Going the Distance: Hosting Fundraising Events with Social Distancing in Mind

Going the Distance: Hosting Fundraising Events with Social Distancing in Mind

As states determine the recreational activities and services that can re-open, as well as new measures for safely doing so, fundraisers across the country are asking themselves the same question: what does this mean for my fundraising event? For many organizations, the Spring and Fall are ideal seasons for annual golf outings, which can be big contributors to an organization’s event revenue. With sprawling greens, open air, and plenty of room to move around, golf outings seem like the natural choice for a socially distanced event. TAG talked with Tara Knapp, Vice President of Development, Public Relations and Marketing at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare, whose office organized a socially distanced golf outing fundraiser in June.

On logistics…

TK: The standard program was changed. We did not have a shotgun start; rather than all the golfers arriving for registration at the same time, we staggered it with tee times every 10 minutes. Registration was contactless with one foursome at a time. The venue worked with us to provide electronic scoring using an app so that people wouldn’t have to touch/share scorecards. The venue also installed plastic partitions in the golf carts so that two could ride rather than rent extra carts. We no longer had mini competitions because we could not have a crowd gather—and no one seemed to miss them.

On food…

TK: For $250 per golfer, you would typically enjoy a nice, hearty lunch, a cocktail hour, and a good dinner. In the new format, some golfers were arriving at 8 a.m. and leaving by 3 p.m. and others were staying through dinner. All food had to be singularly wrapped. We decided on a breakfast station that turned into a carving station later in the day for people arriving closer to lunch. We had heavy hors d’oeuvres available at the end of the course. Every attendee was minimally served two separate types of food, and we incorporated food stops throughout the course as well, such as a grill, a whiskey tasting vendor, and a pulled pork station.

On sharing the mission…

TK: Since there was not going to be any speech at the end of the day, we had to get creative to replace that opportunity to share our mission. At Gaylord, our golf outing benefits our adaptive sports program. We decided to feature a different adaptive sport at each hole on the course to engage and educate golfers along the way. By the time they got through 18 holes, they had learned a great deal about what the event was supporting.

On comparing to last year…

TK: We had already secured many of our sponsors and foursomes in advance.  We did delay the event by 15 days which affected some people’s schedule and we did find that some companies recommended staying home, so we had fewer golfers than in years past. From a fundraising perspective, we had more expenses (plastic shields, hand sanitizer, etc.) and revenue was slightly down due to not having a silent auction and not soliciting sponsorships in April and May. We plan to incorporate those costs into future events.

The reaction?

TK: Many people liked it better! They enjoyed starting on hole 1 and ending on 18, rather than starting on different holes because of a shotgun start. It made the experience feel like being a member of a private club. People thought the food and drink was plentiful and that they got a lot for their money. Because of the staggered registration, the staff had a chance to speak to every single donor or attendee, and everyone got more attention. After, we received comments that we should continue with some aspects of this format for future outings for a more effective, better overall experience.


There is no question that a golf outing, with its sprawling outdoor courses and full-day schedule, is one of the most agreeable events to adapt to social distancing protocols. The new reality is that, for the near future, fundraising events won’t look the same as before. Fundraisers across the country are finding that creative ways to maintain the personal aspects of events are key to success. In some ways, development officers are in a position to lead the way in terms of socially distanced and virtual entertainment and connection.


Has your organization hosted a successful socially distanced or virtual event? Sound off in the comments – we’d love to hear more!