The Corporate Pitch
by Laura Smith, Assistant Editor at MomentumMedia Sports Publishing
A Tennessee high school works with Lowe's for a $1-million athletics complex makeover.
Over the past two years, the Hickory (Tenn.) High School Athletic Complex Campaign Committee has raised $1 million to convert a former American Legion post next door to the school into a state-of-the-art athletics complex. The group accomplished this remarkable goal largely because of one factor: They perfected the corporate pitch. The majority of the $1 million came from local and regional corporations, including the home improvement big-box retailer Lowe's.
Choosing the right members for the 16-person campaign committee was the first step in getting those corporate dollars. "We looked for people who have contacts with local and regional businesses," says Town of Hickory Assistant City Manager Warren Wood, one of the group's first. "When it came time to make a pitch, we knew we'd need those people to get our foot in the door."
Once the committee was in place, they began developing a detailed vision for the finished project. This crucial step needed to happen before they approached any companies. "Before we asked anyone for money, we figured out exactly what we were going to do with the facility," Wood says. "We created a kind of travelling road show with aerial photos of the site, blueprints and floor plans for the facility, and a written mission statement. Once we got to the point of asking for donations, companies could see that we had our act together."
Next, they worked to illustrate that the Hickory community was behind the project. "We didn't want to approach the big corporate folks right out of the gate-we needed to first build community awareness and enthusiasm," Wood says. "We looked at our pitches to big potential donors as one-shot deals. Once we got a few big donations from community members early-on, we went to some of the corporate donors and said, 'We've already raised this much and we're on course to succeed."
When the time finally came to approach corporate donors, the strategy was to find someone on the committee who had a connection to company higher-ups, ask them to call to schedule a meeting, and then have Wood arrive with his "traveling road show." Researching beforehand allowed him to determine whether the company had close ties to the school, like company leaders who were alumni or parents. If so, he drew on those connections when he made his pitch.
Many of the larger companies had no direct link to the school, and for them, he worked to create a connection. "I went into more detail about why the project was needed and who it would benefit," he says. "I spent more time painting a picture of how a successful project would help the community as a whole."
With his position in city government, Wood was an ideal spokesman when it came to approaching corporate donors, according to John Worely, Athletic Director at Hickory. "He is very comfortable in that world," Worley says. "He was able to speak the language, and that made people feel very comfortable giving."