Over 1 million Covid deaths worldwide, over 200,000 in the US alone, cases spiking again, social unrest, contentious Presidential election, now POTUS and FLOTUS have the Coronavirus, ...... I don't know about you but I could use a positive story, and here it is!
I had one of the coolest texts I've seen in a long time this past Friday, real names protected in the spirit of confidentiality:
"##### ENDOWMENT BOARD VOTED TO FULLY FUND OUR DIGITAL MARKETING PROPOSAL AT $2.7 MILLION"
Followed shortly thereafter with "a four-year overnight success!"
There's so much to unpack here and yet the fundamental message is so simple:
Never ..... give ..... up!
The process of securing funds from this foundation goes back as far as a comprehensive strategic plan completed in 2015. The strategy suggested new, innovative and regional strategies that heretofore had not been successfully implemented in large part due to this regions' struggles with collaboration and alignment. This Chamber had different ideas. Their first move was to engage regional political and corporate leaders around the common vision and strategies espoused in the plan. They also took the critical step of convening a task force of leaders to build a new regional governance model.
The Chamber's portions of the strategy eventually became the cornerstone for a five-year funding initiative to pay for the plan's implementation. The process of raising the funds began in earnest in Q3 of 2016, with initial outreach to the endowment shortly thereafter; September 20, 2016 to be exact. I still have the date on my calendar.
It's important to note here that approaching philanthropic foundations for financial support is similar but not the same as approaching a corporation. Relationships and cultivating those connections are critically important in the process. Where a corporate request could be a matter of days, weeks or maybe a few months, a foundation request could take months or even years. This is a major reason why philanthropic support for economic development is more the exception than the rule, not because foundations are disinclined to support, but rather Chamber and EDO leaders often don't have the intestinal fortitude ... the staying power ... to stick with the process until its culmination.
Not true for this Chamber's CEO. There is not enough room here to list the numerous discussions, meetings, cocktail party conversations, layers of internal bureaucracy, proposals, amended proposals and yet still further adjustments and edits, not to mention changes in leadership at the foundation and the plethora of starts and stops. At any point along that path, many CEO's would have chosen to cut their losses in time, energy and effort and move on. But not this CEO. He refused to punt and in so doing, would not allow his organization to take its eye off the prize.
Now here they are, exactly 1468 days later, with $2.7 million!
The process of requesting and securing this grant is book worthy undoubtedly, but until such time as it's published, here are a few very brief but important take-aways for economic development leaders:
Foundations are giving increasingly larger dollars to economic development organizations in recent years. As the scope of economic development has expanded, so too has the ability to draw traditionally unavailable financial support from philanthropic foundations.
You too can get big money from local foundations IF you are strategic and patient. Do you know your local foundation community? Have you engaged them in the work you do? Are they involved in the leadership of your Chamber or EDO?
Commit to building and cultivating the relationship. It won't happen overnight. It could take years, but the possible reward justifies the effort.
Take the time to understand what the foundation's priorities and initiatives are and align your request accordingly. Also be prepared to pivot!
Look for opportunities to partner with other organizations. Foundations tend to appreciate and even reward collaborative, strategically aligned initiatives.
Understand that when a foundation invests in your organization and strategy, they are really investing in you as a leader. Take that responsibility seriously and embrace the opportunity to exceed their expectations. Let's face it, a one-time check is nice but often there is more from whence that came! You are building a relationship that could very well reap benefits in the form of more financial support but only if you perform, communicate and engage.
Above all, be patient! Much like a marriage, foundation relationships take time, effort, negotiation, compromise, alignment and lots and lots of nurturing!
To learn more about accessing philanthropic support for your work, give us a call!