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How to Organize a Successful Sports Fundraiser


January 14, 2021

Whether you are fundraising for a business venture or charity, one of your key tasks will be fostering a sense of community.  If you are grinding your gears trying to think of an event that will raise a spirit of unity, why not tap into an activity that is inherently communal?  We are talking sports fundraisers and competitions. 

Okay, you’ve got the community aspect down, but now it’s time to raise funds.  When it comes to fundraising, no matter what the cause, the truth is that people’s resources are limited.  But if you can give your donors an experience, whether as spectators or participants, they are likely to give themselves.  Perhaps the easiest way to get people to team up for a cause is to, well, literally team them up.

Let’s take a look at some successful sports tournament fundraisers, the logistics behind organizing your own, and how to market your event.

Why sports fundraisers?

Triathalon start

The short answer: it turns “donors” into competitors, participants, and athletes.  And frankly, it eases the awkwardness of asking for money.  After all, that is what we are after in our fundraising endeavors.  So harness the fact that we are complex creatures, craving both unity for a cause as well as competition, and a sports tournament is the perfect way to harness that innate and conflicting spirit.  Charities have benefitted from nearly every type of competition—from Bounce to a Cure (pogo sticking for Scleroderma research), to the town fair dunk tanks, games and competition will draw donors.  Now it’s time to get inspired by what works.

Sports Fundraisers that Work

Flag Football Tournament

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation has been using a schoolyard classic to raise funds for its work against childhood cancer—the Lemon Bowl Flag Football Tournament.  According to its website, mere games of flag football have raised over $100,000 for ALSF.

The MLB’s Home Run Derby

Homerun DerbyWe all know the gist of a home run derby, but many don’t recognize the charity behind each homer.  Major League Baseball has instituted Gold Balls and Flex Balls worth certain dollar values in their Home Run Derby, and if these balls are hit out of the park, sponsors step up and donate.  These charities have included Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Easter Seals.   You may not need to assign staggering dollar values like Gillette did in 2014–$10,000 per Flex Ball—but getting your sponsors to establish a value or prize can always help the cause.

Longest Drive Contests

Longest Drive Contest

So you may not be driving golf balls 300 yards, but your donors, if they are the golfing type, might love to try!  The PGA raises funds for its player-designated charities through its Longest Drive Contest.  The top three longest drives are awarded charitable donations.  Odds are, your donors will have their own gear, which may help keep overhead to a minimum.


For the less sporty donor population, consider trading in the cleats for some boogie shoes!  Take Penn State’s THON, an annual dance marathon that has raised $137 million since 1977 in the fight against pediatric cancer.  While a 46-hour dance binge with no sleeping or sitting might be unrealistic for your cause, you could scale it down to a contest or specific type of dance.  There’s no wrong way to boogie—right?

Organizing your own sports fundraiser


The bottom line: fundraisers are financial endeavors.  Whether you are getting funds together for a charity or business fundraiser, you’ll need to keep cost in mind.  The cost of the playing areas or facilities, equipment, referees, and promoting the event.  A financial game plan will help ensure that your costs do not eat into your proceeds.

Fundraising Playing Field

If you’re going to host a longest drive competition, of course you’ll need a driving range—we don’t think the public parks would take kindly to whizzing golf balls.  This would mean a rental, and mean a cut in your profit margin.  But for things like flag football, home run derbies, and dance-a-thons, you could consider public school sport complexes and gymnasiums; community areas like public parks and community centers; and local churches.  Of course, you will need permission from the organizations that own or maintain the facilities, but in the name of charity, most public and private institutions will be willing to play ball (yes, pun intended).

Avoid a bad call at your fundraiser


Even for the noblest causes, our inner competitive animals might show their teeth and growl at a bad call or questionable goal.  Why not leave it up to a referee?  That’s what the pros do.  It will take the pressure off of the organizers and keep conflict to a minimum.  But also know that refs cost money, so ask around local little leagues, rec leagues, and high school athletic departments if they might be able to lend or recommend a free referee.

Fundraising Squared

Sports thrive, of course, from the participating athletes, but the fans are what generate the buzz around the event.  The fans are also a potential resource for donations.  Consider selling concessions in the stand, having raffles, and selling commemorative shirts, jerseys, and hats.  Event and team specific swag can be a great revenue stream for any nonprofit.  Jerseys for each team will bring unity, and people like to promote their causes and the causes they support—look in the parking lot of any NFL stadium on any given Sunday during fall or winter…see?  Now couple a team with a cause, go beyond hometown pride, and people will really rally behind your fundraiser.  Don’t think people will go for a t-shirt?  Have you ever seen the mayhem that ensues at a sporting event when a t-shirt cannon is aimed at the crowd?

Remember, you’re are all on the same team

Team huddle

So, now that you’ve seen examples of what works and the logistics behind organizing your own sports fundraiser, it’s time to hit social media to promote your event.  Ask local gyms if you could post flyers.  Hit the basketball courts and softball fields to tap into the community that already exists.  They might think of themselves as athletes, but they could also be donors.  When people team up for your cause, both sides become the home team.


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