournament participants will also sign on as individual donors.

At the Rappahannock Emergency Medical Services Council in Fredericksburg, Executive Director Wayne Perry says that while the council’s annual golf tournament is not the largest source of revenue – contributions from governmental agencies represent the bulk of funding – the tournament is the biggest fundraising event.

“We’ve done it for nine years,” Perry said. “This was the first year it didn’t sell out.”

Like others, he attributed the lower number of participants to a sour economy.

But he says the golf tournament is an entrenched aspect of the council’s fundraising program and provides corporations and other community sponsors a way to show their support for the charity’s efforts.

“It definitely raises our profile,” says Debbie Loveless, the council’s office manager, noting that at times more than 100 players participate, along with corporate sponsors.

Sweeney of Golf Events & Meetings in Roanoke says golf tournaments raise millions of dollars for charities every year, and he anticipates their number increasing even more, once the economy gets back on track.

Golf, he says, is just a lot of fun.

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