Nonprofit Doesn’t Mean Don’t Make a Profit

In today’s economic times, now more than ever, we need to run our chambers like a business.

That old myth “nonprofits can’t make a profit” needs to be put to rest.

Good financial management suggests that you should have at least 50% of your operating budget in reserves. 100% is even better!

How do you think chambers are able to put funds in their reserves? They run in the black, yes they make a profit!

I’ve written before on the importance of paying attention to the finances. If you’re not putting 10% of your operating budget a year to reserve, you should be asking why not?

Do you regularly review your programs to assess their value to the membership vs. their impact on your bottom line?

If we want to fight for our small business members, we need to be IN business. That means running your chamber like a business.

Let’s get to the business of doing business.

Until next time!

Strong Chambers: Share Your Value

I wrote an article recently that highlighted the impact a local chamber can have on their members.

Are you communicating that value?

Are you promoting that fact?

Do you make a conscious effort to communicate the following values on a regular basis?

What would you add to the list?

  • Advocate for them at the local, state and federal level;
  • Introduce their business to potential customers;
  • Offer networking opportunities;
  • Offer volunteer opportunities; and
  • Let’s not forget those discount programs on shipping, office products and insurance just to name a few.

Your chamber should be the one stop shop for the business community. Are you structured that way? Do you have that reputation?

Speaking of reputations, I’d like to reference a study conducted in 2012 by The Shapiro Group titled, The Real Value of Joining a Local Chamber of Commerce, that stated:

  1. When consumers know that a business is a member of the local chamber, they are 49% more likely to think favorably of it.
  2. Consumers who are told that a business is a chamber member are 51% more likely to be highly aware of it and 57% more likely to think positively of it’s local reputation.
  3. Consumers are 80% more likely to buy goods and services, in the future, from a company that they believe is a member of the local chamber of commerce.

Strong chambers in strong communities.

That’s a win/win proposition!

Needs Assessment Surveys

When was the last time you conducted a needs assessment survey?

With today’s technology there’s no excuse not to conduct a needs assessment today.

What better way to get the pulse of your membership on what they want vs. what they don’t find of value.

Today’s tools will rank the responses and will give you a clear road map in dropping programs that are not making money, that are not well attended, or are perceived as not valuable.

There’s nothing worse than working on a program that nobody cares about. Get focused and hone in on what your members want for the organization.

The following websites have survey tools that are free, or charge a nominal fee, that will allow you to conduct your next needs assessment survey with the click of a few buttons.

Key questions to ask:

  • Size of business
  • Age demographic of member
  • Title (i.e., owner, president, manager)
  • Type of business i.e., construction, IT, professional)
  • Ranking of your programs
  • What issues are important to your chamber
  • What social media tools are your members using
  • How many events did you participate in the last year
  • Open ended – what could we do to help you grow your business?

Conduct that needs assessment survey today!

Social Media: Is It Just White Noise?

I ask this question every chance I can with chamber execs across the country.

And, I get the same three answers:

1. I don’t know;
2. The puzzled look on the face; and
3. Everybody is doing it, we need to be doing it.

Our members only have so much time in the day. They are trying to run a business.

Have you asked your membership if they want you to communicate with them via social media? Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, Ning and Twitter? Just to name a few.

For information on tools to conduct a needs assessment surveys go HERE.

Setting up and managing these social media sites can be a full-time job. In today’s economy, small staffs and possibly no expertise on the technology, what’s a chamber to do?


Conduct a needs assessment of your membership and ask them what they want. If you’ve got a small staff with no expertise, get a college intern to set it up and teach you how to do it.

Social media is very user friendly and can be fun. The key is turning it into a moneymaking entity for your chamber.

There’s no question social media is making noise, I just don’t know if it’s white noise or noise that we all need to be aware of and pay special attention to by listening.

Get the facts, engage and embrace this technology accordingly!

Latest info on social media go HERE and HERE for two great websites I visit on a regular basis.

Kicking Sacred Cows To The Curb

Sacred Cows. We all have them in our organizations.

What do we call programs that lose money? A member benefit! Do not get caught in that cycle.

I speak with chamber execs all the time that share their frustration of that new project initiated by the new chairman. We’ve all been there.

When we add new programs, do we delete a program? No. Use these economic times to shed those losers.

I wrote about scorecards in a previous post. Creating a scorecard can be very effective in sun-setting those programs, products or services that: don’t make money; members don’t value anymore, or have become a sacred cow of the organization.

A scorecard to measure the value of your programs, products or services should track at least the following items as a starting point:

  • Revenue
  • Costs - direct and indirect (i.e., staffing costs)
  • Stated goal of program, product or service
  • Evaluation of program, product or service by members
  • Measure the results

As a sidebar, we should be reminded of the “Hedgehog Theory” stated by Jim Collins in his book titled, Good to Great, and include the theories’ three criteria in the final analysis:

  1. Do we have passion for this program, product, or service?
  2. Are we, or can we be the best in delivering this program, product or service?
  3. Do we make money on this program, product or service?

After you’ve implemented this assessment tool in your yearly review process, it should provide a strong argument on whether to continue a program, product, or service in the coming years – or kick that sacred cow to the curb!

For a previous blog post on program based budgeting go HERE.

Delivering Value

In today’s economic times, it is more important then ever to deliver the core good to your members.

I’d like to refer to a book I read on the restaurant business recently. The author is Anthony Bourdain, his book is titled, Kitchen Confidential.

In the book the author suggests that we go to the same restaurant year after year after year and order the same meal for one simple reason, we know what we’re going to get and we love it! The restaurant is delivering a core good.

What is your core good?

As chamber leaders it’s important that we continue to push the envelop of innovation. Our members expect us to be cutting edge. It’s ok to fail. In fact, I know of one organization that has a line item in their budget for “new projects.”

Many chambers have incubators for entrepreneurs to get a start on their business idea. This is your little slush fund for you to be innovative for your members and potential members.

Having said all that, it is important to note that while you are allowed to try new things and fail, you must never stop delivery the core good that Mr. Bourdain talks about in his book. That’s why your members renew their membership.

Are you on the cutting edge while continuing to deliver your core good?

Scorecards: Do You Have One For Your Board of Directors?

Do you have a scorecard for your Board?

If not, you should.

We all know our Boards are supposed to be the biggest supporters of our organizations.

What better way to showcase that by creating a scorecard for your Board of Directors!

The scorecard should be prominently displayed at every Board Meeting. It should be in every Board book produced. Peer pressure is a wonderful thing. No one wants to be a slacker.

Yes, peer pressure works!

At the very least, the following items should be included in any scorecard:

  • Board Terms
  • Attendance Record for Board Meetings
  • Membership Level (Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, etc.)
  • Number of Members Recruited
  • PAC Contribution (if you have one)

These are just a few examples of what you might want to include in your scorecard. While some board members may push back, get the backing of your current chair, incoming chair and membership chair. Let them lead the charge.

Part of your annual “Board Orientation” should include the scorecard and set the expectation up front of their role as leaders of the organization. If all your board members are on the same page, you will have a stronger chamber.

Start that scorecard today!

For a sample scorecard go HERE.

Golden Handcuff: Do You Have One?

If you’re not familiar with the term, a “Golden Handcuff” is essentially a program, product or service that your member can’t do without.

It compels them to send in their dues check year after year after year.

If you are familiar with the term, the attached list is nothing new.

What program, product or service are you providing that is your golden handcuff?

  • Insurance Programs (Workman’s Comp, D&O, etc)
  • Credit Cards
  • Certification
  • Affinity deals with office supply stores
  • Etc.

Let me give you one that you’ve probably never thought of – “Your Board of Directors.”

By show of hands, how many of your board members are non-dues paying members. That’s right, they’re all dues paying members. That goes for all your volunteers – committees, task forces, etc.

So the next time you’re asked if you have a "Golden Handcuff" – you can proudly say, YES, we have one, it’s my board.

Lifetime Value of a Member

In my previous post I asked the question "are all members important?" Are some members more important than others?

Let’s all say out loud “Lifetime Value of a Member."

You know the Lifetime Value equation:

(Average Dues + Average Non-Dues) x Average Number of Years of Membership

If you’re a numbers person, you’ll want to track this number on a regular basis. It’s all about retention. The better your retention rate the bigger the ROI will be when it comes to your lifetime value.

Are you incorporating engagement campaigns, especially for 1st year members, to raise your retention rate? We all have the challenge of a low first year retention rates vs. our base members.

If you don’t have a strategy in place to improve your retention rate, now is the time to start.

For a previous blog post on membership equations go HERE.

Members: Are They All Equal?

Are all members important? Are some members more important than others?

The answer to both of those questions is yes.

When I make this statement, I get push back. The argument I hear, all members are important. They’re all equal.

From my vantage point, I don’t think so! That’s just trying to be nice.

Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

  1. Is your chairman of the board more important then a first year member?
  2. Do all your members pay the same dues point?
  3. You get 10 phone messages from 10 members while your were on business travel. I bet you prioritize that list before you make your first call.

I’ve said it before, your board members should be your biggest supporters financially and the leaders in the community.

And yes, these members are more important than your first year members.

Let me put it another way, lifetime value of a member!

More on that later…

Governance: Owners, Managers, and Customers

What a unique business we are in. Our members are our owners, our managers and our customers.

  • Owners: That’s right, members own the organization. It belongs to the members, not the staff. That’s why they’re called membership organizations. Sometimes we forget that.
  • Managers: Your volunteer structure ensures that the members are involved in managing the organization. Task Forces, Committees and ultimately the Board of Directors. The Board has fiduciary responsibility for the organization in setting policy and making sure the organization is financially stable.
  • Customers: That’s right again! Who buys the Chamber’s products? Membership, monthly luncheon registrations, after hours networking events, sponsorships, annual meeting registrations, and the list goes on.

The key to successful organizations, in my opinion, is to have a strong working relationship with your Board of Directors. A level of trust must always be present. If you don’t have it, you have nothing.

As CEO, you were hired by the Board to implement the policies that were decided by the Board. Take that charge seriously.

That’s your responsibility!

15+ Bright New Membership Ideas

The following is a list of potential ideas you may want to try for your organization as it relates to your:

- Recruitment;
- Retention; or
- Engagement campaigns.

The second set of ideas were collected in small groups representing professional societies and trade associations.

The following were identified strategies that they they were employing or planned to employ in membership.


  • Membership is everybody’s business (staff and volunteers).
  • Create a fact sheet.
  • Know why people join: Advocacy, publications, affinity programs, recognition, training & development, etc.
  • Fine-tune your message (you don’t have time to tell all).
  • Sell your brand.


  • Communicate (not just at renewal time).
  • Show dollar value of each service for membership.
  • Show the value (Benefits – Costs = Value).
  • Mini surveys to monitor satisfaction.
  • Office visits.


  • Orientation programs (in person, virtual).
  • Reference guide.
  • Volunteer opportunities.
  • Personal contact.
  • Rewards programs.

Professional Society Ideas


  • Go directly to the college or university.
  • Work closely with graduates or soon to be graduated students.
  • Get member volunteer to work with each campus.
  • Conduct some events for non-members (non-student members and non-society members).
  • Use these public events as a “look” at what the society can do for you.
  • For non-member conference attendees, offer 30-day window to join at special conference attendee rates.
  • Follow up with mailing and phone contacts.
  • New member discount on first event attended.
  • Obtain letterhead and envelopes from members and send “invitation letter” to join to prospects as a personal endorsement over member signature.
  • Use “endorsement partners” to assist with or sponsor membership marketing program.


  • Ask lapsed members why they have not continued.
  • Get local members more involved in retention work.
  • Offer deferred dues for displaced members (hardship) category.
  • Job board for free to keep members involved (retains members if it is free to them.)
  • Have volunteers make calls to non-renewals - there is usually a higher response rate because their peers are asking.


  • Conduct regular “Needs Assessment Survey’s.”
  • Ask them to be on a committee.
  • Ask for expressions of interest.
  • Add new volunteer positions (in each committee).
  • Show appreciation for membership and volunteering.

Trade Association Ideas


  • Personal visits.
  • Business/members to bring in a new member.
  • Use phone-a-thon, with a runner to deliver membership packet.
  • Changes in staff offer opportunities to meet again with prospects.
  • Ask board members to write why they are a member and use these statements as testimonials.
  • Focus on core group.
  • Work on strategic relationships and alliances with allied associations so that there are opportunities to share information.
  • Membership and involvement in umbrella organizations to add credibility and to foster relationships and raise industry profile.
  • Make sure that the Web site draws prospective members to the “How to Join” site easily and logically.


  • Calling program—list those not on ‘involved’ status.
  • Mentor/ambassador program to adopt new members.
  • Reenergize membership committee: 1) give them high visibility at convention and other events; 2) provide distinctive polo shirts, ask them to greet members at trade show, convention; and ask membership committee members to make follow-up calls, visit after staff contact.
  • Press releases to industry of association developments, and copies sent to members to show what the association is doing to raise visibility, credibility of industry.
  • Press releases to announce member accomplishments.


  • Use mentors or hosts for each new member.
  • Organize a mentoring program.
  • Some groups are offering a “tour’ of membership programs.