Cincinnati, OH – When organizers are planning major fundraising events simplicity is often a major goal. From making it easy for patrons to gain entrance to the venue, to simplifying the process for buying food, drinks and entertainment, organizers live by the “Occam’s Razor” rule – the simplest solution is usually the best one. So when Darrell Gilbert first visualized the idea of using tokens rather than cash as a way for patrons to purchase BBQ and beer samples at The OC BBQ & Music Festival, he figured it was simpler than having volunteers handle cash. It certainly was, and it had the added benefit of eliminating fraud – which helped to raise significantly more money for the critically ill children who benefit from the annual fundraiser.
For the past five years, thousands of patrons have flocked to the annual OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa, CA for the OC BBQ and Music Festival which benefits Kristie’s Foundation for Critically Ill Children. This is the largest “people’s choice” BBQ cook-off in the nation, and Kristie’s largest fundraiser. Over 70 award winning BBQ teams compete for the State Championship. In addition, dozens of local breweries have their best beers available for sampling. BBQ and beer samples are available in 2-ounce cups for a token – which sell for $2.50 each or 5 for $10.
There is music entertainment all day by local bands, former American Idol finalists, and a Saturday evening concert headlined by recording artist Sugar Ray.
The event is a huge success and it is staffed largely by volunteers. While these folks work tirelessly to support Kristie’s, they are typically uncomfortable handling large amounts of cash. So Gilbert devised a plan to replace the paper tickets and coupons with durable, aluminum tokens.
Tokens were sold in 6 or 8 locations around the event, which were the only booths handling cash - All other transactions required the tokens. Since there were only a few booths handling cash, the cash pickup and management was much simpler and safer than when each booth had cash on hand. “It was a huge hit” recalls Gilbert. “The volunteers were appreciative that they weren’t responsible for handling cash – and we made a lot more money. Plus the tokens cost about the same as printed paper tickets, but they are reusable – so they are essentially free for the second day.”
With so many patrons visiting a venue, any venue, it is a mathematical certainty that some will be less than forthright and honest. With the previous system of selling tickets and coupons, it was not difficult for dishonest folks to cheat the system by making duplicates and copies of the coupons and tickets. Gilbert figures that the take last year was off by 5% as a result of such chicanery. But this year, thanks to his token idea, Kristie’s raised more money since the durable aluminum tokens are impossible to forge.
From an economics perspective, the tokens make great sense for Gilbert. Because he received a volume discount, the tokens cost just pennies apiece – or comparable to printed paper tickets. The tickets are thrown away, though, while the tokens are re-used, making them essentially free for a two-day event (since the cost of 2nd-day tickets is avoided).
There were also some tokens sold that were not redeemed, perhaps because of oversight, or maybe the patrons were keeping them as a souvenir. As a percentage, these 500 “walkaways” are a small fraction of the total token inventory of 50,000 ordered. However, since the margin on these un-redeemed tokens is so high (considering their $2 selling price less a cost of just pennies), it is easy to see how these “walkaways” go a long way towards funding the entire token order.
Operationally there are additional benefits to using tokens rather than tickets. Tickets are hand counted, a time consuming process which is usually done away from the vendors.
“Vendors often think they took in more than they really have” comments Gilbert. “And counting tickets in a back room does not help the situation. Tokens can be counted in front of the vendor so everything is out in the open. I cut aluminum tubes to fit 50 and 100 tokens then gave a set to the vendors to use too. Everything was up front and out in the open, so we had no vendor disputes.”
Gilbert also gave a duplicate receipt – signed by both parties – to each vendor.
Tokens clearly offer advantages to festival and fair environments. In addition to freeing volunteers from handling cash, tokens simplify transactions, are easier to manage and keep vendor and event organizers “on the same page” in terms of finances. And since the tokens are difficult to duplicate, more money is raised for critically ill children in Orange County. And that is, after all, the whole reason for the Festival in the first place.