24 Hours at the ACCE Annual Conference

I pulled up to the hotel and heard familiar sounds, sensed the savory smells and felt the energy that was unmistakably Savannah made. The Florida storms had wreaked havoc on the interstates, so it was too late to make an appearance at The Chairman’s Gala that evening. I opted instead to join my new Convergent colleagues and a few of our firm’s strategic partners at the Sorry Charlie’s Oyster Bar across the river and caught up on the day’s events.

Sorry Charlie's has become a Savannah tradition for our team!

Sorry Charlie’s has become a Savannah tradition for our team! We love introducing our clients, friends, and colleagues to the restaurant.

The announcement of my joining as Partner at Convergent Nonprofit Solutions had only been released the day prior, and I could not think of a better place to be on my second day than at the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) annual conference. I almost tripped over an adorable fox that scurried to the bushes as I made my way to the ferry. The Westin, this year’s conference hotel, sits waterside on the opposite side of the river from the city. A lot of the chatter and focus of the evening both in and out of the Gala was about my hometown of Orlando vying for the International Chambers of Commerce World Chambers Congress (ICC WCC) in 2019. Orlando is up against Bogota and Rio. But, given Orlando’s outstanding corporate leadership and an economy that is seeing the effects of international trade firsthand, everyone is cautiously optimistic.

I got up early Thursday to retrieve my Starbucks and head to the registration desk for my credentials. The morning elevator conversation with CEO Joe Roman of the Greater Cleveland Partnership was brief as he was preparing himself for the morning’s large stage appearance as current ACCE board chair. Cleveland certainly knows how to handle large scale, high profile events without a hitch as proven with this year’s Republican Convention. I caught Mick Fleming by surprise at the registration desk. It seems I was too early, but he helped me out with an agenda. The “head guy in charge” as he called himself, LOL, was very accommodating. By the way, did you grab an issue of i4 Business, the one that had his photo on the cover? The article featuring him, “Orlando: A Growing Hub for Global Trade,” is a great read!

The morning crowd was wowed with an energizing and motivational session by Christine Cashen, who taught us how to avoid letting people with bad attitudes ruin our day. Next, I joined Convergent Principals Mark Bergethon and Rick Kiernan for an educational session on the value of capital campaigns to chambers of commerce. One of the key post-recession trends discussed was the move away from five-year campaign funding cycles to four-, and sometimes, even three-year cycles. This was attributed to a desire by corporate leaders to make shorter-term pledge commitments and the need in an increasingly fast-changing and complex world to be more quickly adaptable in economic and community development plans. It’s important to note, however, that five-year cycles remain the norm and outnumber shorter cycles by a wide margin, except perhaps in larger metro markets. Another post-recession trend identified was the increasing funding support from foundations and wealthy individuals as an augmentation of traditional corporate and public sector funding. Again, despite this being a trend, everyone recognized it as an exception rather than the norm.

A description of the “ideal client” was pursued, and it was described generally as a group that has a good strategy, a high-performance team, and great leadership. This is another key competency of Convergent’s, and we have an entire division dedicated to getting an organization ready for a campaign and for “Making Mission Happen.” This division works with chambers and other nonprofits to ensure all of the processes and operations are in place for a successful campaign.

Then the focus changed to the importance of a feasibility study to test the funding potential for a chamber’s vision and to measure the passion in the community for bringing any proposed plan’s to fruition. Convergent will generally meet with 50-75+ potential funding sources as part of a typical feasibility study.

Finally, the question we at Convergent Nonprofit Solutions love to hear was asked, “Why hire a professional firm vs doing it internally?” We are professional full-time fundraisers, we have the bandwidth, good national intel, vast expertise, extensive experience in the trenches, a proven process and system, and no conflict of interest. The doing your own taxes vs hiring a CPA analogy was naturally given by the panel, which garnered applause. But even for organizations with the internal resources to manage a major capital campaign successfully, there is a significant opportunity cost in the DIY approach. We find that investors generally prefer for Chamber leadership to focus on the substantive work that provides value to them rather than spending the better part of a year working as fundraisers.

When the session was opened up for questions from the audience, Jimsi Kuborn from the Rockland Area Economic Development Corporation in Illinois gave a passionate endorsement for hiring professionals to do a major fundraising campaign rather than doing it internally. She was speaking from experience. Several others in the audience echoed the sentiment.

This year's ribbon cutting ceremony was such a fun way to open the exhibit hall! [Photo via Sherry Taylor, @SherryRatcliffe, Twitter]

This year’s ribbon cutting ceremony was such a fun way to open the exhibit hall! [Photo via Sherry Taylor, @SherryRatcliffe, Twitter]

That wrapped up the session with lots of specific questions fielded by myself and my colleagues in the hallway. Then it was on to the Exhibit Hall and lunch with the Attendees.

The booth had great traffic and we were able to exchange cards with several Chambers who had been referred to us by others.

I spent lunch discussing the different initiatives and funding requirements of several chambers. I can’t wait to follow up with them to learn more!

As I headed in my car Thursday afternoon down the interstate with a purse full of business cards of new friends and business associates, the sky opened up to torrential rain and lightning. Yes, that was my first clue that I had in fact just crossed the state line back to my home state of Florida!

Thanks for letting me share my 24-hour ACCE conference experience with you. Next year I will be there for the duration!