What's Your Competitive Edge?

What sets your chamber apart from the rest?

Why should a business join your chamber vs. the one in the next town?

Every chamber needs to answer that question not only for its existing members but for its potential members.

We are all fighting for the same membership dollars from these businesses.

That’s why it’s important to stand above the crowd.  As stated in the title of this post, what’s your competitive edge?

  • Have you identified your competitive edge?
  • Why are your members joining?
  • Advocacy?  Networking?  Community involvement?
  • Something else?

People want to be affiliated with success or a winner. Is your chamber successful? Are you communicating your successes in the community?

You know the old saying. “It’s not bragging if it’s true.”

For a previous blog post on telling your story go HERE.

How Are You Engaging Your Members in Social Media?

As we all know, social media is here to stay.

Are you engaging members and prospective members to raise your retention and recruitment efforts?

Social media is really the new “Wild West.”

Anybody can create an audience around your issues or community.  Don't let that happen. You need to fill that space.

I’ve made the assumption that you have already captured that space. Are you measuring your program of work in that space?

That’s the question!

How are you measuring success?  Number of visitors, number of responses to your content, the depth of the discussion, or, is it the amount of money generated for your organization?

Only you can decide what criteria you want to use to measure success.

I only want you to measure your efforts in the social media space.

Metrics are a good thing, use whatever tools are out on the web that gives you a sense of your actions.

Good luck!

For a free guide on to how to engage your members through social media from memberclicks go HERE.

The 30 Second Elevator Speech

Ok, you just ran into a potential member on the street corner waiting for the “walk” light.

Do you have a 30 second chamber membership pitch?

It doesn’t need to be elaborate; it just needs to be tight, succinct.

Explain the value of chamber membership: advocacy, networking, building a stronger community.

  • What businessperson doesn’t want their chamber advocating for their business?

  • What businessperson doesn’t want to network for new business?

  • And, what businessperson doesn’t want a strong growing community?

Keep it simple, keep it tight!

Give them your business card that reiterates your 30-second speech with your contact information on the opposite side.

In addition, here’s a nice place to use that QR code you’ve recently implemented.

Recruit that new member in 30 seconds!

Standing Committee vs. Task Force

What’s the difference?

In simple terms one is permanent and one is temporary.  One is difficult to disband the other already has a term limit.

Hence, the main reason to create a task force. Standing Committee (permanent) – think finance committee, government affairs committee, annual meeting committee, etc. Task Force (temporary) – think special event, purchasing a building, etc.

While we all know that keeping members engaged helps retention, I definitely subscribe to the philosophy that less standing committee’s is the way to go.

I also subscribe to the idea that the task forces should be chaired by a board member.  This creates continuity for the program of work they are doing.

The task force should involve all interested parties from the membership, not just the senior members of the chamber.

Use the task force process to involve the younger/newer members of your organization.

They are your future after all aren’t they?

What's the Size of Your Board?

There have been many articles on the size of boards and their functionality.

More board members = less flexibility, less functional.  Less board members = more flexibility, more functionality.

If you’re thinking about this for your organization, the first step would be to agree on a set number – 5, 9, or 11 board members.

That’s a good starting point!

No more than 12.  These board members need to be committed to the organization and need to be leaders in the community or industry.

Do you have a list of criteria to become a board member?

In my opinion, smaller boards allow for deeper discussions on the important issues facing your organization and the opportunity to make real change.

If you choose to create a smaller board, a real focus must be made for getting the right people to participate.

The use of task forces can be utilized to create the necessary documents and background materials used for the discussion at the board level.

How many of your current board members fully participate in the process today – is it 5, 9, or 11?


For additional resources on boards and the size of boards by The Bridgespan Group go HERE.

My ABC's of Networking

Many articles and books have been published on networking.

Networking is an element each of our organizations are involved in to benefit our members.

The key is to stay cutting edge in the field?  Yes, like anything we do there’s a right way and a wrong way.

Here are my thoughts on the ABC’s of networking from what I’ve read or experienced over the years in the business.

  • A – Accessible, can people get in touch with you or do they have to go through a gatekeeper?  Networking is about access, you getting to someone or someone getting to you.
  • B – Behavior, are you setting up that daily or weekly lunch to gain new contacts?  You have to eat, why not make the most of it and set-up a lunch appointment.  That’s a great way to grow your rolodex.  Do you strike up a conversation with the person seated next to you on that cross country plane ride?  This is where your 30 second elevator speech comes in handy.  The next time you fly, introduce yourself to the person next to you.  It could be a 30 second conversation or it could be a great new contact for you.
  • C – Connector, are you a connector?  In other words, when you’re talking/listening to one person about a subject matter, are you instinctively thinking about how you can connect them to someone they don’t even know that could help them in their business?

The ABC’s of networking is all about having a plan of action.  Don’t just socialize, network.

Your network is your net worth.  Think about that for a second.

For a previous blog on Social Capital: What are you worth go HERE.

Until next time!

Rules of Engagement

An engaged member is a retained member!

You know the deal -- recruitment, engagement and retention, are the keys to an overall effective membership plan.

Do you have a formal engagement program for new members?

Does it include:

  • A welcome letter w/benefits sheet.
  • Do you call them 90 days into their membership thanking them for joining and asking some key questions:

    1. Have you visited our website?
    2. Have you attended a chamber event?
    3. Have you signed up for our grassroots network?

  • In this call, it’s important to close w/thanking them for being a member.

While these simple suggestions may seem elementary, they can go a long way in improving your retention rates.

Remember, we all know it’s cheaper to retain a member than to recruit a new member.

Something to think about!

Customer Service

What does that mean?

In our business, I believe it means taking care of our members by providing the best programs, products and services on a daily basis to help them run their businesses.

It also means advocating for them at the local, state and federal levels of government.

There are a lot of customer service “best practices” lists floating around, just Google it.

Having said that, here’s a starting point for your customer service representatives when interacting with your members:

  • First and foremost listen to your member and their challenge/complaint;
  • Tell them you’re sorry and ask how you can help solve their situation;
  • Go out of your way to make it right;
  • Ask if there is anything else you can do for them; and
  • Thank them for their business/membership.

Empower your employees to make it right on the spot.  If they have to ask and get back to the member, you’ve lost your chance to solve your member’s problem in a timely and efficient manner.

A happy customer will spread the news of how you made it right!

For a neat infographic on 10 best practices to improve customer service from the Salesforce blog go HERE.

Word of Mouth Marketing

It’s not just a phrase. There’s a dedicated association to the field.

We’ve all done the membership survey that asks the question – how did you hear about us? Usually the number one answer is a friend or colleague.

That’s word of mouth marketing at its core.

We typically use the term member-get-a-member campaign in our vernacular. We do it because it’s very effective.

I strongly encourage your marketing staff to learn more about the techniques of word of mouth marketing if they haven’t already done so.

When you think about it, isn’t that what social media is all about? It’s just using the Internet instead of literally talking to someone face-to-face.

In today’s times we need to use all available resources and tactics in recruiting new members.

For more information on the Word of Mouth Marketing Association go HERE.

How Does Your Board Define Success?

That’s the big question!

I'd suggest you ask this question to your board on a yearly basis. It's important to define it, write it down and measure it.

It's your chance to prioritize your chambers resources to deliver the most value to your members.

And it gives you a yearly outline on how you can be successful by delivering on what your board defines as success.  It outlines where you should be spending your staff's resources.

Here are some of the answers I hear when that question is asked are the following:

  • Number of members
  • Annual revenue or growth in annual revenue
  • Amount of revenue sent to reserves
  • Advocacy successes
  • Quality and number of programs
  • Economic development/workforce successes

I hope the discussion to define success is on the agenda at your next board retreat!

For a great resource from The Bridgespan Group on becoming a more effective nonprofit board go HERE.

Social Media: Content Rules

The book Content Rules is a must read by any chamber who wants to start or raise their game when it comes to social media.

The book has many great suggestions but I wanted to focus on the frequency template that they describe.

The 1, 7, 30, 4, 2, 1 rule:

  • 1 – daily tweets
  • 7 – weekly blog post
  • 30 – monthly blog post on a recent meeting
  • 4 – quarterly research paper
  • 2 – biannual webinar roundtable
  • 1 – annual best practices, book, etc.

And don’t forget the title of the book, Content Rules. That's key!

Your social media should not be used as just another marketing tool. Use it to deliver content and encourage discussion on the important topics facing the business community, like growing their business, complying with regulations and electing pro-business candidates.

It’s been said before you can’t be all things to all people. The same is true with social media. You can’t be on all platforms and be successful!

Find out where your members are hanging out in the social media space and build a reputation in that space. It could be a blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, or some other platform.

It seems to me that every time I turn around a new tool is introduced in social media and is hyped as the next best thing.

Go where your members are and potential members are, don’t wait for them to come to you.

Content Rules!

For the latest articles in content marketing go to the Content Marketing Institute’s blog HERE.

Past Chairman’s Club

What a great resource that’s at your fingertips.

If you don’t have a “Past Chairman’s Club” you might think about creating one.

The following reasons are just a few good examples of why they could become your best asset and sounding board.

What might you add to the list?

  • They no longer have a dog in the fight;
  • They are seen as an elder statesman;
  • Great sounding board for new ideas; and
  • They could be a buffer to current board members.

The key to a successful “Past Chairman’s Club” is all in the set-up. Set ground rules:

  • Attendance is mandatory;
  • Financial support of the organization; and
  • Confidentiality.

What should you do in return? Create a special program for the “Past Chairman’s Club” (i.e., breakfast speaker series that will enhance their knowledge or business). It’s important to meet on a regular basis (i.e., quarterly, or bi-annually).

Once you decide on the frequency, stick with it. They will put it on their calendars as a must attend event.

In my opinion, this is a case of “if you build it, they will come.”

Applications for Committee Participation

A strong volunteer structure ensures a successful chamber!

It has been said before our volunteers need to be the leaders in the community.

But in addition to that, they need to commit to your organization if they are to participate on a committee or your board.

At the very least, the following needs to be considered when selecting potential new committee members:

  • Intellectually committed;
  • Willing to participate (mandatory attendance on key meetings);
  • A leader in the community; and
  • Financial commitment.

If your volunteers don’t commit to the organization, why would your members? Remember, we are membership organizations.

Your members need to lead!

For an example on how one association handles the application process for committee participation go HERE.

Controversial Issues – Take a Stand!

It’s not supposed to be easy all the time.
A controversial issue for one chamber may not be controversial for another.

What topics in your community would be a “hot issue” or “controversial issue?”

The following items are just a couple of examples of what might be a hot topic in your community.

What would you add to the list?
  • Endorsing a candidate for public office;
  • Support/oppose a specific piece of legislation; or
  • Supporting a new building project
I, like many others, suggest you should address it head on. Do your research, bring it before the board and publically tell your members why you’re going to take that position.
It’s been said here before, be transparent. As long as you’ve done your due diligence and the board has signed off, don’t back down. Publically support or oppose the action that your board took a stand on.
At the end of the day, your chamber will gain respect and many would suggest more members.
I remember a chamber executive telling me many years ago, “if you’re getting shot at, you know you’re over the target.”
Something to think about!

When Hiring Staff Set Your Expectations

What do you look for when hiring a new staff member to join our team?

There is no question that the wrong hire can be devastating to your chamber.

I’d like to share a general philosophy I’ve used over the years when hiring new staff members.

While this is only one aspect of what I look for in a new employee, it’s worth a review.

  • Professional – very simply, this means to me, looking professional (dress), acting professional (treat others with respect).  We are a social society and what is one of the first questions you get when you meet someone new?  Where do you work?  That staff person is an extension of your organization 24/7.  We’re all always on!
  • Positive Attitude – our staff’s are doing more with less over the past couple of years.  There is nothing worse than a negative attitude, the rumor mill that will make any chamber become dysfunctional, especially with the small staffs that many of us work under.
  • Strong Work Ethic – while this is tough to detect in an interview, you want a person that is self-motivated and a smart hard worker.  These are the people who will always do the right thing whether anybody is watching or not.
  • Results Oriented – are your staff members focused on the chambers bottom line?  Are they cognizant to the fact that the organization met its overall recruiting goal, retention goal, or met the number of attendees at your annual meeting?

If you hire people who have the above attributes and are results oriented I suggest you’re going to hire a winner.

And, your chamber will be better off because of it!

Managing Volunteers: Setting Expectations

As staff leaders, it’s important for us to set expectations for our volunteers.

Have you considered giving them a job description?

If not, I suggest you do.

Being selected to join a committee is an honor and a responsibility to support the organization goes with that commitment.

I suggest two things:

  1. Create a job description and hand it out at your next volunteer orientation session.  Your volunteers will take your lead.
  2. And after that, if they don’t commit, thank them for their service and recruit a new member to join your leadership team.
Remember, being on a committee is a resume builder for each of your volunteers.  They need to earn that honor.

I’ve said it before, set the expectations up front.  No surprises!  Let them know you want their intellectual capital, full participation and financial support.

Don’t accept anything less!

For additional resources on volunteer management go HERE and HERE.

Young Professional Groups

Why do we divide up our membership and is it the right thing to do?

If your chamber is like most chambers you’ve started, thought about starting or you’ve already disbanded your young professional group.

The concept sounds good, start a young professional group to bring in fresh faces and grow your membership.

The challenge is why commit to a program that is separate and many times has a different focus than your mission.

At least early indications show that many young professional groups were just another networking event at the local watering hole amongst them-selves and did nothing to help the bottom line of the chamber or its mission.

Shouldn’t they be networking with your seasoned members? Creating new contacts across generations? That’s how I was taught to get ahead, network with people who have more experience than you and more contacts than you.

To me we’re just creating a new silo within our organizations. Speaking of silos, haven’t we spent the last ten years trying to dismantle them?

Our chambers should be promoting programs that benefit all our members not just certain segments, right?

In the financial world we’re very aware of the transfer of wealth for the aging baby boomers to their kids.

Shouldn’t the same concept hold true for the next generation of business leaders? Where else will they go?

They should network with your current members. We need to be in the business of raising the tide for all our boats (members).

Just a thought!

Engaging New Members

We all know that first year members don’t renew at the same level as our base members.
Why is that? Engagement.
In some chambers, that can be a difference of up to 40% (i.e., base member’s retention rate of 85% and first year member’s retention rate of 45%).
What are you doing to engage that first year member?
If you don’t have a formal plan, now is the time to create one. At a minimum, the following should be considered in any first year member engagement plan:
  • Welcome letter and membership kit;
  • Follow-up phone call 90 days into the membership;
  • Sign-up for something on your website; and
  • Get them to a chamber event.
It’s a fact - an engaged member is a retained member.
Create that first year member engagement plan today!

Membership Equations

I thought I’d share a list of equations that membership professionals have been using over the years to track their membership and marketing results.

It’s important to know your numbers so you can chart your success.

Membership is a numbers game -- make sure you’re tracking your results with these simple equations.

Renewal Rate

(Current members minus Number of new members) divided by Number of members in the past year


1 minus Renewal Rate

Market Penetration

Number of current members divided by Number of potential members

Average Dues Revenue

Total Dues Revenue divided by Number of Members

Average Non-Dues Revenue

Total Non-Dues Revenue divided by Number of Members

Average Cost to Service a Member

Total Membership Expenses divided by Number of Members

Lifetime Value of a Member

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

Keep these formulas handy. Know your numbers!

Just Say No!

Easier said than done!

Agreed, but you need to find a way to say no or your chamber will try and be all things to all people.

We can’t be all things to all people. Let me repeat that, we can’t be all things to all people.

Successful chambers figured that out a long time ago. Decide what kind of chamber you want to be and live it every day.

Read previous post HERE on the Hedgehog Theory from Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great. Through your strategic planning process you should have the road map to success.

Are you an advocacy chamber, economic development chamber or a networking chamber?

I’d suggest you should be known for one and live that brand. I’m not suggesting which you should be, just the fact that you should focus on one of them as your brand.

Your brand on the street should be:

  • The chamber that advocates;
  • The chamber that brings jobs to the community; or
  • The chamber where you can network for business opportunities.

I’ll grant you that you may be doing all three, but pick one to plant your stake in the ground.

That’s your marker. That’s your brand!

What is Your Core Competency?

As a competent chamber executive, we are constantly responding to member requests, trends in the industry, etc.

But do we spend enough time figuring out what are our core competencies?

A starting point is to survey your members (for a blog post on survey tools click HERE).

Identify what they want and prioritize. Put the appropriate resources in place to deliver on these core competencies once they’ve been identified.

As you are aware they may be different depending on your local situation and make-up of the community (i.e., political, networking, education, etc.).

The Western Association of Chamber Executives (W.A.C.E.), in 2010, released its latest study on the subject. Based on respondents from 15 western states, the top five core competencies members want from their chamber are as follows:
  1. Creating a strong local economy
  2. Promoting the community
  3. Providing networking opportunities
  4. Representing the interest of business with government
  5. Political action
If you have not led your board through a recent strategic planning session to identify your core competencies, their toolkit is a good starting point. Or, this previous blog post on a board retreat might be helpful.

And, once you’ve identified these core competencies, don’t forget to measure your results on how you’re delivering on their importance to your membership.

Good luck!

Nonprofit Governance

On a recent plane trip across the country I had the opportunity to read a lengthy article by John Carver and Miriam Carver, titled Carver’s Policy Governance Model in Nonprofit Organizations.

I wanted to share my take of the article and encourage you to read the original HERE.

A few key concepts that hit home for me and I'd like to share with you were:

  • Trade associations are owned by their members - chamber’s that means your small business owners own the chamber, not you, not the community.
  • The Board as a body speaks for the ownership, not individual board members.
  • The Board has one employee, the CEO. The board only speaks to the CEO, not staff.
  • Boards should not just approve committee reports but use these documents as a basis for the board to make decisions (i.e. policy) on behalf of the organization.
  • Board meetings are not about going over the past. Board meetings should be about large decisions and the future of the organization.

Do yourself and your chamber a favor and take the time to read this article and make your own notes and observations for further discussion with your board.

Read the entire article HERE.

It’s a great read!

What Are You Going to Stop Doing?

We need to ask this question more often.

It doesn’t have to be at the end of each year. It could be at your next board meeting.

Remember, we can't be all things to all people.

Do your chamber a favor, go back five years and right write down all the new programs or initiatives you’ve started on the left side of a sheet of paper.

Now write down all the things you’ve stop doing on the right side of that same sheet of paper.

I’ll bet that the left side has a lot more items than the left. Why? Like our peers across the country they’ve had five new chairmen each with their own special project that they support.

In fact, we’re doing more with less. We’re on that conveyer belt of life. Doing the same thing over and over because that’s the way we’ve always done it.

I challenge you to add more items to the right side of the sheet. It may allow your chamber to appropriate the proper resources to the programs you decide to keep and they may become more successful.

Not only should you review what the chamber should stop doing but what are you personally going to stop doing to free up your time and burnout?

I fall in the same trap you do. I feel I must read every email, article or book for work. Well, you don’t need to read them all, just the important ones.

Your homework assignment, identify which important thing you need to focus on and put the rest in the circular file.

It’s liberating!

Keys to Holding Effective Board/Committee Meetings

Board meetings, committee meetings or task force meetings, it doesn’t matter, they should all be conducted in the same manner.

All meetings should start on time. They should be done at a venue that is conducive to conducting a business meeting (i.e., AV, room set-up, etc.) and don’t forget the refreshments.

The key to a well-run meeting starts with a well thought out agenda. Your agenda should be a product created by the board chair and the chief staff executive.

The agenda should have a timeline attached to each item, it should include a consent calendar and clearly identify if there are any action items that need to be addressed.

Remember, you don’t have to discuss every item at every board meeting. Here’s a sample agenda to get you started and should be completed in one hour:

  • Introduction/Roll Call (5 minutes)
  • Approval of the minutes (5 minutes)
  • Chairman’s Report (5 minutes)
  • Mega issue discussion (40 minutes)
  • Consent Calendar (approval of the consent calendar takes no time)
    1. Finance Committee Report
    2. Government Relations Committee Report
    3. Education Committee Report
    4. Leadership Committee Report
    5. Membership Committee Report
    6. Foundation Report
  • Other (5 minutes)
  • Adjournment (date of the next meeting)

Please note that the committee reports under the consent calendar could be a full agenda item at any meeting.

It all depends on the time of year and what those standing committees are working on and whether there is a need for board approval (i.e., taking a position on a legislative matter, endorsing a candidate, etc.).

It should also be noted that any item on the consent calendar can be pulled off and discussed at the full board meeting.

Having said that, the more items you can put under the consent agenda, the smoother your board meetings will go. And, stick to the times you’ve attached to each item.

Good luck with your next board meeting!

For a comprehensive overview of a board chair and board member best practices packet by the nonprofit alliance at the Kellogg Community College go HERE.