How does an Economic Development Organization (EDO) that has depended primarily on an annual fundraising event for years make the leap to launching a multi-year capital campaign? How do they secure buy-in and support from the regional business community? These were the primary concerns faced by the Grant County Economic Development Council in Washington as they embarked on their capital campaign.
For many nonprofit organizations, a good portion of operating revenue is often derived from a marquee annual event. The Grant County (WA) Economic Development Council was no different, depending on an annual golf tournament and gala to help meet the organization’s annual budget. While this event had traditionally been successful, there had been a steady downward trend in participation and investment. This led leadership of the Grant County Economic Development Council to begin questioning the future sustainability of one annual fundraiser… one which required a significant amount of staff time to execute successfully.
Furthermore, the organization’s leadership felt strongly that significant opportunity existed for the region. With access to an international airport, a foreign trade zone, low electric rates, inexpensive land, a high-speed fiber-optic network, and a highly trained workforce, Grant County was poised for further growth and success. With these factors in mind, the executive staff and board of the Grant County EDC decided that a more comprehensive—and forward-looking—approach was called for. As part of that, the decision to partner with Convergent was made.
Educate a relatively small pool of investors about the need for increased investment to support a five-year strategic plan. As with many nonprofit organizations, there was some reservation to hire a professional outside fundraising consultant such as Convergent.
Convergent began a feasibility study to determine the scope and focus of a campaign. Beyond arriving at the $1.7 million figure over five years, the feasibility study determined several things.
While the regional business community appreciated the Grant County EDC, the majority did not fully understand the organization’s role and impact in improving the region’s economic conditions. As a relatively remote area, attracting retail business to the region would be key to ensuring sustained growth. The region’s business community was extremely pro-growth and would support such an expanded economic development effort, but it must be communicated and positioned properly.
The theme of the capital campaign was “Building Prosperity,” signaling the need to truly show the business community the potential return on their investment in this campaign. This, according to Grant County EDC Former Executive Director Jonathan Smith, was the most notable takeaway for him. “Many of our investors participated in our golf tournament and gala for years, investing the same amount each year,” said Jonathan. “However, after Convergent launched the campaign and explained the overall vision and the expected ROI to these businesses and individuals, many increased their investment significantly, in some cases doubling or tripling the previous amounts. It is clear to me that properly communicating our vision has been the key to our early success.”
Our previous approach often led to initiatives from our strategic plan being cut due to budget issues. Having an accurate, 60-month cash flow projection has fundamentally changed the way we do business as an organization. We are able to plan based on real budget numbers and are able to be proactive versus reactive.
Former Executive Director, Grant County EDC