Listening Is Key To Community-Wide Engagement

The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) recently released a study titled “Raising the Bar Together: Successful Strategies for Workforce and Economic Development Collaboration.” It is certainly worth a read for anyone involved with Chambers of Commerce or Economic Development Organizations.

Of particular interest to the team here at Convergent is the following statement:

“Such partnerships are predicated on goal alignment between not only workforce and economic development, but also between other stakeholders like businesses and educational institutions.”

This statement highlights a critical component in capital campaigns for Chambers and Economic Development Organizations – making sure that all stakeholders have a seat at the table and have an opportunity to communicate with each other on a regular basis. Each organization’s needs should be considered and addressed while finalizing each strategic plan due to the interdependence of each group. Certainly, the last thing an organization needs is a bunch of separate organizations working in silos while ignoring interdependent groups working in the same space.

After reading the IEDC report, I could not help but think of Convergent’s work for the Thomasville, North Carolina Chamber of Commerce. You can read more about the success of this effort here, but for the purposes of this article, I wanted share some thoughts about the importance of the type of collaboration IEDC refers to.

Thomasville was ready to expand its efforts to attract business and investment, and rebrand itself as more than just a “furniture city,” which they had long been known for. However, many questions remained, ranging from how the city should market itself, to how much money should be allocated to various elements of their potential fundraising campaign.

This engagement provided me with an insight that I’m sure will stay with me for the remainder of my career: Key stakeholders and investors (donors) often assume that they will not have any meaningful input into what a capital campaign’s end goal is. In fact, they may even be a bit jaded because of this assumption. All too often, investors draw upon past experiences and accept that they are simply being asked to rubber-stamp a plan with an approach that has already been decided upon.

Convergent’s approach is different. As part of our feasibility study for Thomasville, we met with key stakeholders and asked for their input. Furthermore, we asked for that same input from the business community and the public at-large. This was not simply an instance of going through the motions just to get buy-in from stakeholders…we truly wanted the input of all of the groups that would be impacted by the Chamber’s five-year strategic plan.

When the feasibility study was complete and a revised plan was presented, it was amazing to see the looks on people’s faces after they realized that changes had been made based on feedback received. I’ve seen this time and time again though our work with organizations throughout the country. Listening—and acting upon what you’ve heard—is the number one driver of community-wide engagement in my opinion, and will lead to a successful campaign that is supported by all stakeholders. As they say in the fundraising world, “If they help you write the plan, they will help you underwrite the plan.”