Gaming for a Good Cause – Raising Money for Charity Through Tabletop Gaming – Ask The Bellhop

In about a week and a half, the gamers of Windsor Ontario will be gathering at The CG Realm and playing tabletop games to raise money for charity. This is all part of the worldwide Extra Life charity gaming event that raises money for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

This is my seventh year helping to organize the local Extra Life efforts and one of the questions I get asked all the time is: “What can I do to help raise money through tabletop gaming?”

The Short Answer:
The most basic way to raise money playing games is to just play games and ask people to donate.

The Windsor Extra Life Team Page screenshotWhile not necessarily the easiest thing to do, one of the most basic ways to raise money through playing games is to schedule a game day and then ask people to donate to the cause. Asking friends, family and strangers for pledges towards a cause is a tried and true method of raising money for any charity event.

This pledge drive can be done by dropping off a pledge sheet where you work or at your school. You could go door to door in your neighbourhood. You can ask local stores to put something up or you can ask for pledges at local events.

Nowadays it’s even more common to look for donations online. Many charities themselves have online donation pages. This is the main way Extra Life does things and we’ve got a Windsor Extra Life page set up there, where people can donate. Even if people can’t, or won’t, donate online, social media is a great place to get the word out about your fundraiser, as well as contact people directly when looking for donations.

While it may not be fun and can require some footwork, actually getting out there and letting people know what you are doing and just asking for support is often the best way to raise some money.

The Long Answer:
There are a lot of different ways you can raise money for charity through tabletop gaming.

Besides just picking a day to play some games and asking people for money while you do so, there are a lot of different things you can do to make your fundraising event more of an event. Things you can do that not only make it more enticing for people to donate but that can also make the event itself more fun.

Below I’m going to talk about some of the things we’ve done over the years to raise money through gaming.

A gaming marathon for charity is going to get donors attention.

While someone may not be willing to support what seems like a regular game night, people are going to be more interested in supporting something special like playing one game for an extended period of time or playing multiple games over a longer time period.

The crowd at The CG Realm for Extra Life 2018

This is one of the secrets to the success of the Extra Life charity. The main event is a charity gaming marathon that asks participants to game for 24 hours. These twenty-four hours don’t have to be all in a row, but they do ask all of the participants to play games for a total of 24 hours at some point.

Due to this, our Windsor Extra Life event will be running from 10 am on Saturday, November 2nd until 6 pm on Sunday, November 3rd. This gives players a 33 hours window to get their 24 hours in. In addition to this, we held a 12 Hour Extra Life Warm Up event back in August. At this event, players could get in some charity gaming hours in early. That way they didn’t have to do it all during the main event.

While gaming for 24 hours straight is more impressive and may even raise more money, it’s not healthy and we don’t want anyone risking their health for the sake of a gaming event, not even a charity one.

A board game tournament will attract players and donations.

Pictures from our last Board Game Blitz tournament.Getting a group together to play board games usually isn’t that hard. Casual gaming is usually pretty easy to come by nowadays, either with friends or at gaming cafes or local game stores. What isn’t common are actual competitive events, where players can be rewarded for playing. This is why tournaments are so popular.

A simple board game tournament like the Windsor Extra Life Board Game Blitz I hosted last weekend can be a great way to raise some money for charity. While this was a multiple round no elimination tournament featuring a wide variety of games, not every tournament has to be structured like this. The Tecumseh Cornfest features a Settlers of Catan tournament every year, which only showcases that one game and is set up in a more traditional bracket like system. Other formats are also possible.

The big decision when hosting a board game tournament is figuring out what you are going to do for prizes and how you are going to raise money for the charity you are supporting. The easiest way to do this is to charge an entry fee and split that between donations and prizes. This is what I have often done in the past. If you can find someone (a local store, a game publisher, a designer, etc) to donate the prizes and then you can give more or all of the entry fee to the charity, that’s an even better option.

While hosting the tournament you can add in additional incentives and ways to donate such as door prizes, raffles, items for sale, etc.

Raffles, draws, and giveaways can be a good way to raise money and attendance.

People love the chance to win something and are often willing to spend money for a chance, even if the odds aren’t the best that they will win. I’ve found people are even more willing to spend when their money is going to a good cause. For this reason, things like raffles, draws, door prizes and other giveaways can be great for raising money for charity.

Raffles are pretty straight forward. People buy tickets of some sort for a chance to win. Often you offer a discount if multiple tickets are purchased. The thing to watch here is to make sure your raffle is legal. This varies by state to state and province to province. In some places, any raffle is considered gambling and requires a licence. Raffles are another case where you can use the money gathered to provide the prize as well with only a portion of the proceeds going to the charity. Even better is when you can get someone to donate the prizes so that all money raised goes to the cause.

Draws and giveaways work best when you have an event that has an entry fee or as something that supports your other charity gaming efforts. While a draw isn’t going to raise you any money on its own, the fact you are having a draw can increase attendance at your event. Just the fact that you are giving something away “for free” can be incentive enough for some people to come out to your event.

You can also sell something to make money at a charity gaming event.

When a charity is involved some people are going to be willing to spend money on things they may not have were there no cause to support.

Baked goods and coffee for sale for charity.There are a ton of things you could sell at a gaming event to raise money. You could ask local gamers, publishers, stores and distributors to donate games and then sell them at the event with all or a portion of the proceeds going to the charity. This could be a good chance for local gamers to clear out some old games from their collection and support the charity.

We’ve found that a classic bake sale always does well at our charity events. This is especially true when combined with a marathon gaming event like Extra Life. People like snacks and treats and the longer they are there gaming the more they are going to get tempted to pick up something to munch on.

For our overnight events, we like to order pizza at midnight and then sell off the slices for a bit more than the full pizza cost. That difference gets donated to the charity.

A game filled charity auction can bring in a lot of money.

Over the years the most successful money maker we have had during our Extra Life events has been our annual Geek and Gaming Live Auction. This is a live auction held in the middle of our Windsor Extra Life Charity Gaming Marathon.  For weeks leading up to the event, we ask local gamers to donate new and used games and other geeky items to the auction. In addition, we approach a number of local businesses and tabletop game publishers looking for donations. By the day of the event, we usually have upwards of two hundred items to auction off.

Early donations to our Extra Life auction. Due to the overwhelming support that we’ve gotten over the last couple of years, we have also started hosting a silent auction that runs over the entire Extra Life weeknd. We handpick some of the best items that have been donated and allow people to silently bid throughout the entire event. This lets us keep the live auction down to a reasonable time limit and helps save my voice on the day of the event.

Both auction formats raise us a ton of money. More than half of what we raise every year comes from these auctions. We have people coming from out of town just to participate in them. While it does take quite a bit of work to organize, I think a gaming auction can be one of the best ways to raise money for charity where gaming is concerned.

Deanna working to get things ready for the Extra Life auction.Some auction running tips:

Set a starting bid for each item before the auction starts. Mark this down on an index card. Makes notes about the item on that same card, note things like the MSRP, if it’s rare or out of print or special in some way. When showing off and describing the item you can use the notes on the card. Then when someone wins the item you can write down the winning bid price on the index card and hand them the card. At the end of the event, people bring up their cards, pay for their items and then collect their items. Ideally, you should have a couple of “runners” to help you with this. Finally, if at all possible accept credit and debit at your auction. For us, the FLGS we have the auction at (The CG Realm) offers this service and they are awesome enough to even soak the fees for doing so in support of the charity.

Doing something special and charging an entry fee to play can raise money.

If you offer something out of the ordinary, something that people don’t see at a regular game night, you can charge an entry fee and raise some money for your cause. As an example of this, we recently had our Level Up For Extra Life Charity RPG event here in Windsor. This was a game day at the FLGS dedicated to roleplaying. We had local games masters, including a couple of celebrities, running games and charged people $5 per session.

Artemis being played at our Extra Life event in 2018Another example is how the local Artemis crew will be set up at our Extra Life event this November to show off the Artemis Starship Bridge Crew Simulator. They will be charging a small fee to play through a scenario, as well as offering other incentives to players who donate.

I recently hosted an RPG book exchange and charged a $2 participation fee. 100% of that fee went to Extra Life. At this event, people brought in their old game books that they weren’t using anymore and traded them with other gamers. We use a point based system so that no money needs to change hands. Besides raising some money for charity, this event lets players get rid of books they don’t need and go home with something new to read through.

At our upcoming event in November a local escape room company, Hidden Trail Escape Rooms, will be offering a unique, custom escape room, experience at The CG Realm during our Extra Life marathon. Participants will pay to take part and all of the money raised from that will be donated to Extra Life. I’m personally really looking forward to spending some of my money on that!

All it takes is some out of the box thinking and you can come up with all kinds of special events people may be willing to pay to take part in. How about a paint and take miniature painting tutorial? Or an introductory D&D session for brand new players?

One of the most successful things we have done to raise money for charity is to let people cheat.

While the auctions are what tend to raise us the most money every year for Extra Life, in a very close second place are our Cheat Jars.

During our charity gaming events, we encourage people to cheat. These events are meant to be fun. We are raising money for a good cause. We aren’t worried about who wins or loses games. It’s all about having fun and getting people to part with their money and one of the most fun ways to get people to part with their cash is to let them cheat.

Out on the tables at the event, we have a number of Cheat Jars. These are just mason jars I picked up at the dollar store and then put some Extra Life branding on. With those will be printed sheets of paper with lists of suggested cheats.

For example, for $1 players can re-roll a die, draw a new card, move an extra square, take one resource from the bank, etc. While a $5 donation will allow players to automatically pass a roll, discard their entire hand, claim cover when there is none, take an extra turn, etc.  All of these are suggestions and we encourage players to come up with their own.

We have found the Cheat Jars to be particularly popular with RPGs. Specifically with RPGs with high character casualty expectations. Games like Paranoia and Dungeon Crawl Classics have raised us a ton of money over the years. Even with a standard game like Dungeons & Dragons, allowing the players to cheat lets the DM ramp up the excitement and difficulty of their scenarios. A charity gaming event is a great time to see if your group can kill a Tarrasque or take down Orcus.

One thing to note, when allowing cheating first make sure everyone buys in. You want to encourage cheating as much as possible but some more competitive gamers want nothing to do with cheating. A tournament is probably not the kind of place you want to allow cheating. Be sure everyone at the table is cool with having the Cheat Jar in play before any game starts. You don’t want it to come up mid game.

Remember that you are gaming for a good cause.

This group of "kids" played D&D for like 28 hours last year.The most important thing is to remember when you are having this special gaming event is that you are raising money for an important cause, whether that is Extra Life or some other charity. Remind players and participants why they are there. Encourage them to spend money, pointing out where that money is going. Note that this isn’t just another game night, it’s a charity game night. While everyone should be there to have fun, you are also there to raise money for your cause.

Have fun but keep your eye on the prize.

There you have some of the things I’ve been part of over the years to raise money for charity through hobby gaming. What kinds of things have you done to raise funds for a good cause? Let us know in the comments.

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