How to Close a Rotary Deal

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I’ve written about this topic several times since RI President, Ravi Ravindran, visited our District and pointed out that the best way he knew to get a huge PR presence in our community was to do a large and impactful project.  When I later pointed out to him that our clubs didn’t know how to do large and impactful projects, he shrugged his shoulders and basically said it was time for us to learn.

As your Ready, Fire, Aim guide, spiritual leader, and all-round good guy, I am going to walk you through exactly how to close a deal in Rotary.  I absolutely guarantee that you can take the tips I’m about to share and double the impact your club has in your community.

Step one is for you to realize that your Rotary membership entitles you to “sell” certain benefits to business owners and stakeholders in your community.  These benefits are of great interest to others who want what we have to offer.  These benefits constitute our value proposition to non-Rotary partners and you need to learn them and keep them “top of mind” when talking about what we do.  Namely, Rotarians can offer 1) great brand, 2) great ideas, 3) manpower, 4) club/local Rotary Trust money, and 5) Rotary Foundation money.  Let’s take these one at a time.

Great brand:  You may not realize it, but there are very few impeccable brands out there that businesses would want to partner with.  Rotary is one of them.  Since 1905 we’ve been delivering objective, non-political and non-religious community service to communities all around the world.  It’s likely that the businesses and other stakeholders you will be speaking with will know Rotary,  if only because their father or uncle was in Rotary.  And while Rotary may still have (in some quarters) a reputation for being “old white guys,” the fact is we are thought of as “old white guys who get things done” in our town.  The opportunity for a business owner to put his brand or logo next to ours is a big deal.

Great ideas:  Great ideas close sales.  What is your big idea?  How can you help other organizations “think outside of the box?”  Your willingness to take a great idea out to the marketplace will attract the attention it deserves.  Think big.  Be enthusiastic.  Find a project that will make a BIG difference, or a SMALL difference.  You don’t have to do a $1 million project to have a large impact that will attract the attention of a business owner in town.  Just recognize that businesses ARE interested in your ideas for changing things for the better, especially in their home town.  They WANT to be associated with providing solutions to local problems, both for their employees and their customers.  What does your community need?  Who might be interested in helping you solve them? Most importantly, the idea you fund doesn’t have to be your idea.  What problem do the big and small businesses in your community want to solve?

(SPECIAL NOTE:  I think going to very large business to do deals is problematic, unless you know someone who is a decision maker there.  Once an idea has to be approved by “corporate” you are pretty much lost.  Find a business with 100 – 200 employees.  That is plenty big enough.)

Manpower:  Rotarians must understand that our ability to rally other Rotarians to a cause has value in the marketplace.  The secret is that it’s not just the Rotarians in your Rotary club.  How many Rotarians are in your neighboring clubs?  Let’s say you have five clubs in your county with an average of 30 members.  When you talk to Larry’s Automotive Repair and you tell them that you have 150 eager and anxious community leaders in Rotary that want to partner with them to solve “X” problem, Larry is going to be interested.   Whatever problem needs to be solved, it’s likely that you will have a lot more hands available to do the work than Larry, and that is a powerful negotiating tool. And don’t think for a minute that Larry isn’t thinking that he would like to get to know 150 new potential customers.

Money:  Yes, we have money.  Does you club do a fundraiser or two?  Do you support 3 – 20 charities and non-profits in your community? Every dollar you distribute to non-profits could be a matching contribution with another business partner to support the SAME charity.  When you go to Larry’s Auto Parts and say, “Larry, I have $3,000 to support a project we are doing with “X” charity, we want to partner with you IF you will match our $3,000,”  Larry will be intrigued.  It could be Laura’s Auto Parts but you get the idea.  Larry or Laura  is used to being begged for handouts.  He isn’t used to being asked to partner in doing a deal.  Every dollar you give directly to a non-profit without a community business partner is a dollar that could have been doubled if you just think a little differently.  Remember to let Larry know that if he doesn’t do the deal you have two or three other businesses in town that have already expressed interest.

Rotary Foundation money:  There is nothing more powerful when talking to a potential partner that discussing the opportunities we have to apply for and receive a local Rotary Foundation grant.  If your club, or another club who wants to partner with you, is eligible, then talking about a “matching grant” that is likely to be approved IF a business will partner with you is like talking about crystal meth to a Breaking Bad fan.  I promise you that if you submit a well-written grant proposal that includes a matching contribution from a corporate partner, it is going to be well received by your District grant committee. The best part is that you don’t have to actually have the grant.  You just have to remember to talk about it and apply for it.

Before I tell you how to structure the deal, it’s time to take a 3 1/2 minutes time out to watch an expert close a deal.  I’m not sure Vin Diesel in Boiler Room is the role model we should be aspiring to, but Rotarians need to understand that if we want to have more impact we need to learn how to close a deal.  (Notably, there are a lot of Wall Street movies out with similar scenes but this is the only one I could find without sixteen “F” words in the mix.)

To take your newfound knowledge about Rotary’s value proposition out to the market, you need to learn the power of the “IF” statement.  Here are a few of them for you to consider:

“Mrs business owner, if I could bring 100 Rotarians and $5,000 to the table, would you be interested in matching our contribution and being a 50-50 partner in a project that you’ve always wanted to do for the community to solve “x” but haven’t been able to get it done?”

“Mr Business Owner, if we formed a partnership to eliminate poverty, hunger, and sickness in our community, and if we could put your company logo along side of our Rotary logo so the 100,000 residents in our community would think you are the engaged and caring person you really are, would you be interested in being a 50-50 project owner?”

“Mrs Charity Administrator, we would like to solve your biggest problem, whatever it is?  If we could bring a corporate sponsor to the table, and if we could provide $10,000 in financing, and if we could provide the manpower to get it done, would you be interested?”

“Mr Business Owner, if you partner with us and match our $5,000 contribution to this project, we will submit a grant to our District’s Rotary Foundation for an additional $3,000.  Your $5,000 will be leveraged to a total project of $13,000 and we will still consider you a 50-50 partner.  Does that sound interesting to you?”

The “If” question is where it all starts.  Notice that you haven’t committed to anything.  You are just asking whether they might be interested “if” you can make something happen. The power lies in the fact that once someone, anyone, in the deal answers yes to your “if” question, then you can tell others that they will be your partner, “IF” they participate as well.

There you go, folks.  Go out and close a deal!  You can do it.  If we all put together a partnership like this Rotary PR is going to become a whole lot easier….and so will membership.  Good luck.

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