One Great Idea Gives 52 Chances to Win
Calendar raffles raise notable funds, get participants excited with nice odds for winning
By Jennifer Nieland, Wisconsin State Co-Chair, and Wapiti Wire staff
Calendar raffles were not invented by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, but in the last few years their popularity among RMEF chapters has spread like wildfire. The secret lies in their promise of a little something for everyone—participants find an appealing chance to win 52 times a year, and chapters recognize the potential for raising sizable revenue for the RMEF mission.
How does it work? Chapters in a state can work together to produce a 12-month calendar that features different prizes each week. These can be (but don’t have to be) prizes with a similar theme like Minnesota’s 52-gun giveaway, a calendar raffle that gives away a different firearm each week. Participants purchase a calendar for a flat fee and are eligible to win in 52 weekly drawings that take place all year long.
The appeal is in the numbers.
“There’s a continuous chance to win because you stay in for each drawing. A person could win 52 times,” says Don Blakley, RMEF vice president of field operations for the eastern U.S. “And the revenue generated for our mission can be substantial. Wisconsin generated a $71,000 profit on their 2015 calendar alone.”
At RMEF, calendar raffles have been done before, but they didn’t really gain ground until recent years. In 2013 Wisconsin State Co-Chair Matt Smith took a deeper look at this fundraising tool that was used successfully by other organizations. He knew this was something the Wisconsin State Leadership Team should consider as a fresh and highly profitable way to increase fundraising revenue and engage a greater number of volunteers in the state.
Wisconsin volunteers tackled obstacles that included selling something they had no prior experience with, figuring out the optimal number of calendars to produce, tracking distributions and making profit projections. All the hard work paid off and Wisconsin created a successful 2014 raffle calendar that netted almost $30,000 profit.
Then it went viral.
At Elk Camp that year, Smith approached Minnesota’s state chair Kent Johnson to buy one of the first Wisconsin calendars he was selling. Johnson recognized the good idea immediately and went home thinking Minnesota should work on their own. The first year they tried it, they discovered a sizeable profit as well. Soon the Utah state chair heard about Smith’s success and called him up for help. In their first year, Utah sold out of their calendars and netted $50,000 in profits.
The trend of creating a profitable fundraiser from the start takes planning to accomplish. But chapter statistics have made many leadership teams take note. As a result of interest from several states, RMEF has made the production process easy for everyone. A calendar raffle template is available for every state, just provide the prize details, sponsors and advertisers, and RMEF’s Creative Services team will produce the calendar.
Following are stories and tips from the volunteers who recently put together first calendar raffles for Wisconsin, Minnesota and Utah.
Wisconsin: Forging path to calendar success
There are a lot of options when putting together calendar raffles, so our first step was to introduce the concept to the State Leadership Team (SLT). To keep things simple and get the SLT and volunteers excited for the project, we presented an option to SLT to use a 12-month calendar in combination with the Wisconsin State Lottery weekly “Pick 3” drawing numbers. This allowed us to print on the calendars the same range of numbers that would be picked in the state lottery. When the state lottery picked weekly winners, those same numbers were our raffle winners as well. We gave away one prize each week, and sold 1,000 calendars that featured elk pictures on its pages and had guns for prizes.
We made a spreadsheet for the net-profit projections we felt could be gained for RMEF based on the sale price options of the calendar—we chose to sell 1,000 for $60 each—and the budget we’d allowed for gun costs and processing—$19,000.
The decision to proceed with the calendar was based on this data, accompanied by volunteer enthusiasm.
But how do you sell calendars if you’ve never done it before? Volunteers helped with distribution, data entry, and sales. Successful individual sales and chapter sales were rewarded with incentives and we established regular conference calls and sales measures. The calendar itself was beautifully crafted with photos of both elk and the gun to be given away each week. It also included information about RMEF and the entry form with unique “Pick 3” number combinations.
What happened? Our first year, Wisconsin RMEF sold 950 calendars and netted $29,733 profit! The excitement and success of the first calendar gave the volunteers confidence to take it to a higher level. They sold 2,249 of the 2015 calendars, which used the Pick 4 lottery and had $50,000 in prizes. It generated $71,863 in net profit for RMEF.
We’ve just begun selling our 2016 calendars. Now in our third year, we continue to improve the process, engage volunteers and have even established repeat customers.
Wisconsin helped RMEF fine-tune the calendar raffle process and shared what we learned with other states including Minnesota, Texas and Utah, each of which now have their own state RMEF calendar raffles. Now, other states and even the national level of RMEF are looking at creating calendars, proof that good ideas really do spread like wildfire!
Minnesota: Gaining competitive edge in area swamped with other fundraisers
At my first Elk Camp as the state chair for Minnesota, I was approached by Matt Smith, the state co-chair for Wisconsin, to purchase a calendar raffle Wisconsin was doing. My thoughts immediately went to how we might use the same idea in Minnesota.
Matt provided a lot of the information to help us get our start. We discussed the timeline and I took the idea to the State Leadership Team.
The first year we decided to limit sales to 1,000 calendars selling at $50 each. There are a lot of calendar raffles in Minnesota, so we had to make ours competitive. We wanted to maintain a strong net-to-gross, so we limited our prize budget to $18,000-$20,000. After all expenses, we ended up with a 50 percent net-to-gross and, more importantly, a $20,000 increase to our state’s revenue!
This was not the first statewide raffle we held. Our most successful raffle to date had netted a little less than $8,000, a more recent one generated less than $2,000.
So what changed? The calendar raffle was unique and didn’t seem to compete with other organizations’ banquets and fundraising efforts. As incentive, we gave a firearm to the top-selling chapter, which could be used at the chapter’s banquet the following year.
After the success, the leadership team opted to do it again the following year. We maintained the same cost and number of calendars, but lowered overall expenses. We found a printer who was also a volunteer on one of our chapters and he donated part of the printing expense. Calendars sold very well again and we netted $24,000.
Turns out, this is a great way to get your state working together on a raffle and it was a fairly easy way to generate significant income.
How it has grown, what we learned in Minnesota:
We now sell 1,250 calendars
We are working to get guns donated instead of purchasing them
Other prizes (coolers) have been added for other days on the calendar—we used Labor Day, Memorial Day, Valentine’s Day, National Hunt/Fish Day and the Fourth of July. Have fun with it.
Roughly 40 percent of the calendars were purchased by people who weren’t RMEF members. About 75 of these people also bought a RMEF membership
When determining the gun budget, make room for some quality firearms and don’t simply buy all guns with synthetic stocks and blued barrels. People noticed the quality of our guns and told us about it. Since pictures of the guns are used in the calendar, sexy guns help sell calendars.
Check your local gaming laws for rules on how to draw and distribute winners. In Minnesota, we had to draw all the winners at the same time. But I held onto that information and announced a weekly winner every Monday throughout the year.
Selling advertising on the calendar could be beneficial to offset costs, as could adding “coupons” to get raffle participants to attend a banquet
List dates of all the state’s RMEF banquets in the calendar to encourage non-members to attend
—Kent Johnson, Minnesota State Chair
Utah: Sold out in 30 days, changed fundraising landscape
I attended my last state chair meeting as the Utah state chair in August. I figured it would be a farewell tour of sorts, visiting with old friends and enjoying the moment. I never expected to head home with an idea that would change the landscape of our fundraising for years to come.
On the road, driving home, I passed the time talking to Kevin Capson, soon to be the next Utah state co-chair, about creating a calendar to raise funds for elk. I knew other states had created a calendar in the past, but we really didn’t have a great understanding on how, or where to start.
Kevin connected with Wisconsin State Chair Matt Smith to guide and mentor him through the calendar raffle process. Matt was a great help. This project takes a great deal of planning, and we suggest having your regional director on board throughout the process.
We decided to sell only 1,500 of the 2015 calendars, at $50 each. We are giving away one gun a week for 52 weeks and found that many people liked these odds and didn’t hesitate buying a calendar. We teamed up with Sportman’s Warehouse as our gun vendor, and also teamed up with Les Schwab Tires. These sponsors helped underwrite much of the production cost of the calendars.
With a game plan sketched, volunteers Kevin Capson and Connie Allsop took on the challenge of distribution and accounting. They entered sales information in a computer tracking program and distributed calendars to chapters as they ran out. We actually sold out of all the calendars in just 30 days. Gross sales of our calendar were $75,000, and the net was more than $50,000.
Now that the year is underway, we work hard on making the draw as transparent as possible. We do a drawing every Wednesday at Sportsman’s Warehouse, where we have an employee draw the winning ticket. We notify the winner by phone and take a picture of the ticket to post on Facebook. All winners are also listed on the RMEF Utah webpage. If participants provided their email address when they bought a calendar, we include them in our weekly email blast. This has worked for us in Utah, but by no means is it the only way to keep the process transparent to the public and have fun with it as well.
—Ron Camp, retired Utah State Chair
If you’re interested in doing a calendar raffle in your state, contact your regional director for additional insight. There is a national template available to help you get started. Minnesota State Chair Kent Johnson is also available to share his experiences. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.