This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of ACCE’s Chamber Executive magazine.
You and your team are likely quite comfortable making every day “Asks” for membership dues, sponsorships, and the like. And of late, you may even have gotten comfortable making very personal Asks – like, “Put your mask on, Buckaroo!” However, you may be less comfortable making Asks for big money in support of major programs / projects – and you may be even less comfortable than normal in light of the pandemic.
During the best of times, it is important that chambers make well-designed, well-articulated Asks in order to secure major investments borne of conviction. In the “Age of COVID” – with its inherent economic uncertainties – it is critical that chambers follow Ask guidelines in order to attain the financial result they seek.
These guidelines include well-established major fundraising fundamentals with selected customization for the evolving pandemic:
Prepare for the Ask. First, draft a compelling well-structured “Case for Support,” a document explaining the need / problem, the chamber’s programmatic response, the outcomes / benefits, etc. This document can be short or long, but be sure its messaging is clear, easy to understand, and will resonate with prospective investors, including those who have been particularly hard hit by the recession. Next, cultivate and engage priority prospects through one-on-one meetings (or Zoom calls!), small group / executive briefings, and other events. Once the prospect is sufficiently cultivated, conduct prospect research and develop a customized Ask strategy.
Make the Ask. Present a detailed customized agenda (which can be a helpful “takeaway” for the prospect when speaking with other decisionmakers) and use the Case for Support as the primary briefing tool. Be sure to highlight the outcomes / ROI (with an emphasis on economic recovery and resiliency where relevant), and customize the ROI to the individual prospect. Ensure your communications are in tune with the moment: express situational awareness / empathy as appropriate. Offer flexibility around payments – like delayed or escalating payments. If the prospect requires time to consider their decision, agree on the date by which they will make a decision.
Follow-Up. Conduct “after action review” meetings with the Ask team immediately after the Ask to determine any follow up required and improvements for future meetings. Consider requesting influential example-setting volunteer leaders to “lob in” a call or email to tell the prospect of their support of the initiative / chamber. Handwritten thank you notes to top prospects (especially) are helpful and “cut through the noise.” Finally, follow up as agreed to secure payment or written confirmation of the pledge.
Report Results. We cannot overstate the importance to a long-term fundraising operation of implementing a strong investor relations plan. Consider periodic in-person or video updates so investors understand how their money is being put to work. Many of our clients, such as the Gwinnett (GA) and Fort Collins (CO) chambers, do an excellent job hosting quarterly “implementation meetings” to update investors on their progress. During the pandemic, they have pivoted to conduct these virtually or a combination of virtual and in person. One-on-one meetings and regular written communications ensure investors understand your work / outcomes and you understand what is important to them.
Particularly now, it is critical that chambers have sufficient resources to deliver value to and lead the recovery for their members and community. When you make an investment Ask, you are not asking for charity – you are presenting an “opportunity” to the prospective funder to make a difference that will directly benefit them and the community at large. Be confident and GO BIG.
Author: Amity Farrar, POWER 10 Executive Vice President