Stand Out: A conversation with Cannon and Rick Montague, Co-Chairs of the Chattanooga History Center Capital Campaign

Stand outWelcome to the second interview of Stand Out, a Q & A series. Allow me to introduce you to my multi-talented friends and successful volunteer fundraising professionals, Cannon and Rick Montague.

Q: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

A (Cannon): I was born and raised here, but lived in other places until I married Rick and moved back to Chattanooga in 1999. The city has changed enormously for the better, and I have great appreciation and respect for my husband’s involvement in the remaking of Chattanooga. I was an art teacher for many years, and in my spare time I enjoy sculpting. I’m trying to get better at it.

A (Rick): I’m a Chattanooga native and have spent nearly all of my adult life here. I had the pleasure of getting paid to give other people’s money away some years ago, and took an active part in a surprisingly large number of initiatives which are still continuing, nearly all of which have been improved and enhanced by those who came along later. Outside of Chattanooga I was chairman of a six-state-regional environmental law organization for 10 years and continue to be its vice-chairman. I am a sometimes writer of plays and novels, all of which have plenty of history at the core, though the story lines are fictional.

Q: How long have you been volunteering for nonprofits and why?

A (Cannon): I have been volunteering for non-profits since my college days, from being a Big Sister, then later a scout leader for my children. When I began teaching part time, I joined the board of AVA (Association for Visual Arts), then the Chattanooga History Center.

A (Rick):  As long as I can remember; my mother was passionate in this regard, and I also had wonderful role models in Jack and Alice Lupton.

Cannon and Rick Montague

Cannon and Rick Montague

A (Cannon): When Jeffrey Boehm asked me to join the board, I asked my mother, Jane Wann Bradley, and my mother-in-law, Mildred Montague, what they thought of my joining the organization. They both said, “Yes, do it. You will enjoy it.” I have! I’m attracted to good stories and have always loved the stories of Chattanooga- the Indians, the Civil War, Coca-Cola Bottling. As an adult, I’m interested in the stories about civil rights in Chattanooga, the destruction and restoration of our environment, how our city works and betters itself, and Chattanooga’s  inspiring entrepreneurs.

A (Rick): Cannon, as retiring president, asked me to help her with the campaign.

Q: Why did you decide to lead the campaign?

A (Cannon): I had never raised any serious money in my life, and the only reason I said yes was that my knowledgeable, strong, community leader, husband Rick said he would join me as co-chair. From that moment on, I knew we would be successful.

A (Rick): Having assisted in making the original grant to establish the organization nearly 30 years ago, I observed the current progress, augmented profile and terrific energy of the organization. I felt that this opportunity was the next big thing for Chattanooga, our riverfront and our people. It was the right organization in the right place at the right time, with a tremendously effective executive director to challenge, motivate and inspire the board and community.

Q: Your campaign has reached 75% of its $10 million goal. This is extraordinary for several reasons, among them, there is no development staff and the History Center has been a museum without walls for several years. What is the secret to your fundraising success?

A (Cannon): Timing is everything: we have the right executive director [Dr. Daryl Black], the right board, and the right campaign team which includes pros like you, Nancy. Thank you! We also have the right location on the Aquarium Plaza at the riverfront and the best museum designers in the world [Ralph Applebaum & Associates]. The fact that we have had such success shows that the community recognizes these facts and wants this History Center.

A (Rick): The community response has been phenomenal, and, as we know, Chattanooga is a city of givers. We started the campaign with two very generous, immediate gifts to set the stage. That made it easy to assemble a great team for the campaign, and we have a great executive to help us tell the story. It was his conception for an intellectual framework that attracted the world’s finest museum designer to want to take on a project in Chattanooga, though, by the firm’s standards, the project is a small one. However, the Chattanooga story has important implications not only for Chattanooga, but also for citizens of any city in the world, especially those who want to understand how they can improve their city.

Q: Without naming names, tell us a little bit about your most memorable solicitation. What made it stand out from the rest?

A (Cannon): We took a potential donor to lunch and he was so impressed with the project that he not only pledged $200,000, but he also raised another $225,000 for the History Center- all in a 48 hour period! It brings tears to my eyes thinking about that person and his generosity. Also, the response from the ‘Coca-Cola family’: individuals, corporations, and foundations, has been tremendously important to the campaign.

A (Rick): I can only say that it is an energizing pleasure to encounter a corporation, foundation, couple or individual who comes to the project with the desire to contribute not only with the pocketbook or stock portfolio and heart, but also with the desire to do anything and everything possible to make the project a success and to make it better by virtue of personal involvement. One feels genuinely blessed to be in the company of people who radiate their goodwill and generosity of spirit in this way. We have had more than our fair share of these, and I expect we’ll have a few more.

Slide72Q: What piece of advice would you give a volunteer chairing a major campaign?

A (Cannon): Be passionate about your project and put it on your front burner, where it will need to stay for the duration of the campaign. Assemble a great team, and above all, cultivate positive thinking.

A (Rick): It has its rewards because the people around you are wonderful, but it is demanding work that requires constant attention–the kind that keeps one awake between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. often, and one buys into it for the long haul–not the short burst of initial enthusiasm. I picked up a motto a few decades ago that serves me well: “Victory loves care.” A campaign requires that. I have the tremendous bonus of having Cannon as a partner. Her organization, effectiveness, always-positive-attitude and energy are the biggest reasons for our success. We actually have a lot of fun with it.

Q: Any parting thoughts?

A (Cannon): I am having an education that I could never have had otherwise. I have learned a lot about philanthropy and the nature of giving, including examining my own relationship to giving. It’s been very inspiring to me. To have had a role in bringing Chattanooga a first class history museum is tremendously gratifying. This is big for Chattanooga, and big for our economy!

A (Rick): I am surprised, gratified and pleased that we are at 75% of our goal, but that means we still have a lot of work to do, a lot of prospects to meet, and significant challenges ahead. As we progress it is also a tip-top priority that we reach out to every citizen of the community to engage them, to make them feel an important part of what we are building, and to benefit from their goodwill and curiosity as well as their financial assistance. I want every single citizen to feel that the CHC is theirs, and that we are always in this together to preserve the stories of the past and are deeply committed to the ongoing re-creation of this great city.

Thank you both for all you do for our community and for sharing your wisdom with us.

This quote by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle exemplifies Cannon and Rick: “Nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer.”

You can follow the Chattanooga History center on Facebook here, and learn more about the Chattanooga History Center here.


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