Charity Tournaments

The last couple months I have been flooded with flyers and brochures for charity poker tournaments. I have played in two fairly large well run charity tournaments in the last six months. I have passed on the hundreds of other charity tournaments for a variety of reasons.

A charity poker tournament requires 4 major ingredients and a few minor perks thrown in to ensure its success:

1.) A good sponsor
2.) A worthwhile charity
3.) Value for the player
4.) Good marketing buzz

Basically, this is all that’s required to raise money for a charity. This is the foundation that your event should be built on.

I’m sure that everyone feels the charity they are raising money for is worthwhile. However, the truth is, I’m not motivated to go play a poker tournament to raise money for your kids’ soccer team. Just bring me the damn raffle tickets and I will shell out the usual ten bucks and we’ll be done. When I buy a couple of boxes of Girl Scout cookies at least I get something for my money and know that the money will be used for character-building activities. I want to know where the money goes and what it is used for.

1. & 2.) Pairing a good sponsor with a worthwhile charity
A good sponsor for the tournament is a key to having a successful tournament. I played the Ante Up for Africa tournament in San Bernardino that was sponsored by the San Manuel Casino, which is owned by a local tribe. Professional poker player Annie Duke, actor Don Cheadle, and Norman Epstein are the founders of this charity that focuses on ending the crisis in Dafar. Annie and Don threw their considerable energy and star power behind the tournament. San Manuel put up the tournament guarantee and made a huge donation to the charity, ensuring the success of the fund raiser. The casino provided the site and all the labor, plus a large portion of the marketing effort. This partnership configuration allows the maximum amount money to go to the charity.

3.) Value for the player lets the player know he’s valued
Value for the player is an area where most tournaments fail. You can’t ask players to pay $100 dollars to play in a tournament where the only value being returned is a first place prize of $1000. To battle a field of 50 or 100 players, a return of only ten or twenty percent is not a value. The Stockton Thunder tournament gave every player ten tickets to a hockey game for everyone that played. Also, a good pre-tournament meal and complimentary soft drinks were provided. They also gave away some swag like team t-shirts and hats. There was also a member of the hockey team at every table and a bounty on the team members. The prizes were all hockey-related, i.e., a night in the luxury suite, etc. This made it fun and allowed the maximum amount of money to go to the charity foundation.

4.) There was a tournament WHERE? – Getting the word out
The last component to having a successful fund raiser is getting the word out. Of course to have a tournament, or any event, you have to have people attend. Thus, marketing is VITAL to making or breaking an event. The Los Angeles Kings recently had a very similar charity tournament to the Stockton Tournament, but I didn’t hear about it until after the fact. Proper marketing of a tournament is difficult without a large marketing budget. Social networking becomes a must for these charity events. Ingenuity comes in handy here, and if the marketing budget is slim, then make full use of free online opportunities like Facebook and Twitter.

Of course, anytime you have an event it never hurts to put a little star power behind it. Even if you have to cover some expenses to get the star to show up at your event, it is worthwhile. Players want to take pictures and get autographs from SOMEONE. Jerry Yang or Brandon Wong may just be in the neighborhood and willing to come down and spend an hour or two with everyone. It never hurts to ask!

These are just my rough guidelines for throwing a charity tournament and I would be more than willing to answer any specific questions about a particular event or proposed event and, as always, I’d love to hear some feedback.


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