Never a Transaction: A Relationship

I recently attended a conference that featured Chris Brogan (top blogger) as a general session speaker on membership activities and social media.

His statement, and the title of this blog post, is so true.  We must never let our members think they're just another transaction.

Remember the previous post on membership equations, especially the "Lifetime Value of a Member" blog post which can be found HERE.

That's why you build relationships and never treat your members like a transaction.

You want members for twenty plus years, not two!

Think about the products you love and I bet you feel as if you have a relationship with that product/company -- I do with Canon cameras.

I'm getting that way with Apple products -- I haven't transitioned completely from the PC to the MAC, but it's just a matter of time, I know it.  I currently go back and forth between the two.

Why, because Apple builds a relationship with you.  They make you feel special.  When I buy an Apple product, I feel like the relationship is getting stronger, it’s not just another transaction.

If you're like me, you started with the shuffle, moved on to the iPod, iTouch, iPad, iPad Mini, and let's not forget the iPhone (multiple versions) we bought somewhere along the way.

That's a relationship, not a transaction!

Lapsed Membership Mailings

What's your strategy?

Do you conduct an annual lapsed member mailing?  Or do you conduct it twice a year?

Lapsed mailing campaigns can be very effective.

The key is to make sure your data is up-to-date.  In our business people are moving around and changing their contact information on a regular basis.

Clean your data, and send that lapsed mailing out today.  You'd be surprised what your results might be.

I've been managing membership campaigns for over 15 years now and it is a part of my direct mail strategy.  And by the way, it has always generated money and members.

I've done the mailings in two ways:

  • Invoice only; or
  • Invoice with a cover letter talking about the latest activities of the organization that they may have missed.

At the end of the day, you want the invoice to get in the hands of the finance department, since they pay the bills.

In my experience, I've noticed that if you just send the invoice, it gets forwarded to the finance department and you'll get a quicker response then with a cover letter.

What's important is that you do one or the other.

Get started today with that lapsed membership mailing.  Find out which method works best for your chamber!

For resources on membership marketing go to Marketing General, Inc. HERE.

What's Your Goal Using Digital Media?

At a recent conference, I attended a breakout session with the same title of this blog post.

What did I get out of the session?

Three key points that I took away were:

  • Message needs to be a benefit not an annoyance;
  • Integration of data/information is key to your audience; and
  • Media agnostic, on demand, mass communication with personalized content needs to be in real time.

I especially want to focus on the last bullet since I believe it's a key component of running a successful digital campaign.

You can't just focus on one medium (i.e., web, a social media platform, etc.).  You must be on all, web, mobile, audio and video and then find the platform where your members our listening (i.e., Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.).

Make no mistake about it, this is not easy to do.  Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good.

For a list of Jay Baer's top 33 digital marketing blogs go HERE.

Just get started today!

Research: Know Your Member

I recently was reading a "100 Super Hints Revealed" document produced by Marketing General Incorporated.

Go HERE to get the original document.

I've talked about the importance of needs assessment survey's and the tools available to conduct them.

For that blog post go HERE.

Having said that, I wanted to focus on two points in the last section under research of the Marketing General report:

  1. It's what you know, not what you suspect; and
  2. Beware of the board's perspective.

This is so true!

Don't get in the habit of guessing what your members want from past history or current staff thoughts. Survey your members and know for sure what they want.

The second point is sensitive. Ideally, your board members are the leaders of the community, but remember, they are a select group of your entire membership.

Conduct the survey and then use your board to prioritize the results. Don't let them add additional items your members don't want or feel is a priority.

It’s been said here time and time again. You can't be all things to all people.

When it comes to your members:

  • Ask
  • Prioritize
  • Deliver

That's an equation for success!

Volunteer Management

Volunteer management is not new.  In fact, I've written about it before HERE and HERE.

Some chambers have been around for over one hundred years.  Some close to two hundred years.

We are membership organizations and volunteer management is a key to a successful chamber.

I’d like to focus on three elements of successful organizations from my perspective:

  • Transparency – in today’s age you must be transparent.  Be open.  You have nothing to hide.  Also, get that financial statement in your annual newsletter or report.  Show your numbers.  Your volunteers and members will appreciate you for that.
  • Trust – many of us learned from our parents that if I can’t trust you, you have nothing.  That’s so true!  If you lose the trust of your board your days are probably numbered. So build that trust not only with your board but with all your members.
  • Equal Partner – it has been stated that in the new association module equality is a critical step.  I totally agree.  You are an equal partner, not just a note-taker.  In addition, and I’ve said it before, make sure you are playing a role in the nominating process to build a strong board.

Remember, chambers have been around for a long time.  The one constant thing about our organizations are the volunteers.

While the CEO staff tenure is typically 3-5 years, shorter than the average tenure of a board member, it’s imperative to have a strong board of directors.

That’s what volunteer management is all about at the end of the day!

For a list of resources on volunteer management click HERE.

Most Trusted Marketing: Word of Mouth Marketing

Even with the ease of today's technology to reach prospective members, never forget that word of mouth marketing continues to be one of the most effective ways of getting your message out and heard.

Think about that!

How many times have you gone to a restaurant at the recommendation of a friend that you've never heard of before their recommendation?

In the old days we called those members "blue birds."  They just flew in, paid their dues and became members.

Don't take this concept too lightly.  It could be one of your most effective ways of recruiting new members.

In a previous position, I was responsible for membership at a major professional society, one half of all our new members each year were from member referrals, or what we called our member-get-a-member campaign.

And yes, we had a robust member-get-a-member campaign.  You should think about having one too!

That's right, it's just another name for word of mouth marketing.  Get your members to spread the word!

For more information on word of mouth marketing go HERE.  For two case studies written by Matt Knight go HERE.

And for Wikipedia's take on word of mouth marketing go HERE.

Social Media Training for Your Members

Do you know how many of your small business members are experts in social media or know nothing about social media?

There have been many articles on delivering value to our chamber members.

Delivering value is about solving problems!

Why not start a monthly training session on social media that addresses:

  • The pro's and con's of the different platforms chambers are using today (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Blog, YouTube, etc.);
  • How to get online and create a content calendar (a previous blog post on Content Rules and be found HERE;
  • Measuring outcomes with the likes of Google Analytics, etc.; and
  • Share successes and failures of other businesses who have played in the social media sandbox.

These monthly sessions should be great to not only get those members online that are not currently online, but improve the techniques of those already on the Internet to help them grow their businesses.

Find a college student who you can hire once a month (first Friday of the month) to conduct a one hour session over coffee.  Be consistent with the same time and venue each month.  Whether 10 or 1 show up, you're providing value.

For a great resource on content marketing go HERE and visit HERE for social media tips or visit my blogroll on the right navigation bar for other resources.

In addition, here's three websites I visit on a regular basis Copy Blogger, Jeff Bullas and Content Marketing Institute.

Solve your member's social media problems by creating a monthly training session on how to use the latest tools on the market (free or fee based tools).  Click HERE for 14 Social Media Marketing Tools Recommended by the Pros.

That's a great way to engage your members on a regular basis and solve their social media challenges!

Chamber Mergers: Lessons Learned

At a recent best practices session with a dozen of seasoned chamber CEO's the topic of mergers was addressed.

With a sluggish economy it was suggested that there will probably be more mergers or outright closings of chambers in the future, not less.

Let's start with a couple of facts:

  • There are over 7,000 chambers of commerce in this country
  •  Local chambers are in competition with each other

Now that we can agree that mergers are inevitable in our business, as discussed in this session, I thought I'd share a few comments from the panel.

The following statements we're made:

  • Most difficult thing I've ever done!
  • Put people on your board who can be change agents
  • You may not have a job at the end of it
  • It's emotional
  • In today's global economy there will be more mergers in the future
  • Address all the issues
  • You must believe in the merger
  • Potential companies don't look at community lines, it's bigger than that

But at the end of they day, you need to do what’s best for the organization and the surrounding community.

Can you come up with any partnerships with surrounding chambers of commerce?

For some research on the subject of nonprofit mergers by the Stanford Social Innovation Review go HERE.

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

Chambers have been talking about strategy and strategic planning for years.

Yes, it’s important but I buy into the title of this blog.

You can have all the ideas in the world, but if you don’t have a culture to implement those ideas, you’ll end up spinning your wheels.

What do I mean by culture?  Staff and volunteers have to trust each other. My take:

  • Staff and volunteers working together
  • Staying true to your mission
  • Transparency
  • The ability to try new things
  • Trust

I talked about failing forward in a previous post HERE and it’s important to support the concept (the CEO and Board).

My final comment on this is the last bullet above.  If you don’t have trust you have nothing.

For an interesting blog on culture in the workplace go HERE or follow them on Twitter @WorkXO.

Chamber Loyalty: Do You Have It With Your Members?

There has been a lot written about this concept over the years.

Loyalty programs are programs that keep your members coming back.

Sounds like a golden handcuff to me!

For a previous blog post on golden handcuffs go HERE.

Think of the following loyalty programs:

  • Costco
  • Airline Programs
  • Credit card rebates
  • Dunkin Donuts

To build loyalty you need to have something your members can’t do without.  Have you identified what that is for our chamber?  Is it:

  • A directory
  • An advocacy program
  • Access to government officials
  • An affinity program (insurance, etc.)
  • Other

I like to call it a core good that your members can’t do without.  What is your core good?  It is critical that you can answer that question.

If you can’t answer that question you’ll continue to struggle with who you are, who you want to serve, and I bet you’re struggling with growing membership.

People will continue to be loyal as long as you’re delivery value.

As a side bar, I’ve been a Canon camera guy for over 35 years now and I’ll never change as long as they continue to deliver the goods.

Don’t you want to be like Canon or Nikon?  These two companies have the loyalty equation down pat.

Just a thought!

Are You Solving Problems For Your Members?

If not, you should be.

There has been a lot of talk recently about delivery value to your members.

And by the way, a networking event is not solving a problem.

Solving a problem is helping with a regulation, complying with a new law or getting information so your business member can grow their business.

Do you have toolkits on how your small business members can:

  • Write a business plan;
  • Gain access to capital; or
  • Learn effective marketing techniques.

Especially now with the Internet and social media as a free resource, it's time to step up and solve some problems!

For some of your members, you might want to teach them how to use social media to help them get their message out and grow their business.

If your members think of you as a problem solver, I'm suggesting that will be a happy and retained member.

Solving problems will grow your membership and your community will benefit from that growth.

I like that combination!

Membership Marketing Plan Toolkit

Do you have a membership marketing plan that sets your strategy for your upcoming year?

Don’t run a membership campaign without a plan and make sure you’re measuring your results.

All plans can be tweaked but they shouldn’t be thrown out.

If you’re thinking about throwing out your plan, you didn’t do your homework to start.

Here’s a few things to think about as you set a plan in motion:

  • Who’s are target
  • What’s the frequency for communicating
  • What’s the offer
  • What’s the timetable for this campaign
  • How are we going to measure success

You will need to decide what constitutes success for your chamber, but a few things that would be on my lists:

  • Revenue vs. costs
  • Number of members recruited
  • Time it took to run the campaign
  • Diversity of members

It’s time to start your plan today!

A great resource on the subject is Marketing General Inc.'s annual survey.

Click HERE for a copy.

Mobile: What’s Your Plan?

Are you in the mobile space?

Are you thinking about the mobile space for your chamber?

Let’s start with a couple of statistics (provided by ComServe and SoMobile 2013):

  • 42% of phones in the U.S. are smartphones
  • More than 110 million smartphone users in the U.S. and Europe access social networks and blogs on their phones

Now let’s add your website to the mix.  Now it’s important to note that you can’t just put your website on a mobile device.

Many chambers are using mobile apps through third party companies or their CMS (content management system).

All the research I’ve read makes the same statement.  Your mobile application must be user friendly.  Chris Brogan recently said "if there’s more than two items on the smartphone screen it’s too many."

I’m not sure I buy into that theory, but you need to really think about what your mobile presence looks like.

One thing is for sure.  Your mobile look cannot be your website on a smaller screen.

In the old days we talked about how your website cannot be your brochure.  I remember those days.  Do you?

We’re transitioning to mobile like we transitioned to websites 10 years ago. Something to think about!

For a list of resources on the mobile web click HERE and for a list of FAQ's click HERE.

Advocate: What’s Your Chamber’s Role?

As described in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, advocate means…one that pleads the cause of another.

By definition the word advocacy means...the act or process of advocating or supporting a cause or proposal.

The Chamber should be upfront and center when it comes to advocating for its small business members.

That advocacy might be:

  • Advocating at the state legislature;
  • Advocating for a strong workforce;
  • Advocating at the local planning and zoning committee; or
  • Advocating the importance of networking.

Whatever it is you do for your members, you can put the word advocate in front of it and it should absolutely describe what you do.

If you don’t play the role of advocate for the small business community, who will?

You’ve heard the phrase before “if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu for dinner.”

Your role as a chamber leader is to make sure your members always have a seat at the table and not be eaten!

Social Media Statistics

I was reading an article that was titled 52 Cool Social Media Facts.  For a copy of the entire article go HERE.

At the very least, the numbers are astounding.  A couple of things I took away from the piece were:

  • People are embracing the use of social media;
  • There is always a new tool around the corner to entice your participation;
  • We are way beyond the days of just Facebook and Twitter; and
  • We are still grappling with measuring ROI as it relates to making money on our programs through these marketing channels.

One constant that continues to ring true throughout everything I’ve read is that you need to identify what social media tools your members are using and focus on those tools as a way to communicate with them.

You can’t be everything to all people. Sound familiar?  It applies to social media too!

Do your research and find out where your members are spending their time in the online space, and participate, lead the discussions in that space.

Good luck!

For a blog post on social media metrics by buffersocial go HERE.

Do Your Members Feel Wanted?

Many articles and books have been written on membership.

One concept I buy into in membership is we need to make our members feel wanted.

It’s a simple concept!

Think about it, don’t we all want to be wanted?

That’s what relationships are all about.  And as chamber execs we are in the relationship business.

Speaking of relationships, that’s the other key point I took away from the book titled, The End of Membership as We Know It.

There is no question we are in the relationship business.

Not only the relationship with the member but the relationships we have with:

  • Elected officials - if you’re in the advocacy business;
  • The planning committee - if you’re in the economic development business; and
  • Your leadership program - which is building relationships throughout the community with the next generation of leaders (high school or young professionals) in your community.

Treat your members the way you want to be treated – wanted!

You take care of them, they’ll take care of you.

Program Based Budgeting

As chamber leaders it’s important for us to fully understand our budgets and the budgeting process.

What is program based budgeting?

Simply put, it loads all the costs (i.e., food and beverage, marketing, rent and most importantly staffing) into the equation.

That way you get a true sense of whether a program/event is making money or losing money.

Don’t get caught in the trap of running programs and events that lose money and call it a member benefit.  Don’t laugh, we all do it!

There’s only one exception to this rule that I can think of and it’s your government relations (GR) budget.  That is a direct expense and it is a direct benefit to your members.

One could argue that may be the only reason a number of your member’s join. Chamber’s need to represent their members before elected officials to protect them from onerous regulations.

It’s the monthly luncheons, webinars, annual meeting programs that need to be fully loaded with costs for a proper cost analysis to determine their value, not only to your members but also for the financial stability of your organization.

If it’s not making money, it’s time to sunset the program!

For a program based budget builder from the Wallace Foundation go HERE.

Does Your Chamber Have a Story To Tell?

Competition is everywhere!

The Internet, the chamber in the next town, even some of your members could be providing similar programs to your members.

What’s a chamber to do?

The key is you need to be able to tell your story to your members, your nonmembers and your community.

What is your chamber doing that is unique and a story you can tell to your members, nonmembers and your community?

Tell that story!  And tell it again, again and again.

I was at a conference recently and the following example was given to illustrate the story of this blog post:  An association for landscaping companies cleans up Arlington National Cemetery every year.

Who would not want to be part of that deal?

What a story, and it was suggested that many members of the association join just to be a part of that experience.

What story do you want to tell about your chamber?

Professional Certifications

Do you have any initials after your name?

Are they worth it? Absolutely!

Certifications are not recognitions or a certificate of completion of some course you took online.

No, certification is everything it implies, time in the profession, recognized leader, and oh by the way, yes, you must pass a test just like a lawyer or accountant.

Well in the chamber and association management field we have three:

  • CCE - Certified Chamber Executive
  • CAE - Certified Association Executive
  • CEcD - Certified Economic Developer

And yes, they are worth your time and effort.

It basically makes the statement that you believe in the industry you work in and you have made the commitment to obtain the highest honor your professional society places on that sector.

Like anything worth doing, you need to take the time and effort to go through the process.

For more details on these certifications from the three professional societies that administer the programs:

  • For more information on the CCE go HERE.
  • For more information on the CAE go HERE.
  • For more information on the CEcD go HERE. 

To borrow a tagline from Nike, Just Do It!

Chamber Board and Staff Communications

It’s important that board members and the chief staff executive communicate on a regular basis.

Only you know what works best for your organization.

Here are a few examples that have worked for successful chamber executives over the years with their volunteers:

  • Weekly call
  • Weekly or monthly president’s letter
  • Monthly or quarterly board meeting
  • Annual Report

The list could go on.  The key is that you’ve set-up a mechanism that allows for an open dialogue between the board, the members and the staff.

In order to do that, I think communication and transparency are the key elements for you to be successful.

If all three are on the same page, the chamber and the community will be the beneficiaries.

And you’ll be seen as a leader in the community.  Put another way, that’s job security!

For resources on board and staff communications go HERE and HERE.

Leader vs. Manager in Chamber Management

The official definition according to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary:

  • Leader - something that leads
  • Manager - one that manages

I like to think of it as vision vs. tactics!

We need both leaders and managers to be successful organizations and our chambers are structured that way.

Do you have both?

This post isn’t about becoming one or the other. It’s about recognizing the difference and playing to the strengths of each.

Allow me to draw an analogy we are familiar with – The Strategic Plan.

Pull out your strategic plan. I bet it starts with your mission statement and a vision for what you want to be. But under that you have a objectives and tactics laid out in a bullet format to achieve that vision.

The leaders create the vision (your board), the managers execute the strategy and tactics (chamber staff).

In my 20+ years in the association management field, it’s critical to understand the difference for your chamber to be successful.

Once board and staff understands their role, the opportunities are endless!

Developing a Competitive Workforce

In my last post HERE, I talked about how a strong workforce is a key to a community and the chambers economic development initiatives.

Let’s dig a little deeper into your community’s workforce.

Is your chamber working with the local school system helping to identify the needs of your community’s workforce?

A strong public school system and a post-secondary option is key.

Also, don’t forget the vocations.  Yes, we need doctors, engineers, etc., but we also need electricians, plumbers and carpenters.

Businesses can’t thrive unless they have the employees.

How many books have we all read on leadership, management and to quote Jim Collins, “getting the right people on the bus,” from his breakout book Good to Great?

That’s just another way of saying you need all types of workers to develop a competitive workforce for your community.

Click HERE for resources on building a competitive workforce!

Economic Development

For many chambers economic development is their number one priority.

You’ve heard it said before, if you’ve met one chamber, you’ve met one chamber.

In the chamber business there are some generalizations that I agree with (with exceptions).

  • State chambers – advocacy driven
  • Metro/Regional chambers – economic development/strong workforce
  • Local Chambers – networking

Obviously, each of the three types of chambers listed above are in all three (i.e., advocacy, economic development, and networking to different degrees) but what they specialize in, in my opinion, is accurately stated above.

As for economic development, what are chambers focusing on?  I suggest the following:

  • Financial incentives;
  • Strong educated workforce;
  • Business friendly regulations; and
  • Infrastructure.

Successful chambers focus on all four.

Put your business hat on!  If you headed a company, what would be the things you’d look for in opening or relocating your business?

You'd want to know that the local chamber is tracking each of the four areas listed above to ensure a positive business environment for your company.

A strong business community = a strong chamber!

If you’re focusing on the above four areas, I bet you’re a successful chamber.

For more information on economic development and the profession click HERE.

Advocacy: Three Elements of an Effective Program

What role are you playing in the public policy arena on behalf of your members?

As chambers of commerce, isn't that our primary role to protect our small business members from government overregulation and help them grow their business?

If you're not in the advocacy business, you should be.

All the recent studies I've read, including the recent third edition of the Western Association of Chamber Executives (W.A.C.E.) survey from chamber members across the country are reporting that they want their chamber to play in the public policy space.  It's important to them.

I couldn't agree more.

Do you have a complete government affairs program?  Do you want to build one?  I've always talked about an effective government affairs program is like a three legged stool.

The three key elements are:

  • Direct Lobbying
  • Political Action Committee (PAC)
  • Grassroots

Direct Lobbying

This is where you make direct contact with your legislator and talk about your issue.  The lobbyist is responsible for knowing the issue and the opposite side of the issue.  It’s important to share both sides and explain on why you’re on the right side.  Shouldn’t all issues be voted on the merits of the issue and what’s good for business?

Lobbying is about building relationships with your legislator and their key staff.  It’s just as important that they know you and ultimately check with you before voting on any legislation.  That’s a sign that you’re dialed in.

Political Action Committee

It takes money to get elected and re-elected.  PACs allow you to play an important role in supporting legislators who support your issues.  PAC money is the toughest money to raise so it’s important that you spend it wisely.

Do you have a set criteria laid out that is clear and transparent on whom you support?  If not, you should.  Chambers should be in the business of supporting legislators who support the business community.


While some may argue it’s the most important, rest assured you must have a robust grassroots program to allow you to be effective in the legislative process.  It shows that you have support from the business community on a specific issue.

In grassroots, we talk about key contact or broad based programs.

The key contact program is all about identifying key leaders within your organization and having them contact the legislator.  These individuals are already known by the legislator.  They already contribute to the legislator’s re-election campaign or maybe even campaign for them.

The broad based program allows you to mobilize your entire membership on a specific issue.

Both are important.

For your chamber, it's just good business being in the advocacy business!