Fundraising with Bowling – An Effective Event

Raising money while having a good time as a charity can be a challenge. The primary goal of any charity event is to have a good time and remind the participants of the mission of the organization. The secondary goal is to raise money.  Bowling brings both attributes to the organization. I have participated in 6 bowling fundraisers and ran two of them. 

I worked as a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters. The national organization used a bowling event as the primary tool to raise money. The chapter I belonged to had the event in February of each year. It was a Saturday all day event.

How is the event organized? How do you run the event on the actual day? How much money is raised and expensed? 


The event is organized around the bowling team. A team is a group of 5 players. The charity finds the captain for the team and the captain seeks out his friends or coworkers to be the other 4 players. Each player pays an entrance fee to play. The player raises money for his/her entry fee. We charged $35 per player to get in the door. Therefore the whole team raises no less than $175 to bowl at the event. Often most teams I’ve been involved with raise much more than the $175 minimum team entrance fee. The teams can approach raising the money on individual level or get a sponsor for the team. The sponsor pays the fee. The members can still raise additional monies. A part of the overall event is to provide a gift to the team that raises the most money.

The charity arranges with the bowling alley for the entire facility from 9:30 to 5:00 PM. A typical team takes about an hour and half to bowl a complete game including 10 minutes of warm up time. On that day there are 5 sessions throughout the day.

          9:30 – 11 AM
        11 – 12:30 PM
          12:30 – 2 PM
            2 – 3:30 PM
            3:30 – 5 PM

A typical bowling alley has around 32 lanes. The maximum number of bowling teams for the entire day equals 5 sessions times 32 lanes (one team per lane). That equals 160 teams! Each team raises a minimum $175 each. If every team showed up and every session was filled, the total team receipts would equal $28,000.

The charity also raises money from lane sponsors. The sponsor pays $200 for a lane banner with their corporate name and logo on the banner. The banner is hung over their lane. A sponsor will have up to 800 people seeing their banner. It is suggested that you sell levels of lane sponsorship. A level one is banner only. A level two sponsorship sells for $300 and includes the banner and drinks for the bowling teams on your lane that day.  The team is reminded who bought their drinks. A $400 level brings out the above plus the sponsor is mentioned in the public announcements twice during each session. In addition, the sponsor is mentioned as a donor to the gift bags (explained later).

Throughout the event, raffle money is raised, and gifts are provided via a raffle to the bowlers. Two boxes are used. One box has pins cut out with a number for each lane. The second box has a bowler number in it. Then several times throughout each session, a pin is pulled and a number is pulled from the second box and both are announced over the PA system. That bowler receives a prize. The organization gets prizes from the local restaurants, stores, recreational facilities and even cash prizes. Often the cash prizes are donated back to the organization.

Gift bags are provided to the bowlers as a departing gift and a thank you. Inside this gift bag is a thank you, a gift of some sort attached to the charity such a first aid kit if medical related, a key ring, flashlight, and other appropriate ideas. We had the children in our organization write out a personal thank you and slipped one into each bag. This way the public understood that they helped a child. Each bag was different and some contained door prizes such as gift cards. We had staff go to each lane towards the end of the session and thank the bowlers with a handshake and hand out the gift bags.

It is important to remember to thank the participants several times for their help. It brings them back.

Running the Event

It takes about 40 volunteers to run the event. They break out into two sessions, one group of 20 sets up and run the first two sessions, the second set runs the final 3 sessions and cleans up. Each set has 20 volunteers. You need about 8 folks to register the incoming teams. The team captain registers the team for all the individuals, i.e. the captain brings the entrance fee of at least $175. This way you reduce the chaos. There is a greeter at the front door and someone to answer questions as folks show up. Two to four folks sell raffle tickets (there are tricks to this too). Three folks work the back room to count the money and prepare the thank you cards and the gift bags. 

You will need one dynamic individual that can speak well and engage the crowd. This individual uses the mike to entertain the crowd, engage the crowd, and hand out door prizes. The raffles are pushed hard. A great personality can make the event something special. Examples of some success include lane challenges for a frame, guzzle a beer and throw the ball. The first bowler to throw a strike wins a prize. Go to a lane and challenge a bowler to throw a strike while everybody is watching. This is funny by the way; have you ever seen a bowling alley totally quiet?  Have someone pay to not be embarrassed by him. Have the other team members pay money to single out someone. The key is to work the crowd and make money! The more dynamic the individual the more money is raised!

Negotiate a price per bowler for the bowling alley. You should expect a cost of $2.75 to 3.50 per bowler to include shoes as the core cost for the day. I have also been able to negotiate a 12% commission from the snack bar and the liquor bar.

Money (The Good Stuff)

Most of the participants are there for about 2 hours from start to finish. They not only bring at least $35 to bowl, but on average spend another $7 for raffles etc. On average, revenue of $42 is raised and the cost is around $6.50 per bowler (lane fee plus costs of materials). In general you will net no less than $35.50 per bowler. Thus, if all lanes are filled, you are looking at netting no less than $28,400 for this one day event.

Here is a breakdown from one event that was only 65% attended (not all the lanes were filled for each session).

Bowling Receipts                      $26,419   (minimum entrance fee was $30/bowler)
Sponsorships                                 9,350
Raffle Cash Received                    1,113
15% Commission                             477   (lot of beer sales)
Donation                                            14
Total Receipts                           $37,373

Bowling Alley Charges                1,986
Banner Production Costs              2,791
T-Shirts                                         4,747
Materials/Supplies                           686
Gift Bags                                      2,961
Prize Money                                    850    (Includes ½ of Raffle)
Total Cash Out                            14,021
Net Amount from Event            $23,352

This is from 65% attendance. Imagine what the results would be for a higher attendance. Several of the costs were incurred assuming 100% attendance. The only marginal costs for the additional teams would have been the bowling alley fees. Marginal revenues would include not only the $30 per bowler but additional raffle money and commissions from snack bar sales.

Of the six events I participated with, the worse one ended up with a little over $14,000 as the net amount after all costs were included. 

Fundraising with bowling is not only a lot of fun, but it is extremely effective for raising money. Overall, total man hours involved were just a little less than 260 hours. Most of the work was done by the Captains in getting their team members to raise money. Our job was to prod the team captains to move along and get their team members together and raising money. Notice the organization only needed to find 160 captains to make this event a success. The captains do the work for the charity. Act on Knowledge.

Helpful Hints:

  • Make arrangements with the bowling alley about one year out from the event. They have league issues, tournament play issues and Saturdays are prime days for them. They are often reluctant to give up a Saturday unless it is scheduled well in advance.
  • Grouping is a wonderful tool. We had the two sheriff departments compete against each other right after their Saturday morning shift change. They easily raised the 32 teams. Each city’s sheriff agreed to 16 teams for a total pin count bowling tournament. The losing sheriff agreed to some form of public humiliation as a bet (wear a dress or washing the other sheriff’s car).  It really generated a lot of camaraderie. We bought them doughnuts as a treat (get it, cops and doughnuts!). Other groupings can include firefighters, hospital departments, government groups, schools (elementary teachers from the same district) etc.
  • Appropriate timing is critical; get the children out of there by 12:30.  The adult crowd likes to get a little loud and sometimes crude once they start drinking in the afternoon. In a way you want this because you get a commission from the beer sales and they spend more money in the raffle.
  •  Get young women to sell the raffle tickets, I haven’t figured it out yet, but they can get the guys to buy a lot of raffle tickets.
  •  Allow for assignment of lanes before the event date so captains can coordinate a little competition with their work groups or with other colleagues.
  •  Get really nice door prizes. It draws folks back for next year. Gift certificates to restaurants are loved by all. Other door prizes include tools (guys love tools), gift baskets, lawn/flowerbed items, car wash tickets, sports gear, passes to community events/fairs, etc.
  •  Get youth groups involved, have the 11:30 slot dedicated to them. Their door prizes should fit the group, from electronics to i-tunes. It works. They will raise more money per bowler than adults. They’ll spend very little on the raffle.  We had one high school kid raise over $800 as his entrance fee. We hit on this idea by pure accident. He told us that he and his friends from his club at high school raised the money. Get the local high schools to compete and send their sports teams etc. to compete. High school kids want to hang out with other high school kids.
  • Constant communication with the Team Captains is the key to this. Break the Captains into groups based on the Grouping Function identified above. Have one contact for those captains and e-mail, e-mail, e-mail! Don’t forget to send a notice to the team captain asking him to remind his team members to bring extra money for raffles, food and drinks.
  • Get a list of every bowler and their physical addresses and e-mail addresses. This serves two purposes, first you now have a huge master list for team captains the next year and you can add to your database of friends for the organization to seek out donations in emergencies.
  • Send thank you letters about 4 days after the event. Send a special letter from the chairman to the team captains as a personal thank you for the hard work and let the team captains know the break out of revenue and expenses. This gets them attached to the organization and the level of trust is raised for the following year. If you follow the plan, by the 4th year, you’ll have folks calling you asking you when this will happen. We rarely had anyone complain. The most common negative comment was that they didn’t get to play enough together (remember these are friends bowling together for charity, they laugh and have fun). DO NOT ALLOW A SECOND GAME. There is no way you can stay on schedule and if you start late for the next session you will upset a lot of bowlers. You want them to go away wanting more. They’ll come back next year. Again, I can’t stress enough, ONLY ONE GAME OF BOWLING.

© 2013 – 2022, David J Hoare MSA. All rights reserved.

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