Nestled between Illinois and Iowa, the Quad Cities is a tight-knit community. Magic happens here.
This modest Midwest community is a shining star, especially once a year when the John Deere Classic takes center stage at TPC Deere Run. What began 45 years ago as a routine part of the annual PGA Tour has proven itself a staple for the community and surrounding areas, where professionals like Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker, compete. But the heart of the event may lie with The Classic’s Birdies for Charity, a not-for-profit program dedicated to raising funds for local charities.
Though it is the smallest stop on the PGA Tour, The Classic leads in philanthropy: In 2015, $8.73 million was raised and donated to 488 local organizations, breaking its own previous fundraising records.
John Deere Classic Tournament Director, Clair Peterson, has been with the company for the past 40 years and says Birdies for Charity is the community’s most powerful fundraising tool. “It’s so gratifying to see how the program has grown over the years, knowing what each dollar means to these organizations.”
A permanent strand woven into the fabric of the Quad Cities, Birdies for Charity continues to build upon and outperform its success year after year.
Before the program’s start, the typical model for gathering donations at the golf tournament went like this: the event charged patrons for tickets and entertainment, and once the bills were paid, the rest of the funds were donated to the designated charity. This approach was somewhat limiting and didn’t provide enough support to groups that really needed help. In 1992, a John Deere board member attended a PGA Tour event in Milwaukee and it sparked the idea of asking donors to generate their own money for the cause.
With this idea, Birdies for Charity began taking shape. At the request of benefitting charities, donors would guess the number of birdies recorded at The Classic, knowing that every penny pledged would go to a deserving charity. Plus, the incentive was huge – one lucky winner would take home a new car. This refreshed fundraising model relied on the generosity of the community to spark a transformation. The first year, the hope was to give an extra $30,000 to charities. And what was the result? The goal was exceeded more than six times.
Here was the start of a powerful collective change, stirring up in the minds and hearts of the Quad Cities.
As Birdies for Charity continued growing, the thread of charity only became stronger. When John Deere became a sponsor of The Classic, they offered to pay for all Birdies for Charity administrative costs. This meant that 100 cents of every dollar pledged would be donated straight to the participating charities. In recent years, every charity has also been privy to a 5% bonus check, and in some years, that amount increases to 10%.
Shannon Adams, a board member of local organization HAVlife, explains the importance of this added incentive: “Nothing compares to Birdies for Charity. The opportunity to give through this organization that you can get back 5 to10% is unprecedented.” HAVlife is a charitable group that provides youths with opportunities to participate in art, music and athletic programs by offering grants to deserving students, which cover the costs of needed lessons, camps and equipment. Also the Manager of the John Deere Foundation, Adams encouraged HAVlife to participate in Birdies for Charity three years ago as a means of mutual benefit. “It’s a perfect opportunity, why not take advantage? The ability to maximize contributions and the extra dollars for HAVlife can go a long way for a small organization.”
Birdies for Charity can be just as effective for larger associations. The Red Cross’ Executive Director for the Quad Cities, Amber Wood explains, “Partners like Birdies For Charity makes it possible for us to respond all year. It helps us be prepared when disaster strikes, build capacity within the volunteer base and provide financial assistance, help and hope to those affected [by unforeseen events].” The Red Cross provides the volunteers that complete data entry at The Classic, which benefits not only The Red Cross and Birdies for Charity but also the Quad Cities and beyond. Melissa LeVan, Red Cross Major Gift Officer echoes the sentiment: “The success of what we do is dependent on community organizations’ success … it strengthens the community as a whole.”
While The Classic remains a staple in the Quad Cities, the future of Birdies for Charity shines bright. Peterson explains, “As long as there is a tournament, Birdies for Charity is the most important initiative. The goal is to keep increasing impact by growing the program. The athletic content is the engine that drives the vehicle – we can’t have one without the other.” With The Classic guaranteed to run through 2023, Birdies for Charity is a conduit for local organizations to thrive all year long. Wood adds, “The generosity and commitment make [the Quad Cities] a great place to work, live and play, highlighted by partnerships among agencies and John Deere’s support. It’s a community event we can all be proud of.”