Every year I seem to receive more invitations to participate in activities supporting worthy causes. 10K Run – Walks, Golf Tournaments, Offshore Fishing Tournaments, BBQ Competitions and Chili Cook Offs remain the most popular. I support as many events as I possibly can, but time constraints and lack of a trust fund force me to be prudent in the events I support and participate in.
Golf has long been a primary passion, so golf tournament fundraisers have always been a preferred activity. Outdoor recreation pursuits takes precedent over eating and drinking competitions and BBQ or Chili Cook Off contests generally benefit from my absence.
This year my participation criteria has changed significantly. I recognized that events seldom change, same golf course, same long drive contest, same putting contest, larger fish, same T-shirt – fastest time, raffle tickets, silent auction. I realized event organizers have become complacent, they value the financial contribution made, but do not value recurring supporters, donors or sponsors enough to provide more than status quo activities.
My worst realization was that as an event organizer and promoter of fundraising activities, I was equally complicit and guilty as charged, on all counts.
The solution was simple in concept – offer participants event activities that other similar events did not. I reviewed all elements of events I have participated in or helped produce and developed a simple formula – find activities that participants would be interested in trying, but otherwise do not have access to, then include them in different events.
Golf events were a logical starting point. I long was a fan of the Golf Channel's reality series – The Big Break. In early episodes, contestants faced a number of golf related skills challenges – Break the Glass and the Lob Wall were two favorites. Knowing how much I'd enjoy the opportunity to try both challenges, I built a wall and made the investment in a Break the Target frame (note the avoidance of glass as the target material). I introduced both activities to tournaments as a pre or post post activities and realized instant success. Both were so popular I sold sponsorships to businesses that wanted recognition from sponsoring each event.
Fishing tournaments were equally guilty of status quo lethargy. Instead of 5 contestants on a boat, the event was limited to 25 boats, but with each boat containing a local sports figure or celebrity. It took more time and planning, but contestants were more than willing to bid for boat placement with their favorite celebrity. We also introduced a scratch off Fishing Game Card as a fundraising element. Event attendees not fishing, could still win great prizes with their purchased Fishing Tournament Card. Word has spread and each year the number of attendees, participants and fundraising contributions have increased. Last year's post event meal was attended by over 1,000 supporters.
A New Event
Even golf, fishing and other popular event themes will eventually become de facto standards, so I considered next generation event activities. A thousand years ago I helped support a unique event – a Bath Tub Regatta. Two and four person teams raced (paddled an actual bath tub) 150 yards and there were several tub classes, race heats and corporate sponsors. Every year the event grew in size and popularity, sadly the event ended when the host organization went out of business. While this event can be re-purposed into a large corporate event, today it's a very popular corporate team building activity. Another unique team building opportunity is modeled after the Survivor reality show.
My simple recommendation for improving events supporting worthy causes is:
Recognition of popular social and cultural activities + applied creative force + strong organizational support = success.