Congratulations! Just by starting to read this article, you have already taken the first of two major steps in organizing a charity tournament — thinking about it! Maybe you have a particular life event or cause that you are very dedicated to. Perhaps you see people in your community afflicted by a particular hardship. Or maybe you are just looking to do your “good turn daily” in helping someone else in need. Regardless what your motivation is, being motivated is the first of two major steps in making a charity event possible.
The second is a little more complicated, and it is where most event organizers fall short. While it’s fun and exciting to think about running an event, having a plan as far as hosting an event and actually executing that plan can be challenging, particularly if you’ve never seen or run an event like this before. Fear not, because I have 6.5 steps which will transform your motivation into a plan, and your plan into a charity success!
Step 1: Decide the charity which you are donating toward!
This sounds easy, and it is! Contact a local non-profit organization in your community, be it a shelter, food bank, soup kitchen, Toys for Tots, Scouting, school organization, or other legitimate non-profit organization. Make a good contact with whoever is in charge of that organization, and inquire as to what needs they have. Some organizations run best through cash donations, while others look forward to tangible items, such as food, clothing, or toy donations. These details are important later on, so make sure you know who and what the charity is.
Step 2: Select an appropriate venue and date for the event.
Make sure that the venue you select can hold the size of the group that you expect. If you don’t know what to expect, start smaller and expand as your events sizes grow year to year. Set a date for the event that doesn’t coincide with major holidays, community events, or other major Magic events that your players may be at instead (like a PTQ for example). Make sure you set your date at least two months in advance so that you have time for the remaining steps of this plan.
Step 3: Ask local businesses to donate prizes for your event.
Since you are eight weeks out from your event, you have a perfect window to ask businesses to donate goods, either for the organization or as prizes. You may have to type out a cover letter or other formal presentation of the charity for their records, but many businesses will contribute for a great local cause. However, you have to ask in order for other businesses to say YES!
Step 4: Decide the format for your event.
This can be either one of the most fun or confounding steps, but regardless, pick a format that makes your event unique. Whether its picking a spell out of a bag at random, global enchantments, or proxied Vintage, make sure your event is unique to the other events that you normally run. Be careful that if you decide to go far off the beaten path that you play test the format so you are sure that it is a fun and successful event.
Step 5: EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! ADVERTISE! ADVERTISE! ADVERTISE!
In order for a good crowd to shop up for your event, you have to advertise it early and often. Advertise your event on the major web forums. If the store or venue you’re hosting the event in has a web page, utilize it as a resource. Announce the event at everything you organize or judge in, and get flyers out to all the local businesses in your area (including the ones that are sponsoring you!). Include your sponsors in your communications — they did after all donate that gift certificate or product to help your event out. Many charities will have a public relations manager to assist with this, but you can also email local community message boards about your event. As long as you let these outlets know a month in advance about your event, they will usually promote your event. Keep the message clear and positive — when is the event, who is it for, what will be featured at the event, how much it will cost to enter, and that the players have an opportunity to participate in something special and make a positive impact on your local community.
Step 6: Setup and Delivery — Host the Event!
Have fun working with the players in accepting donations. Be extremely gracious and thankful throughout the event — without the players, this event is not even possible! Keep in mind that this isn’t a PTQ, nor even an FNM. Essentially, take anything involving an infraction guide and keep it on the shelf — today is a day to relax and have fun! Celebrate the success of the players for donating their time, resources, and heart to coming out and playing not for themselves and their personal glory, but for bettering the lives of other people in the community.
Step 6.5: Write Thank-You Notes to all Parties Involved!
If any business or individual contributed to making your event successful, make sure to write a nice thank-you note or letter. Businesses are inundated with requests for donations, so every donation no matter how big or small is a significant sacrifice. Be gracious and humble for their contribution, and make sure you acknowledge that donation with a nice letter or note thanking their business in partnering with you to support the community.
I know these steps will help you run a terrific charity event. Be no mistake, it is a contribution of a significant amount of time, energy, and resources to make an event like this become very successful. However, if you are willing to be motivated, and are willing to commit to a structured plan for implementing the event, you will reap the rewards of an awesome experience for yourself, your players, local businesses, and most importantly, the people in your community desperately needing your help.
On September 13th 2009, I hosted a charity event called “Mana Pool: Dueling Against Hunger” at a game store in Flint, MI. If you aren’t familiar with the city of Flint, let me give you a quick description. It is always in the top 3 or 4 of worst cities in the United States in which to live. It is a community that has seen great hardship, and with city fires and poverty continuing to run rampant is still one of the most waylaid regions in the United States. And yet despite these conditions, we have a strong Magic community in the area, one of the strongest in the entire state.
During the month of July that year, I started to think about how my life had changed dramatically in the months before. In January of 2009, I lost my teaching job, one that I loved very much. As I struggled to work two part-time jobs 60+ hours a week to make ends meet, I needed a hobby, a game to get my mind off of the fears of not being able to pay my bills and expenses. I still had my Magic cards from when I first started playing (Revised), and decided that I would try to get back into the game after not having played in 3 years. Three weeks later, I decided to become a judge, and in less than three months, studied like it was my job and became a DCI Level 1 judge. A week after that, I received an offer for full-time work in education again. My roller-coaster of a life took me on a ride I never could have expected, and yet at the end of it, the focus of studying for my judge exam helped me focus in every aspect of my life to get me where I wanted to go.
I had a lot to be thankful for, and as I was walking down a street in Flint, I passed by the Secretary of State’s office only to see a line literally a quarter-mile long waiting to file papers for unemployment. You could see in their eyes this glazed stare into the distance, wondering what had just happened to them. When you are in that position, you have a lot of idle time to think about where you went wrong, the crisis you are in, and the clock ticking as you know you are standing in a line waiting for the check you don’t ever want to cash. I knew that look — less than six months ago I WAS that look. In my heart, I knew I needed to do something, anything to help these people out.
I learned through researching local non-profit organizations that the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan is a highly sought-after organization that gives extraordinary amounts of food annually to families in need. As we started to promote the event, I noticed several things happening. First, many local businesses were very willing, even in economic hardship, to contribute for our cause. Second, as I promoted the event on the various forums, other judges from around the world also decided to join our cause and run tournaments on the same date. On September 13th, we held our tournament, and the 49 players who participated donated 927 pounds — literally a half ton of food! I was astonished by their generosity and their compassion. I learned that day something I never knew about the players I had judged FNM with for the previous 5 months. They aren’t just friendly players or nice people; they have hearts of gold, and are willing to do anything they can to help others. I could really care less if any player from Flint ever becomes a Pro-Tour caliber player. Knowing that they have the heart to consistently help others in need is the lifetime achievement I hope they take with them no matter where they go.
We will be hosting our second annual Mana Pool: Dueling Against Hunger event on Saturday, September 11th 2010. I invite you to join me in September to raise hunger awareness and help your local food bank acquire the resources to help feed those in need. Let’s make a statement together as a gaming community that hunger is not acceptable, and tap our resources together to win the duel against hunger.