I think Chamber professionals are by far the most inspired people on the planet! I’m wrapping up a full week in California, and I am simply overwhelmed with what I’ve seen and experienced in the past 7 days. It all started at the Western Association of Chamber Executives‘ annual conference in LA where I was invited to lead two breakout sessions on Membership and Marketing. Nearly 500 people were signed up for the conference, and roughly 25% of those showed up in my sessions. I met CEO’s and Member Development folks from some of the largest…and some of the smallest…Chambers in the entire United States, but they all came to see if they could pick up some new information that would help them make their communities stronger. After the conference and a weekend with my son in San Diego, I made my way across the state to meet with the staff at the Palm Desert Area Chamber of Commerce where a dedicated team of professionals is looking to find ways to grow their membership for the long-term. CEO Barbara deBoom has been in Chamber work for more than 20 years, and was STILL willing to spend 90 minutes talking with me about what’s new and exciting in membership campaigns. My next stop was the La Habra Chamber and a visit with Mark Sturdevant. Looking for a way to set his little community apart from the rest of the region, Mark led the charge to convert two old train stations into a community theater and a children’s museum, complete with restored train cars and a massive air-powered steam whistle that blows at 12 noon six days a week and can be heard for miles around! I’ll finish today with a day of consulting with the Hesperia Chamber…but this entire trip got me to thinking. All of these people and organizations have one thing in common. Every organization management professional out there wants the very best for their communities, and they’ll work tirelessly to get there, but MANY of us are so busy looking for professional and personal development that we fail to see the opportunities in plain sight and right in front of us. So…let’s take a look at 5 simple (and FREE) tips you can implement IMMEDIATELY that will help you build your team and your community!
- Job shadow with another Chamber in your region: Just because we all do the same job in our communities, doesn’t mean we all do them in the same WAY. Coordinate with another Chamber in your region and allow your communications person to spend a day with THEIR communications person. Or have them send a membership staffer to your office to spend the day with YOUR member development person. Show me a great idea and let me bring it back to my own community to implement it my way. We all get better when we work towards a common goal together.
- Create an informal personal board of advisors: Every Chamber has a Board of Directors that should help lead and govern the organization, but do YOU have a select group of advisors you can turn to personally? Why not create a “brain trust” of smart, resourceful people who can meet once a week over lunch to help each other work through challenges and find creative solutions? Make sure it’s beneficial to all those involved so that nobody loses interest or feels like they’re being taken advantage of, and you should have the beginnings of a solid advisory team!
- Share the data: When you can only afford to send one staffer to a conference or other learning opportunity, have them deliver a recap presentation of the 3 or 4 best things they discovered to the rest of the staff. This is a great way to offer new insights to the entire team, and it helps hold the lucky individual that DID get to attend accountable to bringing back something worth sharing with everyone else. They’ll be more attentive and they’ll take better notes (and hopefully learn more) if they know you’ll be expecting a full report to the staff following the event.
- Take your own advice: As Chamber of Commerce professionals, we are constantly recommending valuable strategies to our members. We tell them to visit a SCORE office or to check out the local Small Business Development Center. We refer them to business coaches and consultants who can help them. We may even connect them with other non-competitive businesses in their industry with whom they might build a “strategic alliance”. Then we go about our day, putting out fires and chasing down the next event sponsor. Your suggestions to your members are dead on! Heed your own words and spend some time with retired professionals and others who can give you some great ideas!
- Make ample use of internships and other free labor: One of the biggest takeaways for ME at the WACE conference was that almost every person in attendance was concerned about what the future looked like. We all know that demographic shift is happening and that we need to be learning about Gen Y and Gen Z…and about what makes them join! What better way than to surround yourself with as many of them as you can as often as possible? And what better way to do THAT then to bring one or two in each semester to work (for FREE) for your Chamber? Partner up with the local college and find some bright, eager young minds to introduce to the Chamber world. But don’t make the mistake of putting them to work as free labor and forget that you can learn as much from them as you can teach them. They’re a valuable resource and may one day be your next member, your next Chairman of the Board or your next City Councilwoman. Tap in now and learn to speak their language before it’s too late.
At the end of the day, we’re all strapped for time, money, energy and enthusiasm. Don’t allow that “starvation mindset” to hamper your efforts or affect your attitude. There are all SORTS of things available to you; many of them free and readily available to you in your own home town right now. Go out and take advantage of them. Be creative. Build your staff, your organization and your community. Most of all, have FUN!