By RDG CEO Clint Nessmith
Change is challenging and constant. No one knows this better than those of us working in the chamber and economic development industries. Often, we think of this change being issue related… pushing us into places that are not the historical norm for the industry, e.g., talent development, housing, and homelessness. However, sometimes it is more directly tied to how the market wants to fund our work.
If you are using a membership model, you have likely experienced it becoming more difficult to keep larger companies as members over the past decade. Additionally, the COVID shutdown escalated lower attendance for many events and left traditional sponsors questioning the value of being an event sponsor, leading to a softening of sponsorship revenue for many organizations. The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia is one such organization that had been grappling with these very challenges.
In mid-2021, the Chamber retained our firm to develop new ideas to drive more revenue. I’ll jump to the end of the story and share that this engagement led to $1 million more being raised from about 70 members for the following fiscal year which wrapped up June 30 of this year. It was a huge success!
Now, let’s explore how we got there. First off, it is important to know this was not a funding campaign, like you think of RDG typically managing. RDG also offers organizational optimization consulting services and much of our work centered around identifying internal organizational changes that could drive new revenue. The first steps in this process were examining the organizational structure, identifying how different elements of it were funded, and recent funding trends. We also looked at how the Chamber was being “sold” to the market. After a thorough review, we concluded that larger companies were essentially being offered the same value proposition as the Chamber’s smaller investors and, additionally, too many disjointed funding asks were being made during the year.
The solution was to work with staff to build out an investor-based engagement infused funding model focused on larger potential funders ($25,000+ annually), and to develop a solicitation strategy based on impacting chamber strategy and tactics related to advocacy, community development, and economic development, rather than a focus on member benefits and sponsorship.
We took the strategy and funding model to market as part of a Feasibility Study process. The plan and strategy received overwhelming support from private sector leadership across the greater Philadelphia region. With this affirmation, we then spent time fine-tuning actionable investor engagement opportunities. This work gave the Chamber revenue development staff a plan they could pitch seeking significant dollars from the region’s middle market and large employers. This process also cast a vision for the future and led to the Chamber completing its first multi-year organization-wide strategic plan under new Chamber President and CEO Chellie Cameron’s leadership.
“The RDG team helped us refine our approach and the way we show up with our most invested members and funders in a way that has paid off for us as a Chamber but equally if not more importantly, for our members, investors, partners, and the community at large. With their help, we realigned important relationships and saw significant revenue growth helping to set the stage for new leadership and vision for our future.”, stated Erin Sammis, Vice President of Member and Investor Relations for the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.
If this blog sparks any ideas about organizational optimization that you would like to discuss how best to implement, please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.