Chamber Mergers and Alliances: Stronger Together

I attended a fascinating ACCE webinar, on the title of this blog post, with CEO's with experience on the subject matter.

The topic of mergers has been around for a while, but now more than ever, the discussion is happening more and more, in communities around the country.

The following are my notes in a rapid-fire discussion based on their presentation.

They started by discussing both the anatomy of a merger and the challenges of a merger.

Anatomy of a Merger
 
  • You need two strong chambers and two strong CEO’s.
  • You can build a bigger, better and stronger chamber for the community.
  • What can you do better together?  Advocacy, programming, sponsorships, etc.?
  • Desperate or aspirational?  That’s the bottom line when chambers are thinking about a merger.  Mergers will have a better chance if they are aspirational.
  • Hire an outside consultant to facilitate the hard questions (knowing that each CEO could facilitate a discussion, but it allows a 3rd party to say the things that need to be said, while keeping/leaving the CEO’s whole).
  • One committee to do board due diligence (keep it small), and make sure you have representatives from both chambers on that committee.
  • Identify the sacred cows of each chamber.
  • What are the non-negotiable's (i.e. no staff lay-offs, etc.)?
  • Should both offices be retained with new name?
  • Should the new chamber be led by co-CEO’s?  Not the best model but a big hurdle for most mergers would be removed, in the short-term.
 
Challenges of a Merger
 
  • Voting volunteers off the board.
  • Who is the new CEO or do you have co-CEO’s (as stated above)?
  • Both chambers need to agree.
  • Most mergers will have chambers coming to the table from different positions, one is usually hurting more than the other.
  • If the chambers come from a competitive background with each other, that’s a big hurdle to get over.
  • The other challenge is when missions don’t align of the two chambers.
 
They couldn’t stress enough that stakeholders, from both entities, need to be involved in the process, (i.e. task forces, committees) to help the merger with the key questions.
 
They did discuss options such as a contract for services model prior to a formal merger (think dating before getting married), as well as, the bank model where you centralize certain services (HR, membership, Finance, CRM), and have branches to serve the community.
 
A couple of final comments on lessons learned and best practices from the panelists included:
 
  • Listen to your stakeholders;
  • All parties need to be at the table;
  • Make a business case;
  • Get advice from your peers across the country that have gone through the process; and finally
  • Hold us harmless (a company pays what they paid both chambers at least during the first year).
 
For an article from ACCE on the subject go HERE.

Audit Committees: Do You Have One?

While the Sarbanes-Oxley law requires public traded companies to have an audit committee, I would suggest it is good practice if your chamber has one too!

To me it’s just as important as having that annual financial audit.

Yes, they can be expensive, but who would not want that stamp of approval for your board and membership at large.

For a previous blog post on annual financial audits go HERE.

We talk about transparency in our organizations and what better way to show that than having that annual financial audit and creating an audit committee that reports to your board of directors.

I would make the suggestion to use it as a tool to tell your story!

At the end of the day, we need to run financially sound chambers if we want to help our business members succeed.

For a great resource on audit committees go HERE.

Trust: As a Leader This is a Must

I always enjoy Justin Patton's presentations on leadership.  The latest was no exception.  He started off talking about one’s “Presence vs Leadership Presence.”

He said we all have presence but that is very different then leadership presence.  Some individuals have a presence that has a negative impact on others.

 

Justin talked about trust and stated that, “trust is the unwavering belief that you have my back.”  He defined trust in terms of loyalty, security, engagement productivity.


He went on to talk about how ego (arrogant, condescending) is the biggest detriment to becoming a great leader and losing trust by lying, not being consistent, or accountable.

 

He then spent some time giving advice on how leaders who have lost that trust can take steps to repairing the trust they’ve lost.

 

  • Take full accountability for your part;
  • Ask for or extend forgiveness;
  • Demonstrate a change in behavior; and
  • Be willing and available to talk.

 

He went on to talk about how you can create your own roadmap to trust and offered the following comments:

 

Truth - people interpret the truth differently.  Your truth is not the only truth.

 

  • Actions of truth - candor, consistent, track record, take accountability.

 

Transparency - clarity.  People fill in the holes with fear.

 

  • Actions of transparency - share intentions, explain the why, be available, admit mistakes.

 

Tact - ability to manage your intensity (passive vs aggressive).

 

  • Actions of tact - manage intensity, listen to understand, pause before responding, be aware of body language.

 

Togetherness - ability to put the relationship before yourself.

 

  • Actions of togetherness - demonstrate empathy, honor boundaries, extend trust, apologize when needed.

 

He ended the webinar with the comment that the best leaders “Communicate to Build Trust, not Compliance.”

 

For more information about Justin Patton go HERE.

Why Strategy and Foresight Are Not the Same Thing

I wrote about this subject in a previous blog post that can be found HERE.

This post is based on a session I attended with Jeff De Cagna, a leader in the field of Foresight in the association community.

Strategy vs Foresight:

Strategy plan vs strategy learning!  Both are about intentional learning.

Strategy process (36 months) should be done by the under 40 members, more than just your board, think your YPG groups.

Foresight practice (84-months) should be done by the over 40 members - what could the world look like in 2027?  Prepare for plausible futures for the benefit of our successors.

That is the responsibility of your board.  And by the way, you need to have some “under 40” folks on your board too!

He went on to talk about the attention challenge of our boards!

  • Concentration - getting decision-makers to stay focused on the difficult questions.
  • Curiosity - get decision-makers to devote their attention on a transforming world.

What’s the major difference of the two?

He talked about the 70-20-10 rule of time spent by boards on the future, work of the board, what’s going on now is based on current practices.  Jeff argues your board should be spending 90 to 95 percent of its time on the future.

Your chamber needs to be able to pivot from a legacy organization vs being able to transition.

He goes on to talk about the “Duty of Foresight,” as an addition to the Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty and Duty of Obedience responsibilities of boards that I’ve blogged about before HERE.

ACCE’s Horizon Initiative: Chambers 2025, in my mind, is a product of Foresight, but the deal is you have to continue to look at it and update as you look to the future in at least 10-year increments.

He ended with a few statements on how we must question orthodox beliefs, build new capacity, and design next practices (this is not about best practices).  Best practices are based on the past!

For more information on the study of Foresight by ASAE go HERE.

Sponsorship Tips

I recently attended a great class on sponsorship tips led by Brad Lacy, IOM, CCE, President and CEO, Conway Area Chamber of Commerce.

The following comments below are from my notes during this great two hour session.  He started with:

Trouble Signs of Sponsorship Programs

  • Nobody's buying;
  • We need your support (never use this line).  You are not a charity; and
  • Nobody's attending.

Successful Sponsorship Programs

  • Events sold out;
  • You exceeded your goals;
  • Renewed sponsorships at a high number for same event last year;
  • You're communicating the value; and
  • You're customizing based on each sponsors needs.

He went on to talk about how your pitch to a potential sponsor should be focused on showing the value of the program or event.  You must understand your target audience, and understand your product.

What documents are your sponsors/investors receiving, a follow-up collateral piece with their logo, pictures of event and list of speakers?

Show how they are supporting the community while getting branding recognition w/logo placement.  Follow-up with a collateral piece to show your event and sponsor participation.

And that collateral can be used for recruiting new sponsors as well as showing the value to those sponsors who attended the event.  Your collateral piece might include:

  • Pictures;
  • Content;
  • Community connection; and
  • Showcasing the leaders at the event.

It’s never about supporting an entity (i.e. chamber, YPG, etc.).  It’s about showing value - access to XXX number of people that they could do business with in the future.

He went on to talk about creating an event/program that works for your sponsors (i.e. time wise)?  Think about the small business member whose office opens at 10:00 a.m.  Are you creating opportunities for them to sponsor an event on their off hours?

That's a great way to take any barriers away from participating as a sponsor at one of your events.

Good luck recruiting sponsors for your next event!

Guide to Governance

recently attended a class on governance for chambers and associations with Bob Harris, CAE.

The following are my notes.  It was hard to keep up with Bob, he was giving tips and best practices in a rapid-fire presentation.

Here we go!

Best Practices:
  • Conduct an annual orientation for your Board of Directors with governing documents reflected in your minutes.  What a great way to protect yourself.
  • Make sure they know their fiduciary responsibility – Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty and Duty of Obedience.  For a previous blog post on that subject go HERE.
  • Protections of the board (4)

o   D&O - Directors and Officers insurance
o   Incorporated
o   Indemnification
o   Volunteer immunity

  • Put your mission statement on the back of your Board of Directors tent cards at your meetings.  Also, it should always be on your meeting agenda too!
  • When selecting board members, he used these words in what to look for “time, talent and treasury.”  I have always said “passion, intellect and money.”  We’re saying the same thing!
  • Average size board is 15
  • Chambers typically meet once a month, he suggested try meeting every other month.
  • Associations generally meet three times a year.
  • What’s your tag line?  Vision.Value.Voice. – not a bad start to build on!
  • Ex-officio members appointed to board because of their position somewhere else - bottom line, you’re on the board or not?  I am not a fan of ex-officio members and I’ve stated that multiple times on this blog.
  • 2015 California law doesn’t allow non-voting ex-officio board members.
  • If you send the Mayor (ex-officio member) your agenda, it just became public.
  • Your 990 is your only public document.

Tips on good board governance:

  • Board sets policy, staff implements that policy
  • Board should be concerned on issues beyond their term.
  • How many committees do you have?  Committees should match up with your strategic goals (i.e. four goals, four committees).

He ended with a review of our governing documents:

  • Articles of Incorporation (contract with state)
  • Mission (purpose of existence)
  • Bylaws (relationship to members)
  • Policies (interpretation of governing documents)
  • Strategic Plan (roadmap of organization GPS goals, priorities, strategy)
  • Annual Budget

And a final statistic, 9% of your budget should be spent on technology based on research by (ASAE and ACCE).

Pandemic and Economic Recovery: Hope and Opportunity

Institute for Organization Management faculty member Bob Harris, CAE led a webinar based on the title of this blog and started with flexibility - your leadership and your staff.

It was a very positive message, it’s our time to share!  It’s our opportunity to show the value of your chamber to your members, non-members and the public in your community.

 

And part of that positive message is talking about an economic recovery not just Covid-19.  He went on to lay out some best practices for your chamber.

 

Communications:

  • Have a single spokesperson for your chamber throughout this process to have a consistent message;
  • Now is the time for that elevator speech (and it should be tight); and
  • Track and share good deeds.

Bob stressed you need to continue to recruit new memberships on the work you are doing.  Do you have an ROI Dues Value Calculator?  If so, now is the time to publicize it.  Do not stop sending those invoices.  If you’re out of business, you won’t be useful to anyone.  And a thought I’ll throw out there, have you thought about a GoFundMe site?

 

Board Governance

  • Extend terms if needed;
  • Now is the time to empower your executive committee in these times of possibly having trouble in getting a quorum at a full board meeting; and
  • Reduce meeting agendas and make sure you are using the consent calendar to your advantage.

He went on to talk about pausing your long-term plan and pivot to creating a recovery plan for the next three to six months.  Make it specific on how you’re going to help your members get back in the game.

 

You might want to set-up some short-term task forces to deal with specific issues and not worry about your standing committees at this time.  And remember, these task forces go away in the near future!

 

And he ended with:

  • Now is the time for advocacy to champion the interests of your members;
  • Repurpose your events - in-person to online programming; and
  • Work with your sponsors to find value for them and keep them involved in your organization.  Always keep your lines of communication open.

 Good luck!

Communicating and Collaborating in the Remote Work World

This blog post is based on a recent webinar I attended with Carol Vernon and Carol Hamilton from Communications Matter.

Building Trust - your members want to hear from you, we are the conveners to collaborate - show value to your members.

And don't forget to use one-on-one communications to ask your members how they are doing (i.e. phone calls).

Communication is the foundation for effective collaboration - who are your key stakeholders that you need to keep these lines of communication open?  Obviously, you need to keep in touch with all your members.

Don't oversell but do show up consistently for your members!

Think strategically when communicating with your external stakeholders - they identified 3 key best practices.  And don't be afraid to ask them how they want to communicate with your chamber.

1. Create a remote communications document based on:

  • What do they already know, and what resources do they already have?
  • What do they want from your chamber?
  • What do you want them to know, what do you need them to know?

2. Communicate with empathy, support and resiliency:

  • And listen to your members, ask how you can help, and deliver on that ask if you can.

3. Fine-tune your voice for remote communications:

  • How people interpret what you say in person - body language 55%, vocal 38%, words 7%.
  • What is the key for remote communications?  Listening is the key!

They went on to remind us of some best practices when conducting online meetings.

Effective Online Meeting Tips

  • Your virtual meetings should have a facilitator, chat monitor and tech support.  Match your tech tools with the speaker and participant skill sets.

During your online meeting:

  • Start by a soft opening to let people get comfortable, (i.e. ask a quick question, tell folks to mute their audio, etc.).
  • Create a visual focal point; and
  • Signal your turns - you want people to stay with you, especially online.

For resources on virtual meeting platforms go HERE.

They ended with a recommendation for a great read - Can You Hear Me, by Nick Morgan.

5 Steps to Crisis Recovery Planning

I recently attended a webinar on the title of this blog post presented by Pam Green, pamelajgreen.com, and the following comments are from her talk and PPT.

Stages of a Crisis

  • Warning
  • Risk Assessment
  • Response
  • Management
  • Resolution
  • Recovery

Each group needs to define where you are in the above stages and respond accordingly.  In the Covid-19 we’re in the two steps forward and one step back.

 

Focus on how you must change to do business not the “hole” of the pandemic.  What can you do to keep your chamber relevant?

 

The Leader’s Role in a Crisis:

  • Lead decisively – don’t be afraid to fail forward.
  • Frame and reframe the crisis – curate all the new information you can to make appropriate decisions.
  • Actively communicate – internally and externally with your stakeholders.  You want to be the go-to resource at the local level.
  • Flexibility – maintain a mindset of being radically flexible and prepare for the unexpected.
  • Credible intelligence – consider multiple viewpoints from the right sources.  As stated earlier, think being a curator on the information.

The discussion was fascinating!

 

5 Steps to Successful Crisis Recovery

  1. Recognize – is it over?  Or are we going to have to deal with this all over again?
  2. Recalibration – think about where you want to focus your program of work moving forward.  This might be a good time to kill some sacred cows.  For a blog post on that subject go HERE.  It’s important to be focused on the new normal in delivering value through the right technologies.
  3. Repair – articulate a communication strategy for your key stakeholders.
  4. Redirect – communicate more, not less, accentuate the positive, share best practices and resources that are out there.
  5. Reinvigorate – focus, focus, focus on value.  Deliver value to your members, they need it now more than ever!

She ended with authenticity and genuine concern for your members are priceless!  People will go with you if you’re authentic and genuine in dealing with the issue at hand.  It’s Covid-19 today, it will be something else on another day.

 

For more resources on crisis management go HERE.

Setting up a Covid-19 Task Force is a Proactive Strategy

How do we anticipate and adapt to the current Covid-19 situation? Roy McGrath, IOM and Michael Gellman, CPA conducted a webinar on creating task forces as a proactive strategy.

A place to start is to manage your focus, expertise and deliverables on a specific task.  If you do, that will lead to your outcomes.

 

Public health vs economics are the two key areas most chambers are focusing on right now for their small business members and the community at large.

 

They went on to talk about the different uses of task forces in these Covid-19 times:

 

Task Forces can be set-up to:

  • Help give advice on internal changes at your organization (strategic planning, etc.)
  • Reopening guidance for your small business members.
  • How you will conduct future events for your chamber members based on the latest information from the local and state health care professionals.
  • Safe work environment for chamber staff when they re-engage back in the office.

They gave some best practices advice you should think about when forming a task force:

  • The task force should be expert-driven, and it should have external partners.
  • It’s key to set expectations for the task force with clear roles and duties of its members (3-5 task force members).
  • Task forces give advice and information and have no direct authority or approval functions, that’s the role of your board.
  • Keep each task force focused on their specific issue and not stray from that task.
  • Task forces should report to CEO and then secondarily the executive committee.
  • Communications should be clear both ways.
  • Weekly meetings might be a place to start.  You can adjust as you move forward.
  • Set a 90-day task force period with the option to extend if needed.
  • Transparency and messaging is key from senior management of the chamber.  It’s about telling your story!

They ended with reminding those participating that the four key points of a task force:

  1. Resource to your chamber;
  2. Can be nimble;
  3. A team of specialists; and
  4. It’s your consulting team to provide solutions.

A task force can help you manage through these unprecedented times.  Set-up your task force/s today!

Board Selection: What’s Your Role?

If you’re like most other chambers you’re selecting one sixth of your board each year.  That statement is based on a typical board appointment of two years, renewable for three terms.

Does that sound familiar?

Ok.  Now what role do you play in identifying or selecting new board members.

I’ve written many times in the past that you want three things from a board member:
  • Passion
  • Intellect
  • Money
The other piece of the puzzle that many have written about in the past is getting the right skill-set on your board.  I couldn’t agree more!

What does that mean?

In the simplest of terms, do you have a lawyer, CPA, educator, transportation expert, workforce, economic development and technology experts, etc. on your board?  Do you have diversity as it relates to size of businesses, geography, ethnic and yes, all age groups in the workforce (Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and now Gen Z)?  All can contribute and play a vital role in the conversation.

The more diverse your board the greater the conversation.  Embrace it!

Now back to your role in identifying and selecting new board members.  If you don't, you should have a file in your desk drawer of potential new board members.  Are you grooming new board members by asking them to serve on committees or task forces first?  If not, you should.  What a great training ground for future board participation.

What you don’t want is a board made up of what I’ll call, “friends of friends.”  Whether you’re officially on the nominating committee or not, you at least can fill the pipeline with quality candidates.

That’s the CEO’s role, at a minimum, in the volunteer selection process.  For more information on board management go HERE.

Good luck!

Chairman/CEO Partnership

Yes, I said partnership in the title.  At the end of the day, if you don’t have a partnership with your chief volunteer, you’re not in a good place.  Not for you and not for the organization.

We all know that the board, led by the Chairman, sets the policy and direction of your chamber, but it is the CEO that implements that policy with his or her staff.

The strength of the relationship between the Chairman and CEO will have a direct impact on the success of the chamber and its program of work.  You must have open and regular communication with your board Chairman.

And then there’s – Trust!

Without it you will have no partnership.  You must both come from a place where you trust each other.  You both need to be accountable for the work of the chamber and its success!

The CEO gets a new Chairman every year.  And each year that can bring new challenges and opportunities in the relationship between the two.

The Chairman and CEO should always stay focused on the two being aligned, focused and share the same vision for the Chamber.

For resources on the Chairman/CEO partnerships go HERE.

Elements of Good Governance

I was recently reading the 2020 ASAE’s Board Brief and was fascinated by the chapter on governance and the research done by their Foundation on the subject matter.

The data’s interesting and they broke it down into the following areas:

Policies and Procedures – make sure your manuals are well documented and followed.

Structure and Function – what is the size of your board and is it working as well as how man board meetings are you conducting a year?

Diversity Goals – do you have a plan and are you tracking your progress?

Self-assessment – are you surveying your board members and asking how they feel about their participation and effectiveness?

Performance Evaluation – do you have a formal reporting mechanism to your board or membership of the results?

Goal Setting – do you set goals (think scorecards) as a way of tracking your goals?

Preparation and Training – are you conducting that board orientation for new board members outlining their responsibilities: Duty of Care, Loyalty and Obedience (which I’ve written about before and can be found HERE)?  And are you giving outside training on how to read a nonprofit’s financial statements?

For the original source for the article go HERE.

Foresight vs Strategic Planning

I’ve read a lot about this recently and I think I’ve finally put my head around the difference.

ASAE has a website dedicated to the subject matter and it is a term that has surfaced, at least in my association management reading, in the last 5 plus years.

For me, in a nutshell, foresight is an exercise in trying to identify what the future will look like for your organization.

Many chambers are doing the 2025 or 2030 scenarios with interesting results.  In other words, think what could it be?

Strategic Planning is the process of analyzing the current landscape, through and environmental scan, a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, and determining a set of goals, strategies and tactics, usually 1-3 or 3-5 years out, on achieving those goals.

Most of us are just trying to get through the day with the limited resources we have but I would suggest that if you spent the time, with a facilitated board retreat, you too would benefit of looking to the future.

I’m sure by now you’ve all read the ACCE’s Horizon Initiative: Chambers 2025?  Well that’s just around the corner.  It’s time to do the 2050 exercise.

For more information on the Foresight work by ASAE go HERE.

Are Your Emails Really Member-focused?

I recently attended a webinar led by Bill Graham, Graham Corporate Communications and Institute for Organization Management faculty member.

He started with the concept that you need to focus on what your members are worried about and connect your email to their world.

Bill always reminds his audiences that communication is not speaking or sending emails, those are activities.  "Communication is a result; it's what you get into their head."  “Think of communication as a one-way street. Nobody has to listen.”

He went on to talk about specifics as it relates to the subject line, introduction, body and the close of your email.

Subject line: It’s the penthouse of the email real estate, the most valuable, so find a unique perspective that engages the receiver.

Introduction: Your first words matter because they see them on your phone, so be personable, respectful, friendly and helpful.  Focus on them not you.

Body: Focus like a trusted advisor, not like a salesperson.  You are taking up their time.  It should be worth their time, not worth your time.

Close: With a “Call to Action” - if they got to the end, they want an action step, so ask them to: attend a meeting, make a decision, attend a conference call, etc.

He also gave us some general email rules to follow:

  • More is seldom more;
  • Positives turn on, negatives turn off;
  • Simple is memorable, complex is forgettable;
  • Avoid cliches, they always sound like autopilot; and
  • Be personable and comfortably friendly...at a respectful distance.

Some general tips throughout his presentation that he gave that I had to write down because I think they are repeatable:

  • Before you speak...WAIT - ask yourself: "Why Am I Talking!
  • Change your pronouns to: you/your, or even: they/their.  Using first person pronouns: I/my/we/our, is talking about your world, not their world.
  • Are you a trusted advisor?

The final bullet, in my opinion, was his main message - “are you a trusted advisor?”

Bill suggests you’re a trusted advisor if you:

  • Engage with your members;
  • Ask questions and listen to your members;
  • Are interested in your member’s needs; and
  • You focus on long-term relationships...not short-term gains.

In closing, and focusing on the suggestions from Bill Graham and the title of this blog post, your emails should focus on the following:

  • Subject Line - engage the receiver.
  • Introduction - focus on them…they see the first few words.
  • Body - be a trusted advisor and focus on their world, their results: reasons, motives and goals.
  • Close - end the email with a “Call to Action.”

If it’s not about their world...it’s likely not communicated...it’s just NOISE.

Be a trusted advisor and keep your emails member-focused!