NCEDA Developments  |  June 2018 Issue

Seven years ago, amid a slowly-recovering economy, the Alamance Chamber set out to beef up economic development efforts with financial support from the business community. Through the chamber’s foundation, it sought funding that would enhance business retention, marketing, workforce readiness, product development and other programs. “In 2011, with that economy, we knew we had a pretty big hill to climb,” recalls Mac Williams, the organization’s president. Williams and his board sought help from Convergent Nonprofit Solutions. “They impressed our leadership with what they know about fundraising and how to do it,” Williams says. The result was a five-year campaign that raised $1.7 million over the coming five years. A second campaign was launched in 2017 with a goal of $2 million. “Both times we’ve met and exceeded our goals.”

Founded a decade ago, Convergent is headquartered in Atlanta and works in all 50 states. The firm even has a few clients abroad. “We can really help non-profits grow from infancy to any number of levels,” explains Rick Kiernan, a principal at the company. In addition to economic development organizations and chambers, the company can help municipalities raise private funds to support construction of community assets like public swimming pools, homeless shelters and convention centers. A growing segment of its business are YMCAs, charter schools, and community colleges. “The campaigns we run range from $1 million to $20 million,” says Kiernan, who is based in Raleigh. “By and large the majority are in that range.”

Much of Convergent’s work has sprung from a sea-change in the economic development organizations profession that began 20 years ago, when government funding was no longer sufficient to fuel the increasingly competitive process of job creation and global business recruitment. “There is clearly a direct correlation between economic development success and funding,” Kiernan says. Private funds help organizations sharpen marketing, improve BRE programs, and develop workforce attraction and development strategies, among other things. “Conversely, organizations without those budgets don’t do nearly as well.”

The company’s success relies on effective organization and sound messaging. “Our emphasis is on investing in economic development, and we illustrate the R-O-I,” Kiernan says. The company seeks corporate dollars through marketing budgets, not funds set aside for philanthropy. “We can illustrate the correlation that exists between our clients’ program of work and their investors’ bottom-line,” he adds. “It’s very straight-forward.”

Working with Convergent enables economic development leaders to stay focused on mission-centric operations, not devoting time to making the local fundraising calls. “We all have full-time jobs and needed somebody to organize the campaign and keep it moving forward,” says Sheila Knight, executive director of Jacksonville Onslow Economic Development (JOED). JOED engaged Convergent on a five-year campaign that ran from 2008 to 2013. “We started off with a goal of $600,000 and we reached it so fast we raised it to $900,000, and we wound up going to $1.2 million,” says Knight. “They moved us along and kept us organized. I would absolutely use them again.”

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