How a Local Organization Got a Big Bank to Deliver Big Bucks

Common Ground is a broad-based organization of organizations in the city of Milwaukee created to work together to bring about real and positive change in southeastern Wisconsin. I have been part of the organization since its inception, and could only have imagined what this group would be able to accomplish. For two years Common Ground has been pressuring five big banks to join together with the city of Milwaukee, local foundations, non-profits, and Common Ground itself, to refurbish and revitalize dilapidated and foreclosed homes in a key neighborhood.

Last night a representative of Wells Fargo Bank stood before more than 280 members of Common Ground and committed almost $2.5 million dollars in loans and grants. Read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s article about it here. It was the first of the five banks with whom we have been negotiating to make a significant commitment to bring revitalization to our community in the midst of the current foreclosure crisis.

It took negotiation. It took hard work. And, yes, it took creativity.

The goals for Common Ground were to:

  1. Get to the table.
  2. Make a deal.
  3. Keep the deal.

In order to make that happen, Common Ground had to gain:

  1. Recognition from the city and the banks.
  2. Respect from the city and the banks.
  3. Relationship with the city and the banks.

Recognition, respect, and relationship could only happen by way of many one-on-one meetings, small group meetings, face-to-face meetings with government officials, bank representatives, and Common Ground members. It was a slow and sometimes tedious process. But every meeting had a strategic purpose. There was always a specific outcome in mind for every gathering.

Here’s where the creativity came in. Common Ground used creative ways to get recognition, respect, and relationship from and with partners that could join together with us to make things happen.

That creativity included:

  • Taking 400 pictures of run-down and less-than-well-kept homes in the local community
  • Brought together local anchor organizations in the community to personally get to know one another
  • Worked with state representatives to get a bill introduced in the legislature
  • Gathered people together in front of bank buildings to draw attention to significant thoughts and ideas
  • Sent representatives to Germany and San Francisco to appear and speak at bank shareholders meetings
  • Used the communication talents of individuals to push bank officials hard

Someone said that anyone could have done what Common Ground did. But no one else did. Sometimes all it takes is to do something no one else has the creativity or courage to do.

For Common Ground it meant nearly $2.5 million dollars (and potentially much more) to revitalize a community.

What do you have the creativity and courage to do, that no one else will?

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