Case Study: How one Nonprofit Doubled the Fundraising Revenue for its Golf Tournament in One Year
A golf outing can certainly be a lucrative fundraising endeavor. For Hope Center Uganda, a global 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Lincoln, Nebraska, the willingness to implement a simple golf event management platform yielded substantial returns—attracting more players and sponsors, saving time and resources, and ultimately doubling the event’s fundraising revenue in just one year!
About the Hope Center
Sprawling central Africa’s Nile Basin, Uganda is cradled by the torn lands of Kenya, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda. Drenched in the equatorial sun, the sweeping terrain is almost transcendent—a stark contrast to the hardships that afflict its people: a tumultuous political climate; dismal economic conditions; and an unyielding AIDS epidemic, not to mention the relentless challenges of everyday survival. Statistically, it is one of the poorest countries in the world, a reality that disproportionately impacts the 84% of its population living in rural communities. These complex and largely systemic conditions leave the country’s children abandoned in devastating numbers. As many as 1.5 million children in Uganda are homeless—a tragic 5% of its population. Hope Center Uganda’s commitment is to those children.
With a task force of fewer than 20 and a small network of volunteers, Hope Center Uganda provides care for between 25 and 30 abandoned children at any given time. The majority are brought to the center as babies—just weeks or months old. “These children are left in toilets, puddles of water, bushes, garbage piles,” explains Hope Center Uganda’s President Barbie Wells. “Many come to us starved, abused, and emaciated.”
Approximately half of the organization’s monthly operational budget of around $5,000 is funded by recurring gifts from donors all over the world. The remaining balance is left to ongoing fundraising efforts. “Honestly, we’re only ever about one month ahead,” says Barbie. “It’s like living paycheck to paycheck. It’s scary, but somehow, by the grace of God, we make the number every single month. Somebody steps up.”
The Golf Fundraiser
The idea to host a golf outing came last year from a donor with a connection to one of the local municipal golf courses. Barbie quickly organized her team to rally the effort. “We did everything manually, tracking information in a spreadsheet and getting everything set up. It was weeks of work, and we had never done it before, so it was especially challenging to collect and organize everything and then actually promote the event,” explains Barbie.
Heading into its second annual Golf Fore Hope event, the Hope Center sought not only to hold a more lucrative fundraiser overall, but to leverage the event to build its donor base, and ultimately the organization’s capacity. For all of these endeavors, golf presents ample opportunity. “The fundraising is definitely important,” explains Barbie. “If we don’t have resources, we can’t support the orphaned children who need our help to survive. But the other thing we determined very quickly is that the golf fundraiser allows us to expand our donor base because it’s an event people love!”
“The golf fundraiser allows us to expand our donor base because it’s an event people love!”
Strategies for Success
Ahead of this year’s event, the Hope Center adopted a simple event management platform designed specifically for golf fundraisers. The upgrade to GolfStatus.org (a no-cost, web-based platform with everything fundraisers need to plan, promote, and coordinate all the details of a golf outing in one place) provided a number of immediate and long-term advantages. It also paved the way for Barbie and her team to focus on, streamline, and execute the following key priorities:
Promotion and networking. Being associated with a fun, well-run, community event helps brands and businesses build goodwill and a favorable public image. That’s the key value of sponsorship, and a charity golf fundraiser is an ideal sponsorship investment. Barbie’s team was able to successfully attract sponsors through a combination of promotion, networking, and even cold calling. In addition to promoting the event through the GolfStatus app and online, Hope Center Uganda used social media to spread the word, adding GolfStatus as a co-host of the event so both the Hope Center and GolfStatus could post and share about the event. When supporters had connections to local businesses, they reached out to secure sponsorships. “In addition to networking and cold calls, there were also some cases where we just walked into businesses and asked if they were interested in supporting the event—so we were a little bold in some instances,” says Barbie.
Simple registration. Once players and sponsors hear about an event, it’s important to make sure the registration process is as seamless as possible. For Barbie and her team, that meant employing a simple online registration process that volunteers could easily track for personal outreach purposes. “Last year, we did have a website that we set up ourselves, but it didn’t work properly so we had some registration hiccups,” explains Barbie. “The online registration process GolfStatus.org set up for us saved a ton of time! Our volunteers were then able to go into the software once we gave them admin permissions to manage those registrations and then reach out to people registering for the event and purchasing sponsorships. Having all that information in one easily accessible place was huge!”
Effective team and sponsorship pricing. In the second year, Barbie and her team also substantially increased the pricing for teams and sponsorships. Certainly, there are a number of factors contributing to pricing (the facility, the player and sponsor demographic, the event’s goals, and its previous years’ price points to name a few), but evaluating pricing with regularity is crucial. With the shift in pricing, the Hope Center made a concerted effort to convey the impact of every dollar. “We increased our price from $150 to $450 per hole sponsorship,” explains Barbie. “We had a lot of nay-sayers who said that was too much. We explained to people that sponsoring one hole was the equivalent of sponsoring one child for a whole year and that really resonated with people.”
The ability to offer sponsors value. Keep in mind that sponsors are primarily looking for associative value—that is, a clear connection to a great experience and a great cause. Hope Center Uganda was able to bring on 13 sponsors, including a Honda dealership, a Toyota dealership, a local photography studio, an insurance agency, a creative agency, a home builder, an engineering company, a national beef brand, and a garage door installation company—among others. “We used a combination of pricing, promotion, and networking to attract sponsors,” explains Barbie, “And then we had all the perks of GolfStatus to offer as additional leverage to help us bring in higher-level sponsors.” Those perks included exposure across multiple channels—on the registration website, in the mobile live-scoring app, on leaderboards within the mobile app, posted online, and projected in the clubhouse—and more. Hole sponsors were also able to provide custom imagery and messaging for better exposure and added value.
The right tools and technology. Keeping track of information is half the battle when it comes to planning a large-scale, registration-driven fundraising event like a golf outing. Hope Center Uganda certainly needed a way to track and manage information, but it needed a platform that would be user friendly, easy to learn, accessible, and capable of tracking all the key information needed specifically for a golf event (including pairings, hole assignments, and the like). “The interface is so sleek and very easy to navigate. I just logged in and had all the information I needed. Half the time, we’re juggling phone calls and multitasking our way through checking on a registrant—and the software is so simple that we never had an issue, even without the ability to give it our full attention all the time.”
Live scoring at the event. At a typical golf event, golfers compete on the course and don’t necessarily know how they’re doing in comparison to other golfers. Live scoring makes it possible for golfers to see scores in real time on live leaderboards, making the event more competitive, more engaging, and more fun. “Everyone loved the live scoring and using the mobile app,” notes Barbie. “In my group, the person scoring was an older gentleman—over 65—and he loved it. It’s so easy and intuitive, even for players who aren’t tech savvy. He commented multiple times about how simple and sleek it was.”
A professional-caliber event. When the event runs cleanly and smoothly, volunteers, donors, sponsors, and other supporters walk away having had an all-around great experience. “The people who attended our first year’s event versus this year’s noticed that everything was in order and running smoothly,” explains Barbie. “That reflects positively on our organization and shows us in a positive light, attracting additional supporters to our cause.”
Additional fundraising revenue. Certainly the most noteworthy outcome for the Hope Center was the substantial increase in fundraising revenue from the year prior (the event’s first year). In one year, the organization was able to double fundraising revenue from around $7,000 to over $14,000.
Time Savings. For a small team, staff and volunteer time is everything, and the more of it that can be saved, the better. With an especially small task force of volunteers, every hour of time savings means more time can be devoted to more pressing areas. “Doing everything manually the first year was weeks of work, and we had never done it before, so collecting and organizing everything and then actually promoting the event were especially challenging,” explains Barbie.
Additional outreach and awareness. In the weeks leading up to the event, a number of players and sponsors became actively engaged in the event—sharing and posting about it on social media and encouraging friends to fill out teams. The result was a total of 84 players participating in the event, many of whom were influential members of the community who were also able to spread the word to sponsors.
A more professional event. It all rolls up into a better fundraiser that’s easier to manage, and serious about serving its cause and its donors. “Last year, people could tell we scrambled to put the event together,” Barbie admits. “With the GolfStatus platform, we’re able to provide a more polished and engaging event that casts our organization in a more legitimate and professional light.”