Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho Raises $100,000 Through Virtual Golf Event

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Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) supports families of ill or injured children by keeping them together in times of medical need. Its Idaho chapter’s location near St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital in Boise ensures that families whose children are receiving treatment can stay near them, easing the stress of finding lodging and meals. “We strive to provide the comforts of home so parents can focus on taking care of their kids,” says Jill Smith, Special Events Coordinator at RMHC of Idaho.

Much of the money raised to support RMHC Idaho’s work — including the 47-room house in Boise, the Ronald McDonald Family Room inside Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls, and the Happy Wheels Hospitality Cart — comes from fundraising events. RMHC of Idaho opened a new house in Boise for families with children in nearby hospitals in February of 2020, which, at capacity, can serve 47 families. But COVID-19 meant fewer families were allowed to stay in the house, with others put up in nearby hotels. Those staying at the house were restricted to parents and the child receiving treatment. No volunteers were allowed, only staff and families.

Not only did RMHC of Idaho need to adapt how it served families, but how it could safely hold special events due to restrictions on gatherings. The annual J.R. Simplot Memorial Golf Tournament was quickly approaching. Staff found ways to adapt other fundraising events with online/live-streaming options, but Jill knew they would have to approach the golf tournament differently than in the past. “Picture me in my sweatpants at my kitchen table trying to figure out how to make this work,” says Jill. Some online research led her to GolfStatus, and though the they had never used technology for the golf fundraiser before, Jill knew it was time to make the transition.

The Right Fit

Jill reached out to the GolfStatus team who walked her through the tech and process. As a registered 501(c)3, RMHC of Idaho qualified for the Golf for Good program, which provides a free event website and full access to GolfStatus’s event management platform at no cost. “That was a huge bonus for us,” Jill says. “Not knowing what to expect in terms of participation and the financial support we would get this year made GolfStatus’s no-risk approach appealing.”

GolfStatus’s partnership with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) gave the platform immediate credibility when Jill shared it with the golf committee and organization executives. “I was able to show them that GolfStatus is partnered with this prestigious organization that has the same goals that we do,” Jill says.

RMHC of Idaho’s golf fundraiser is a longstanding tradition. For over 25 years, the tournament has raised funds to support families whose children are being treated at nearby hospitals. But the 2020 event meant adapting to COVID-19 restrictions and finding ways to keep everyone safe. After talking with GolfStatus about how a virtual event could be valuable, Jill and her team decided the best way to move forward would be a virtual outing, through which folks would have the opportunity to golf on their own time, without the large gathering.

A virtual golf event is held over an extended period of time, at one or more golf courses. Unlike most virtual events, which involve a live-stream or video call, a virtual golf tournament doesn’t involve a screen. Folks simply play at one of the event’s designated courses when it’s convenient for them and donate their round to the cause, using a live-scoring app to record scores that sync to an overall leaderboard. “Because golf courses were open and the event would be held outside, we hoped people would feel comfortable social distancing in small groups and we could still hold the event safely, just without the big, usual gathering,” Jill explains. “Ultimately, we wanted to make sure people felt safe.”

“Our tournament isn’t terribly competitive; it’s a way for people to feel connected to the cause,” Jill explains. Local golfers had the choice to play at their convenience on three chosen dates. They registered online via the event website, then contacted the golf course to book a tee time. Organizers also gave out-of-area supporters the option to submit their scores so they could be included on the event’s overall leaderboard. “We didn’t want people to feel like they were just going to golf a round,” explains Jill. “We wanted to create that connection and the overall event leaderboards helped with that.”

Easy Adaptations & Automations

Thanks to a free GolfStatus event website, RMHC of Idaho transitioned their marketing from mailed flyers and registration forms to doing as much as possible online. Not only did this save time and effort, it substantially reduced costs. “A lot of our mailers go to corporate offices, and with so many people working from home, it would have been a waste,” Jill explains. Instead, they used no-cost digital avenues to push the event out to supporters, with everything linked back to the event website where supporters could register their teams, sponsors could purchase packages, and spectators could follow along with the live leaderboards or make a donation to the cause before, during, or after the event.

Jill and her team shared the link to the leaderboards so golfers — no matter when or where they were playing — could check in on standings. Teams recorded their scores using the GolfStatus mobile app, which automatically populates the aggregate leaderboards. “It was nice to have it all taken care of, without having to deal with spreadsheets or anything. The information was at people’s fingertips,” Jill says. As an added bonus, sponsors got exposure every time participants registered, participated in a round, and checked the leaderboards on the website or in the app.

RMHC of Idaho has decades-long relationships with many golf tournament sponsors, who were especially supportive of the adaptations. “Truly, everyone realized that we needed to do things differently this year, and they were glad we were still able to do it,” Jill says. Some sponsors had originally signed on for hole-in-one or putting contests, but since those were scrapped with the virtual tournament format, they opted for the digital exposure available through the GolfStatus platform. “Thankfully, we didn’t have to sell any sponsors on the value of the digital exposure,” Jill says, noting that sponsors appreciated seeing their logos prominently displayed in the mobile app and viewed each time golfers entered their score.

Like all nonprofit clients, RMHC of Idaho had a dedicated representative from GolfStatus’s in-house customer success team to answer questions, resolve issues, and make the event a success. “They were always available and quick to respond. I felt like I was in good hands,” Jill says, explaining how GolfStatus also made working with golf facility staff as smooth as possible. “It really made it easy for us and the golf course. GolfStatus took care of all the heavy lifting.”

Caring for Families

In the end, the adapted golf tournament raised over $100,000 to give families a home away from home so they can focus on caring for their sick or injured child. “Families are stronger when they’re together, and that’s especially true for kids who are recovering or receiving treatment,” says Jill.

“Although the event was different,” she adds, “it was a safe way to bring people together and make them feel connected while supporting our mission.”

To learn more about RMHC of Idaho and their important work, visit rmhcidaho.org