Applied Underwriters’ Jamie Sahara on His Company’s Approach to Philanthropy
In 2023, Applied Underwriters took the reins of the long-running amateur charitable golf tournament that this year will raise millions of dollars for more than 65 charities. The Tournament hosted over 75 local events this past year culminating this coming May with the Applied Underwriters Invitational National Finals at the Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgefield, Missouri.
Jamie Sahara, founder and president of Applied Underwriters, recently shared his thoughts about his approach to philanthropy and why Applied devotes its time and energy to this long-running national tournament.
On the structure of the Applied Underwriters Invitational:
Jamie Sahara: The Applied Underwriters Invitational is a series of 75 tournaments held at the best golf courses across the country. Most of the tournaments take place from June through November. Nearly all of the events are sell-outs, consisting of foursomes vying to win their local tournament for an invitation to compete at the National Finals each May. All of the registration fees go directly to funding each of the local tournaments’ benefiting charities. In terms of dollars raised, the Applied Invitational is the number one charity event in golf.
On the tournament being renamed the Applied Underwriters Invitational:
JS: I’ve been looking for quite a while for a fund-raising platform to support the various philanthropic goals that I have. But, to really understand what we’re trying to do, you have to begin with my view, and my firm’s view, of what role philanthropy should play in the corporate world. We at Applied Underwriters are a closely held company, so for us, charitable giving belongs properly at the equity partner level, not at the corporate level.
At the corporate level, we see the firm’s role as facilitators. The thing we can bring, more than anything else, is professional level marketing support and professional level organizational support. The world doesn’t need one more token corporate foundation that bureaucratically and opportunistically spreads bits of money around.
The Invitational is expansive, nationwide, has over 11,000 golfers participating each year, and has run continuously for over 35 years. We can easily slot in other events with new charities for other corporate sponsors.
And commercially—yes, it’s ok to say that since anything we do has to make sense for us organizationally—the Invitational creates wonderful business social networking opportunities. We can rally a lot of our liked-minded corporate friends to participate and give. So, the Invitational checks all the boxes for me.
On the tournament’s operational demands:
JS: For an operation of this size, the tournament itself has a really small paid administrative staff. So, it comes down to the more than 1,500 dedicated and caring volunteers at the individual event level at each location. Then there are all the volunteers supplied from Applied Underwriters. There are all the volunteers from all the local corporate sponsors. Then all the volunteers from all the local charities.
On the tournament’s ups and downs:
JS: The tournament has grown nicely over the years and has always produced impressive amounts of donations for the underlying charities at more than $270 million in its 36-year run. This has all been done with very low operational expenses of pennies on the dollar. But over the years there have been bumps in the road.
The tournament lost its title sponsor two different times. First, in 2008 following the financial crisis when corporate events like this became unfashionable. And again, during the COVID pandemic when all such events were shut down, and simultaneously, corporate giving moved away from traditional giving and toward causes related to social activism.
I saw a double opportunity. First, the Invitational is an organization with the ability to raise large charitable sums by bringing together lots of like-minded, charitably-inclined people. All within the forum of inexpensive, fun, and relatively simple events to run.
Second, the benefits for my firm, Applied Underwriters, are tremendous, since Applied relies so much upon its relationships in an industry which is relationship-driven.
The Invitational was in grievous need because of external changes in the world, which is unfair because the tournament is so efficient and effective, and agnostic in the range of underlying charities it supports. It’s truly a gem that has done a lot of great work, and I intend to grow this gem and make it even bigger.
On what developments we might expect to see going forward:
JS: The finals this year are at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri from May 1st through the 5th. We are looking forward to welcoming the best foursomes from each of the more than 75 local tournaments. It’s going to be a great event. It won’t just be the great amateur golfers who are in attendance. We’ve got a great slate of professional athletes and other celebrities scheduled to be there, including our sponsored athlete, 2023 Ryder Cup Champion, and returning as Captain of the European Team in the 2025 Ryder Cup, Luke Donald.
When we started this season, I set our overall fundraising goal at $10 million net to raise. That’s up from $9 million last year. And I’m pleased to say we reached the goal. But we’re not done, and I think our partners in the insurance and banking industries will help us grow even more.
Both groups certainly like to golf, have a collegial and social aspect within their industries, and have a history and tradition of charitable giving. I hope to really engage more of our industry, from all its parts—retail agencies, service providers, insurers, reinsurers, reinsurance brokers, and so on—to, at a minimum, come to the events that appeal to them, and then maybe, create their own event within the system for whatever worthy cause they believe in and wish to support.
Through these efforts, I could see the entire tournament doubling in size in the next five years. And, ultimately, I think there are going to be ways to grow, ways to engage and further activate the Invitational in socially constructive and productive ways we haven’t even thought of yet. &
The Applied Underwriters Invitational at a Glance
- 11,000+ amateur golfers participate each year
- 75+ local tournaments, benefiting more than 65 charities
- $286M net proceeds raised, lifetime
- 2023-24 season set a record of over $10 million in net proceeds
- Finals, with top foursomes and producers competing, take place May 1-5, 2024 at Big Cedar Lodge
- Next year’s Invitational will be bigger and better, stay tuned for schedule release in March 2024
- See Jamie Sahara’s interview on the Applied Underwriters Invitational with Emmy-award-winning sportscaster Jim Kelly here.
- See Invitational supporter and Ryder Cup Captain and Champion Luke Donald’s interview with Kelly here.
Learn more at https://www.invitational.com.