Spotlight on Chambers of Commerce – Member Value is Key
Today’s business environment can seem to present a plethora of problems for regional and local chambers of commerce. Traditionally, the two main goals of these organizations have been the following:
- Promote and protect the interests of the business community
- Contribute to the growth and flourishing of the community influenced by the chamber
But in practice, what does this actually mean today? Maybe these two goals can be clearly determined and reached by a small community in the pre-internet era, but with all the information and technology we have today to quickly reach people around the world, today’s chambers of commerce must plan thoughtfully to create member value and desired business impacts.
Here are just a few of the questions and challenges that chambers must face to narrow down their focus:
- What are the common interests and goals of all the businesses in the chamber?
- What is the community the chamber is trying to influence? Is it local, national, global, market-specific?
- Do our goals match up with the community that the chamber is trying to influence?
- Are the plans currently implemented allowing the chamber to reach its targets?
- Are the current plans the most effective method for reaching the targets, or should they be adjusted to better fit the needs of the individual businesses in the chamber or the community/market?
- Are methods and tools used by the chamber outdated? Are they frequently reviewed and revised to fit ever-changing technological trends?
Without determining clear answers to these questions, chambers of commerce can become lost and irrelevant in the modern marketplace. Now more than ever chambers must be hyper-focused and well-organized to perform their function for businesses and the community effectively.
Simplifying the Issue
If these questions at first seem indeterminate, go back to the basics. At the most fundamental level, there are 3 key aspects which all chambers of commerce in today’s world need to carefully plan for to best serve their business members and the community: member value, business advocacy and program funding.
These 3 components of a chambers of commerce must be strong individually and work collaboratively for the chamber to operate harmoniously and effectively. Often, that is easier said than done because deliberation, thoughtful planning, and group interaction is necessary to receive a positive return on collaboration (ROC).
Clearly, business members representing the private, public and nonprofit sectors are the backbone of chambers of commerce; without them, chambers wouldn’t exist. For this reason, the most successful chambers must focus on providing value for members which will give their businesses a boost, both economically and in growth opportunities.
In the past, this has included networking events with other businesses in the chamber, access to email lists from businesses in the chamber, and the promotion of businesses in the chamber. In today’s digital and ever-changing environment, chambers must develop creative solutions to reach members and potential members where they are most active, such as mobile apps and social media. Having a presence and developing awareness of the chamber on these new channels will not only increase reach, but show the chamber knows and understands today’s business environment.
Program Funding and Capacity Building
While some may try to maintain their chamber on membership fees alone, it’s critical you garner support from corporate sponsors. The challenge, however, is not many chambers offer corporate sponsors enough value to compensate for the additional costs beyond a membership fee. If a business or corporation is to align with a chamber there needs to be a clear ROC and ROI
Many corporate sponsors are enticed by the quality and prestige of the chamber itself. By sponsoring a top-notch chamber with a strong reputation in a community, a corporate sponsor can boost their reputation and economic impact in that community.
To attract potential sponsors, a chamber must be effective at fostering connections among businesses and serving the community. This is clearly a “chicken or egg” situation, where membership benefits are best secured by corporate sponsors, and corporate sponsors are best secured by membership success. Thus, a thriving chamber of commerce will be one which carefully balances its time and resources in gaining members and providing benefits to both members and corporate sponsors.
Business Advocacy Leadership
It takes an experienced, prudent leadership team to best guide the chamber’s actions and policies. Without a strategy for growth, a chamber is doomed to fail. Each entity needs specific targets for every phase of its existence in order to stay on track and continue to assist businesses while contributing to the community. For instance, chamber leadership will need to evaluate business alliances and corporate sponsorship strategies to create the most effective and profitable connections for its members and itself.
Chambers also can wield considerable influence over local and state politics, since they represent a large number of reputable and important businesses in the community. Responsible leaders are thus vital to preserve and enhance the reputation of the chamber in controversial policy issues, while still looking out for the best interests of local business.
If a chamber does not deal with these aspects successfully, business members will simply stop paying membership fees, causing the chamber to disband. A chamber is not important in itself – it is only as good as the benefits it provides for businesses and the community-at-large. When it is no longer contributing to business advocacy and economic growth, a chamber will cease to exist.
Ewell & Associates, LLC can help your chamber assess its current state, form attainable goals, create a plan for reaching your targets, and manage growth. We understand the necessity of successful alliances, and can help train and develop your chamber’s leaders to guide the organization well into the future. Call us today at 202-997-6058 to learn more about how we can help your chamber of commerce thrive in today’s ever-changing world.