One of AFF’s many successful young professional members, Chaz Cirame founded Cc: External Affairs just over a year ago. This new venture works with non-profits, trade associations and corporations to forge relationships in the public policy arena through coalition building, third party engagement and fundraising. Before starting Cc: External Affairs, Chaz worked at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as the Senior Director of Membership.
Chaz first learned about America’s Future Foundation when a co-worker gave him tickets to see the late Tony Blankley speak at an AFF Leadership Dinner. Chaz was inspired by the spokesman of freedom and appreciated the professional advice he received at the event. Chaz also credits the fun atmosphere of happy hours and the opportunity to meet new people as one of the reasons for joining AFF: “I have met some of my best friends at AFF happy hours and roundtables since moving to DC eight years ago.”
When asked how he became interested in politics, Chaz said: “I have always wanted to change the world. I get that trait from my dad who is a devout leftist. I get my politics from my sense of rebellion, and from my Mom and stepfather who were certainly more conservative than my dad. I guess I would say I have always been a free market conservative, but growing up in Maine, ‘conservative’ wasn’t part of the vernacular. It wasn’t until I moved to DC that I realized people segmented themselves into Conservative or Libertarian camps. I think we would be all better off to focus on solutions and actions and less on these descriptors.”
In 2002, Chaz began his political career during the Maine Governor’s race, a career move which first introduced him fundraising. Reflecting, he observed: “So-called ‘Campaign Finance Reform’ had dropped the maximum contribution for the Governor’s race from $5,000 to $500. As a result, the campaign spent all its time fundraising– sometimes we would do two or three fundraising events a day! Everyone involved had to spend much of their time fundraising. Thus a fundraiser was born.”
Chaz’s credits his success as a fundraiser to an approach to membership and fundraising that he sharpened while at ALEC. “In 2011, I set four BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) for my time at ALEC. One was to recruit 500 new state legislative members. This was a daunting task that required state legislators to write membership checks—the reverse process to what most politicians are accustom to! Another was to host legislative recruitment events in all 50 states. The third was to recruit 50 new corporate and non-profit members. The fourth was to raise eight million dollars. I was advised not to set my goals so high because I would be held accountable for missing even lofty goals. After a lot of convincing, however, I managed to get organizational buy-in for these BHAGs. I put together a good plan and had assembled a top-notch team. In the end we recruited something like 530 legislators, held a recruitment event in all 50 states, recruited 72 new corporate and non-profit members members, and raised $9 million dollars, significantly shattering all previous organizational records. ”
Chaz’s advice for young professionals pursuing a career in development is advice that can apply to every field: “Find good mentors. I don’t think a mentorship needs to be a formal thing where you lunch with someone every few months and ask for career advice. Your best mentors are going to be folks you work with. Learn from them every day and let them challenge you.”
The key to finding a good mentor is to grow your network of professional contacts. AFF’s networking events create unique opportunities to engage your peers as well as established policy, communications and development folks. Chaz notes: “Many of the key people I work with on a near daily basis, from donors to policy experts to activist leaders, I have met within the AFF community. As a side note on that, DC is amazing city where today’s interns quickly becomes tomorrow’s White House staffers, campaign managers, non-profit leaders and elected officials. Invest in people based on who they are, not what’s on their business card today–because it will change in an instant.”
Jordan Pic is a former intern with America’s Future Foundation. To learn more about other leaders in the liberty-movement, please visit AFF’s Profiles in Liberty.