At the US Chamber's BCLC event last week, I visited with a couple dozen foundation and government agency grantmakers who work predominantly on local/regional/community advancement. People who fund kids and green priorities were on hand, but so were folks who invest in projects for the homeless and entrepreneurs. Few of these grantors know what you do . . . how chambers are involved in meaningful ways to advance their communities and regions. BCLC certainly understands the role you play, but their national/international corporate and philantropic partners often think of you as an audience rather than as a grantee. Some recognize that they might need the involvement of the business community and have some vague notion that this participation might come through involvement of a chamber, but most don't really seem to get it.
I don't blame them . . . I can't. In conversations with individual big funders during the two days of meetings, it was clear that few have had meaningful "pitches" from chambers. No chambers were present during the meeting in Philly this year and they seldom attend this annual gathering of the community investors unless they are winning an award, (as Grand Rapids Chamber did last year and Chapel Hill the year before.
It wouldn't be right to blame chambers either. Most past approaches by chambers to national funders of community projects have been rebuffed. Many chamber leaders have found meetings of foundation decision-makers to be frustrating affairs. Somehow, we need to break through this divide. There is too much that you are doing (or could do) that deserves foundation support. And, there are too many foundation goals being left unfulfilled because they never connect with the business leaders they need to engage in their cool programs. Since three big funders specificially asked ACCE to work on this disconnect, I think there's gotta be a way.