A special “Member for a Day” online auction of rounds at prestigious courses around the country has revived the First Tee Savannah (Ga.) program, which was shut down in 2017 after its funding dried up.
Think big. Cultivate relationships. Put in the work.
These concepts might not be among the nine core values of First Tee programs. But they certainly helped the Board members of First Tee Savannah (Ga.) revive the program, formerly known as First Tee of Savannah, after it was shut down in 2017 when its funding dried up.
Alex Messinger, President of the First Tee Savannah Board of Directors and Head Golf Professional at Savannah Golf Club, had been asking questions for the past two years about how to restart the program.
“The opportunities for youth development are spectacular through the First Tee curriculum,” says Messinger, who has lived in Savannah since 2016. “Golf is a sport you play for life, and it builds relationships.”
For almost 15 years, First Tee of Savannah was a presence in the local golf community and in the lives of young people learning to play the game. The program is important to Savannah, Messinger believes, because the community has so many golf courses.
Apparently, others agreed. The national First Tee office connected Board members with Eric Sedransk, who launched a “Member for a Day” initiative in May to support New York City restaurants by feeding hospital front-line workers and then began to market the concept for other causes. The mission of Member for a Day is to help nonprofits and charitable foundations achieve and exceed their fundraising goals by using technology, social media, and golf.
In early December, the Member for a Day concept was used to conduct a seven-day silent online auction for First Tee Savannah, raising just shy of $141,000 – enough to cover the entire budget for 2021.
The chapter only expected to raise between $10,000 and $20,000, notes Teia Acker, another Board member.
The auction included packages at almost 60 golf courses. People could bid on rounds at prestigious properties including Pinehurst #4, TPC Harding Park, Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Atlanta Country Club, Butler National, Congressional, East Lake Golf Club, Harbour Town Golf Links, Merion, Philadelphia Cricket Club, Quail Hollow, Sahalee Country Club, Secession Golf Club, and TPC Sawgrass.
The 10 members of the First Tee Savannah Board were responsible for using their connections to recruit and line up participating courses, and people from all across the country bought packages. But most of the money, Acker says, came from local donors. “It let us know that the city was excited to have [First Tee] back,” she notes.
Currently, no other fundraisers are planned, but Messinger says First Tee Savannah is partnering with the Korn Ferry Tour’s Club Car Championship at The Landings Club’s Deer Creek Course, which is scheduled for March, for additional support. “Typical fundraisers haven’t been able to happen because of COVID,” he notes in explaining the organization’s search for new ways to generate funds.
First Tee Savannah applied for 501(c)3 status in August, and Messinger hoped to have the chapter reinstated by January. The Board expected to have an Executive Director and a program manager in place by February, so programming could resume in the spring or early summer
The original chapter operated out of the nine-hole Mary Calder Golf Course, just west of downtown Savannah. The rebranded First Tee Savannah will operate out of multiple facilities, including Bacon Park Golf Course, Henderson Golf Club, Crosswinds Golf Club, and Richmond Hill Golf Club.
The chapter is working toward gaining access on the golf courses at nearby military facilities as well. “Having it at the military locations will open it up to more juniors and more participants,” says Messinger.
The previous program had about 150 participants, but the new Board hopes to attract even more golfers by using the additional facilities.
Other goals include building in-school programs with physical education teachers and coaches, as well as creating opportunities for students to take part in after-school programs. For school programming, First Tee will provide tools and training built on its nine core values.
To generate support in the community and sponsors for activities, Board members have also reached out to people who were involved with the original program and to stakeholders in the golf industry.
“We have a group of people who want to have an impact and participate with fundraising, but it doesn’t stop there,” says Acker. “We want people who love to work with kids and want to be part of something good.”
The Board is seeking volunteers with different skill sets, such as coaches who are on the ground and present at activities, as well as people who excel at advertising, social media, communications, and paperwork.
Of course, fundraising will remain an ongoing endeavor, and the Board knows how to build on its success.
“Invest the time, the money, and the needed resources into your own initiative first,” Acker advises. “People will spend money with people they trust. When you don’t see someone in action, your reaction is slim to none.”
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