Why Tournaments & “-a-thons” Are Hurting Partner Development

More and more ministries are joining the tournament/”-a-thon” craze that, like most events, require ridiculous amounts of time and attention in executing while resulting in proportionally smaller returns on the investment. It’s not just that I hate events, and I do despise event fundraising, it’s the fact that ministries engage in them for all the wrong reasons.

Golf-scrambles/-a-thons, bowl-a-thons, walk-a-thons, jump rope-a-thons, bike-a-thons, read-a-thons, skate-a-thons, dance-a-thons, swim-a-thons, and yes, even work-a-thons are all failing miserably to achieve what the tournament/a-thon companies, that keep 40% or more of what donor’s give (which just so happens to violate basic ethics in fundraising) tout as possible benefits of an organization’s fundraising efforts.

The problem is that most ministries use these events as “the medium” for fundraising rather than “a tool” to help bolster it.

I fully acknowledge that these kinds of events are a great way to involve and connect with current ministry partners as well as a donor acquisition tool with an opportunity gain exposure to people who have never heard of the ministry.  Great stuff, for sure. But if that’s where it starts and ends then don’t be surprised if every year these efforts get more taxing on staff & volunteers and the amount of money raised takes a downward spiral.

Events like these are truly all about the money while the mission of the ministry almost always comes secondary. This is where I ask Boards and ministry leaders to tell me again why they are in ministry and convince themselves that these events aren’t all about money?

Inspiritous conducted a survey of 12,700 financial partners to Christ-centered ministries in the US, where more than 54% had participated or sponsored some kind of tournament or a-thon. Here’s what we found:

  • 79% had never been asked to give directly to the ministry hosting the event;
    • among sponsors who were asked to give directly to the ministry sometime after sponsoring, 27% did;
  • 96% had assumed that the company hired to run the event was paid a flat fee and not a percentage of the money raised;
    • 100% of those said that they would not be okay with the company taking a percentage of the money raised;
  • Just 4% said that the ministry followed up with them in a meaningful way that prompted a direct contribution to the ministry.

I don’t’ know when it was that ministries-en-mass bought the lie that enticing people to give through methods that have nothing whatsoever to do with the organizational mission is a great way to enhance partner development.  Ministries wanting to make a real difference in engaging their financial partners should consider instead investing time into those who have demonstrated their love for the mission through giving of their time, talent and/or treasure. Invite them to experience or observe the ministry in action and use their circles of influence to bring in new partners that are there for the right reason.