What Makes a Great Chamber Executive?

Much has been written on this subject matter over time.

For me, I'd like to focus on the following four areas I believe make a great chamber executive:
  1. Leader;
  2. Visionary; 
  3. Communicator; and
  4. Flexibility.
Leader - a leader in our field understands that the Board sets policy for the organization and the CEO's job is to implement that policy with his or her staff.

Visionary - a visionary is a person who is able to see how the organization will implement the policy set forth by the Board to maximize the resources available within the organization to benefit the members.

Communicator - if you can't communicate what you and your staff are doing on behalf of the members, you will always be playing catch-up. Keep your communications clear and consistent.  Tell your organizations story to your members and the community.

Flexibility - in your program of work not everything will go perfectly, if it did you wouldn't be challenged and you would become bored. Flexibility will allow you to meet your goals, even though it may be different then originally planned. 

I did a blog post earlier titled "Owners, Managers, Customers."  It's important that you understand this concept.

It's been stated many times before why most executives get fired?  They get on a different page than their Board, a Board member, or there is a financial issue.

Don't let that happen to you!

The Guy

I was watching TV the other day and a phrase that hit home was, “did you call the guy?”

Are you that guy?

Chamber CEO’s, whether male or female, should position themselves as the guy.

What do I mean by that?

As membership organizations, we talk about how our staff should be thought of as an extension of your members’ staff.  We’re here to solve problems and deliver value to our members.

Communication and information – are two key things, amongst many, that your members want for their dues point.

They want the latest information on their industry sectors and any new regulations they may have to adhere too.

They want that competitive edge to succeed in business and your chamber is positioned well to deliver that information and give them that competitive edge.

No matter how you currently communicate with your members, you and your organization always want to be thought of as problem-solvers, or as the title of this blog suggests, you want to be known as The Guy.

Be The Guy!

Why You Should Set Recruitment, Retention and Revenue Goals Each Month

If you don't set recruitment, retention and revenue goals on a monthly basis you really can't measure your success or lack of success with any accuracy.

Membership is a numbers game, right?

You must track your progress on a regular basis.  What frequency are you tracking your efforts?

Obviously, it depends on the resources at your disposal to create these reports to track your success.

For me, I track on a daily basis (money), weekly basis (number of new members) and monthly basis (retention), the three pressure points in membership.

The key for these reports is to try and get them produced automatically. If you don't have to crunch the numbers it makes it a lot easier.  Today's technology allows for setting up these reports fairly easily.

Most chambers I work with use an anniversary due date for their membership renewals.  If you're in this category, it's imperative that you set up these daily, weekly and monthly reports.

And by the way, armed with these reports, will allow you to accurately budget your membership revenue from year to year.

That's an added bonus when it comes to budget time!

For the latest Membership Marketing Benchmarking Reports from Marketing General Incorporated go HERE.

Are You Clearly Explaining Your Value? Learn to Tell Your Story Better

First, you must have a story to tell.  We all do.

Now let's focus on what your story is!  In other words what does your chamber stand for?  Once you can answer that question, then it's time to build your story around it.

Once you've built your story - tell it!  Tell it everywhere and often.

The key.  State your story and don't change it.  One of our Institute faculty members, Tony Rubleski, used to say "use the COPE theory," create once publish everywhere.

That's something to think about.

If you have a consistent message your audience (your members, your community and your legislators) will know what your chamber stands for.

I hope your story is about advocating for your membership at the local, state and federal levels of government and building a stronger community.

Never forget we're here to serve our members.

Here's a great resource on tips written by Jasmine Henry on storytelling found on Writtent.  That blog post can be found HERE.

3 Ways You Can Engage With Your Board & Membership Each Month

What are you doing to engage your Board and general membership with the activities of your chamber?

The following are three easy ways to keep your Board aware of what you and your staff are working on and any accomplishments that you may have made:
  1. President's letter;
  2. Conference call; and
  3. YouTube chat.
President's Letter - what a great way to stay connected with your Board and for that matter your membership.  Are you sending a weekly or monthly "President's Letter?"  It's a great tool to keep everyone informed and up-to-date on the issues of the day.  Great tool to keep your Board and membership informed when your state legislature is in session.

Conference Call - this tool will allow you to have a give and take with your Board members if they happen to have any detailed questions for you based on what the Chamber is working on.

YouTube Channel - many Chamber's have set-up a YouTube channel to communicate with their Boards and general membership.  This venue allows you go show media or have a give and take session with a policy expert on an issues that your Chamber may be facing.

These are just three simple communication tools you could utilize to keep your Board and membership informed.

While there are many more options, I'd find no more than three that work for you and your Chamber and get started today.

3 Tips To Increase Member Engagement

There's a lot of discussion on the blogosphere on member engagement and how that affects your retention rate.

In fact, I wrote a previous blog post (HERE) that goes into detail with that very subject.

In this post, I want to talk about engaging your members in your program of work.

As you may know, I personally believe chambers should mainly be in the business of advocacy and helping your members run a better business.

Use these 3 simple tips 1) Ask; 2) Follow-up; and 3) Give credit.

Ask - the first step in getting your members engaged is to ask them.  It's important that you have a specific task for them with clear expectations on what it is you want them to do.

Follow-up - now that you've asked them to do a specific task on behalf of the chamber it's important to give them feedback on how they are doing. Communication is key for both parties to be winners.

Give credit - make sure you give credit where credit is due.  Publish in your communication vehicles what your members (by name) are doing on behalf of the organization and thank them.

If you keep to these 3 simple tips you will get more buy-in from your membership at large and the more buy-in you get the higher retention rate you'll get at the end of the year.

That's a win/win for all involved.

If You're Creating a Start-up: Find Your Three Words

On a recent plane ride I read an article (title of this blog post) by Elaine Wherry, co-founder, Meebo, acquired by Google in 2012, and published in the June 12th, 2014 Edition of the Wall Street Journal.

The article is about how a start-up should act and stay focused.

She goes on to say that if you can get your founders to agree on three words that describe your company, your marketing staff will love you forever.

Everyone in our industry is talking about reinventing your chamber for the future.  What better way to start that process by taking the advice of Elaine Wherry and put it to work for your organization, community or industry sector.

What are your three words for your chamber?  Can you get your Board to agree on those three words?

She gave the two following examples and stated that these three words should allow you to answer "1) who you are; 2) what you do; and 3) how you do it."

  • Facebook - "fast, bold, open"
  • Google - "data, big, visionary"

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Institute for Organization Management program uses, "Learn, Grow, Connect."  We've been using those three words in our marketing materials for 10 plus years.

It's also the theme I use in my graduation remarks.

Learn - you just completed 96 ours of non-profit management, if you've not already done so, I challenge each of you to obtain your professional certification, CCE for the Chamber exec and the CAE for the association exec.  Institute has prepared you well.

Grow - go back to your communities and your industry sectors and raise the bar from what you've learned at Institute from your peers and the faculty.

Connect - stay connected to your classmates, and stay connected to Institute.  Consider coming back as a class advisor, faculty member of a Board of Regent.

As chamber leaders it's important to remember that you are professionals - you work in the profession of nonprofit management.

I'm sure you've heard the bricklayer story (it's not mine, but tells a story worth repeating):

A community leader happens upon a construction site and she asks each bricklayer the same question - may I ask what you are doing?

  • The first says I'm laying a brick;
  • The second says I'm building a wall; and
  • The third states I'm creating a cathedral.

Again, as professionals, build those cathedrals in your communities and industry sectors and start by identifying your three words with your board!

5 Must-Have Collateral Pieces in Your New Member Kits

We all know first impressions mean a lot!

Based on that premise, what are you doing with your new member kit, which will be the first impression your new member gets of your organization?

Is it professional?  Is it delivered in a timely fashion?

You should be able to answer yes to those two questions above and here are my list of 5 must-have collaterals in your new kit 1) Welcome Letter; 2) Membership Card 3) Decal or plaque; 4) Features of Membership; and 5) List of Upcoming Events.

Welcome Letter - this should come from your CEO.  Keep it short and sweet, thank them for joining, tell them what the chambers been working on, and tee-up what else is in the new member kit.

Membership Card - ideally this is attached to the letter (hint it will allow you to do a mail merge) and the end product is professional.  Make sure their member number is on the card and you instruct them to put it in their wallet.

Decal or Plaque - I think you know this one!  Ask them to prominently place their membership decal or plaque where others in the community can see it - the businesses front window or by the cash register.

Features of Membership - explain the features of membership and the benefit they will get from those features (i.e., educational program is the feature and the knowledge gained from that educational program is the benefit).

List of Upcoming Events - create a list of programs that are scheduled for the next quarter.  Put it in a form that they can post to a bulletin board or maybe put on their refrigerator that will be a constant reminder of your organizations upcoming events.

Get started on upgrading your new member kit today!

Retention or Recruitment: Which Is More Important?

Depends on who you ask!

From my prospective they're both equally important.  While it's imperative to take care of your current members you must continue to build and keep your eye on the future.

Your chamber will always have attrition (the amount of your members who drop their membership each year).

The key is keeping it to a minimum with great customer service and great programming and gaining more new members than the amount of members you lose each year through attrition.

The better question is whether you have a strategy in place for both of these important aspects of your membership activities.  Remember, we are membership organizations so without them we wouldn't be in business.

Retention plan

In addition to your initial new member kit, each chamber should have their own membership retention plan in place.  I’m not going to list everything you should do, or what may or may not work for you, but here’s a list of things a number of chambers have done with success:

  • 90 day welcome call;
  • Six month "check-in" email; and
  • Three months prior to due date you reach out again and thank them for their membership.

Recruitment plan

Just as you have a retention plan you should also have a recruitment plan.  Again, what works for you may not work for all chambers, but you need to have a plan and stick with it.

  • A good list;
  • Repetition in "the ask;" and
  • Follow-up.

Retention and recruitment, you need to be doing both!

A great resource for measuring your activities and results vs what others are doing around the country can be found in their annual Marketing General Inc. Membership survey.

You can get it HERE.

Conduct More Effective Meetings by Following These 4 Tips

There have been many articles written on the subject manner and my 4 tips are based on conducting hundreds of meetings over the past 20 years.

While I'm sure you have your favorite tips for conducting a successful meeting, I suggest following these 4 tips will get you started in the right direction that you can tweak as you see fit for your specific organization.

1.    Room set-up
2.    Agenda with appropriate background materials
3.    Start on time and stick to the agenda
4.    Robert’s Rules of Order

Room Set-up

Conference room style with name tents in front of all members is a great way to set-up your room.  The names should be on both sides of the name tent so it won’t matter what side of the table you’re on you’ll be able to see the persons name.


Once you’ve decided on an agenda with your board chair, get it out to the board in advance of the meeting.  Keep it short and simple.

And always use the consent agenda to your advantage.

Start on Time and stick to the agenda

Do you create an annotated agenda for you and the board chair?  If not, I suggest you do and it should have times on every item.

This will go a long way of keeping your meeting on schedule and productive.  You don’t want any one board member to highjack the meeting with a subject matter that is not on the official agenda.

For a sample board agenda's and other materials from Bob Harris, Institute faculty member,  go HERE.  Or, go HERE for a great website on board agenda templates.

Robert’s Rules of Order (RRO)

If you stick to the process laid out in RRO I suggest you will find your meetings will run smoothly and on time.  It keeps an orderly fashion to your meeting.  And it’s very simple, motion to approve, do I have a second, discussion, all in favor, all appose?  That’s it!

One final thought, keep your meetings to two hours or less.  You need to be respectful to your volunteers and that they are spending time away from their businesses or organizations.  Think of how you like meetings to run when you’re on someone else’s board.

Good luck in conducting your next great meeting!

4 Ways for Local Chambers to Engage in Advocacy

There are many ways to engage in the advocacy arena.

It's important that you make the distinction between legislative activity and political activity.

The following 4 things are key in having a full on government affairs program for your chamber.

The first two fall under the legislative activity category and the last two are clearly political activities.

1.    Lobbying
2.    Grassroots
3.    PAC's
4.    Endorsements


I've talked about this before HERE and in a nutshell this is where you and your members are having direct contact with your legislative leaders. Preferrably a one-on-one meeting with the member or his or her staff.


This is where you may engage your entire membership in a letter writing campaign or a phone call campaign.  Don’t forget the letter-to-the-editor grassroots tactic.  It can be very productive.


This is a separate entity and designated fund that your members can contribute personal money to, which in turn, allows you to can make direct contributions to candidates.


This is where you go on record and endorse a specific candidate for elected office.  While you may not make everybody happy when you make endorsements it's an effective tool in your government affairs toolbox.  It's important that you use a clear set of criteria to measure candidates so you can decide on endorsing pro-business candidates or incumbents in an open and transparent way.

Remember, the key to making the above four activities successful is having a strong government affairs committee that can vet the above and make recommendations to your full chamber board for consideration and action.

Good luck!

3 Tips for Creating an Online Content Plan

If you're like most chamber's you may have had a few sleepiness nights thinking about creating your chamber’s online content plan.

Not a problem!

I suggest if you focus on the following 3 tips you'll be well on your way to creating great content for your members and community.

1.    Strategy
2.    Discipline
3.    Adaptability


Ask.  Listen.  Plan.  Don't jump without asking your members what they want, listen to their comments and plan accordingly.


Stick to your strategy and don't get caught up in chasing the next big gadget or new platform.  Think members.  You don't want them having to learn a new way of communicating with you (platform) since most people don't like change.


It's imperative that you continue to review your strategy and be able to change as needed.  Let's face it, in the online space it seems like things are changing every other week or month.  Don't chase the beast!

Now once you've thought about the above 3 tips it's now time to spend the next 6-12 months in executing your plan and then take a step back and measure your efforts.

There are many measuring tools out there but many chambers are using Google Analytics and for good reason.

It's free and a very robust tool that will tell you much about your efforts over a period of time you choose to measure.  The new dashboard is very user friendly and you can find more info on the program at this BLOG.

The only mistake you can make in creating an online content plan is to do nothing.

Get started today in creating great content for your members!

Likability and Leadership

I remember reading Tim Sanders' book The Likability Factor many years ago and was reminded of it when I recently attended an educational session led by Bill Graham on The Power of Likability Leadership.

Bill talks about "open face" and how the simple fact of raising the eyebrows allows those people you're communicating with into your circle.

The other points he makes is that "communicating is not an activity but a result."  He went on to say "it's all about what I leave in your head."

Tim talks about how people want to do business with people they like.  In my opinion, that's no different than what Bill's talking about with his "open face" communication concept.

At the end of the day, we should make sure we're imploring both in our communications with members and potential members.

I agree with Bill when he suggests practicing the "open face" technique, you instantly become likable and people will react to what you're saying.

That's an effective two-punch communication strategy.

For more information on Tim Sanders go HERE and for more information on Bill Graham go HERE.

Being likable is being a winner!

3 Tips for Creating a Stronger Organizational Culture

Culture eats strategy for lunch!  I forgot where I heard that but think about it.

I believe it!  Do you?

If we create the right culture in our organizations, the sky is the limit as to what you can do for your members.

Now more than ever since we have up to four generations in our workforce, it important to create this culture that everyone can embrace.

For me the following three are key to building a culture that you can build on:

  1. Trust
  2. Open Communication
  3. Empowerment

Trust - you must be able to trust your employees and for that matter your volunteers too.  It's a working partnership that needs to be constantly worked on and improved.

Open Communication - every employee and volunteer deserves to know what is expected of them in their respective roles as it relates to the organization.  Secrecy and side bar conversations is a huge negative.  If you don't communicate, in my opinion, you'll never create a culture that your staff and volunteers can get behind.

Empowerment - don't you like to be empowered to make a difference? News flash, your staff and volunteers feel the same way.  Set the vision, give them the resources and let them loose.

The results might just surprise you!

For a great resource on culture in the association space go HERE.

What's The Chamber's Role in the Community?

Have you had this discussion with your board lately?

It's a great place to start the next time you conduct that strategic planning session.

I'm not here to tell you what that role is, your members should decide.

There are studies out there that could help you decide or give you some direction on what areas to focus on.

In a recent study by the Western Association of Chamber Executives (WACE) they identified the following four areas based on their 2012 study of 15 western states.

  • Advocacy
  • Economic Development
  • Networking
  • Community

I am a firm believer that you can't be all things to all people.  So don't try and do it, you're just setting yourself up for failure.  Just from life's experiences you know you can't make all people happy all the time.

In fact I wrote about it HERE before.

Focus on what your members want from their chamber and be the best at it!

Killing Sacred Cows - Just do it!

How many of you are still doing the same programs, year after year, and you don't know why or you've been told we've always done them?

Are they well attended?

Are you making money?

If not, let's kick those programs to the curb. For a blog post talking about program based budgeting go HERE.

Are you loading all costs towards your program? In other words are you counting the:

  • Staff costs;
  • Marketing costs (printing, postage); and
  • Food and beverage costs or meeting space fees in your final calculation?

...or are you just comparing the receipts at the door (registration fees) vs. food and beverage and room rental at the venue?

Do the full arithmetic and if it's not making money -- kick it to the curb!

Remember, we can't be running chambers that lose money.

We need to run our chambers like a business and run it in the black. Identify your core programs and make them better.

For a blog post on the Hedgehog Theory go HERE.

The theory suggests you should focus on:

  • What you have passion for;
  • What you do best or can be the best in; and
  • Where you make money.

Where those three meet are the programs you should be doing.

Now that's a recipe for success!

Communications: Set Your Chamber Apart

After being in the non-profit business for more than 20 years, if there's one thing that sets one chamber or association above the other is the way they are communicating their story.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of having a great communications team on your staff.

A consistent message on the activities of your chamber is critical to position you as the leader in the community.

You've all heard the phrase: "if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a noise?"

Well, the same is true for your chamber.  If you're not promoting what you're doing on behalf of your members they will not, nor will the community, have any idea the role your chamber is playing in the success of the community.

Remember, if it's true, it's not bragging!

Focus on what your chamber stands for (advocacy, economic development, community) and communicate that to your members and non-members alike through all of your communication vehicles.

Or as Tony Rubleski would say, use the COPE method – “create once publish everywhere!”

If that's not enough, how about Bill Graham's comment at a recent educational session I attended:

"Communication is not an activity, it's a result." It's about "what I leave in your head."

Everyone wants to be associated with a winner!  There are 7,000 chambers out there.  Don't you want to stand above the rest?

Communicate.  Communicate.  Communicate.

Communicate the winning programs of your chamber and how you're serving your members better than anyone else.

Something to think/talk about!

Are You Charging Extra for Certain Membership Features

This is an interesting statement. Remember, if you've met one chamber, you've met one chamber.

But for discussion purposes, how many chambers are in the ribbon cutting business?

Every chamber executive I talk to that has a robust ribbon cutting program talk about how their members love it.

Well, that's a great opportunity to charge a premium for that feature. That's a special member feature that they should pay a premium for.  It's not a member benefit.  The benefit is awareness of the business to the community from the press received at the event.

Let's take a minute to have a discussion on the difference between a member feature and a member benefit.  And by the way, I've been guilty of using the two words interchangeably.

But, let's be clear, the difference can be illustrated in the following examples:

Member Feature vs Member Benefit

  • 4 tires, two doors on a car vs transportation to the airport
  • Educational program vs knowledge to comply with a new regulation
  • Ribbon cutting ceremony vs public awareness and new business
  • Tissue vs germ free

Talk about the benefits of joining your organization not the features you provide.

Specialize in something!

Innovate or Die

There has been much said about this subject.  I've been in the room when chamber executives talk about how the sky is falling.

Let me be the first to tell you a little secret, the sky is not falling!

We have more opportunities today then we've ever had with the advances of technology and how that has only made our jobs easier, not harder.  We can communicate faster and cheaper with our members than ever before.

At the end of the day, we're in the relationship business.

Innovate really means deliver what your members want and that can and will change from time to time.  Are you doing an annual needs assessment survey?  If not you should.

More on that can be found HERE.

If you're like me, I've been around long enough to know that some new shiny item is really nothing more than what we did in the past under a different name.

Yes, technology has changed the way we do business.  But having said that, don't we all want to have personal relationships with the people we do business with?

I know I do!

Think about your day-to-day life.  We all like to do business with people we know/trust and that’s always been the Chamber industry's strong suit.  We are in the business of connecting people.

Again, don't buy into the "sky is falling" commentary from some in our industry.

Get out there and make a difference for your members!

The 4 Moments of Truth

I was recently reading What's The Future of Business? by Brian Solis who also wrote The End of Business as Usual.

He talks about many things but I wanted to highlight his thoughts on The Ultimate Moment of Truth.

The following four definitions are pulled directly from his book on page 75:

First Moment of Truth (FMOT) - It's what people search and find after encountering the stimulus that directs their next steps.

Second Moment of Truth (SMOT) - It's what people think when they see your product and it's the impressions they form when they read the words describing your product.

Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) - It's what people feel, think, see, hear, touch, smell, and (sometimes) taste as they experience your product over time.  It's also how your company supports them in their efforts throughout the relationship.

Ultimate Moment of Truth (UMOT) - It's that shared moment at every step of the experience that becomes the next person's Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).

Earlier in the book he references A.G. Lafley, in 2005, Proctor & Gamble's CEO, spoke about the FMOT and SMOT.  A.G. states that the FMOT is a 3-7 second period of time when the customer see's your product on the store shelf and decides whether or not to make a purchase.

He further states that the SMOT is when the customer takes that product home and uses it and what that experience feels like.

What's interesting is the fact that now we have technology and Brian talks about the role technology has had on the ZMOT.   Now we have our first view of a product on our mobile device or laptop/desktop not in the store.  So by the time you get to the store your mind is pretty much already made up.

You know, it's funny!

I remember reading the Experiential Economy by B. Joseph Pine, II & James H. Gilmore back in 1999 and they talked about the experience and how people will share that information and come back to your product if they had a great experience.

And this was all before social media hit the scene.

In another twist, what was Malcolm Gladwell talking about in his book Blink back in 2005?  The basic premise of his book states that within two seconds people make decisions/assumptions or the term he uses, "rapid cognition."

That's fascinating!

What I find interesting in the many years I've spent reading the latest from the academic world or business guru's is that we are in the right business, the relationship business!

And make no mistake about it, chambers have always been in the relationship business.  For a previous post on that subject go HERE.

I'll end with a quote from Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, "your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room."

That's really the crux of it, in today's world, they're saying it on social media, which by the way, is just another way of saying you're not in the room, but you can respond after the fact.

After all is said and done, all we're talking about here is relationships. And Chamber's have always been in the relationship business.

The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Service vs. Issue Based Chamber: Which Are You?

As you know, there are over 7,000 local, regional and state chambers of commerce in this country, and in many cases recruiting/engaging the same small businesses.

At the end of the day, "you've got to ask yourself a question" (pardon the line from Dirty Harry - but I couldn't resist).

What does your chamber want to be known for?  Are we relevant?  These are questions your board and members need to ask and decide for a plan of action. 

From my experience there are basically two types of chambers, those that deliver services and those that are advocacy based.

Are you in the services business for your members?  Things that include:

  • Education programs (i.e., monthly luncheon, annual meeting)
  • Leadership Program (yearly program)
  • Networking (ribbon cuttings and after hour events)
  • Etc.

Or are you in the advocacy business?  Things that include:

  • Lobbying at the local, state or federal level
  • Making candidate endorsements
  • Distributing money through your Political Action Committee (PAC)
  • Etc.

Your chamber needs to decide what you want to be and focus on that discipline.  And by the way, it's ok to do both at the same time if you have the resources.

From my standpoint, you should be in the advocacy business.  That way you will always be relevant as long as you play to win at the different levels of government on behalf of your members.

Services?  There are so many opportunities today to network and get programming through a host of organizations (other chambers, for profit companies, your members).  In addition, social media and a Google search on the Internet can help get your members what they want or need.  But that's not the same as you fighting on their behalf.  You have the access and the brand of the chamber.

That's why I believe it's imperative that you stand for something and that something should be the issues that affect your small business members at all levels of government (including the city council when appropriate).

Your members will support and thank you for your leadership in that space!