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!

Advocacy: How To Write an Effective Letter-to-the-Editor

There have been a number of "How To's" on this subject matter over the years.

I'm reminded of the days I managed grassroots campaigns for corporate 500 companies and national trade associations across the country and we followed some pretty simple but effective rules.

First and foremost, the legislator's name and how you want the legislator to vote on the specific issue you're addressing must be in the first paragraph without fail.

That’s key!

Those two things in the first paragraph will get the attention of their staff and in turn it will end up on his/her desk to read, if your letter is published.

Second paragraph should talk about the issue in detail.  This is a great time to state the facts and any other information you want out in the public domain.

Close with the action item - vote for or against a piece of legislation. Again, this is key!

It's also important to put your full name and full contact information on this communication.  That's what makes it legit and hopefully published from the papers point of view!  And don't be surprised if you receive a phone call from the paper before they publish your letter-to-the-editor.

Your goal is to get your legislator to support your position. Don't let them off the hook and with the typical "I'll keep your views in mind" should this legislation come up for a vote response, if and when they reach out to you in response to your letter.

Remember, in the grassroots business, you're in the business of influencing a legislator to vote a certain way.  Once you've secured that vote, you move on to the next legislator (most campaigns are targeting multiple legislators at the same time).  That's how the successful grassroots campaigns are run.

While these are basic suggestions, it will give you a better chance of getting that letter-to-the-editor published.

And isn't that your ultimate goal?

Good luck!