You know, it doesn’t seem to matter how long I’m around Chamber professionals and volunteers. It apparently is of no consequence how many 4-Star and 5-Star Accredited organizations I’ve worked with. The sheer volume of work around the globe with membership organizations notwithstanding, I learn something new EVERY SINGLE WEEK!
Case in point: I spent all day Tuesday with the Loudoun County Chamber in Leesburg, VA. We had facilitated a membership campaign for the chamber back in May of last year, and it was time for our 9-month follow-up visit. Typically, this visit is intended to be full of workshops with staff, the Board, Ambassadors or Diplomats and any other interested volunteers who want to help ensure the retention numbers for the campaign…and ultimately, the Chamber…are strong. However, even as I stood up in front of each meeting to teach my philosophy of creating a culture of engagement within the organization, they shared some pretty incredible ideas that I wanted to share with you.
- Share your knowledge: Most Chambers are doing a pretty good job of hosting educational sessions for members on sales, marketing, financial and other issues that will help them build stronger businesses. But far fewer are reaching out to share their own knowledge with the Non-Profit members of the community. The majority of non-profit organizations out there don’t have the funding or the manpower required to send their people through training the way the Chamber industry does. Sure, those of us who’ve been around the Institute program for any amount of time have seen plenty of Association and Non-Profit folks in class, but how many are from the small, community-based groups we see in our membership? The Chamber created a Non-Profit Academy training and certificate series of educational programs and workshops designed to help local non-profits, professionals and volunteers complement their performance by gaining access to best practices in administration, finance, public relations outreach and resource development. Attendees who complete 40 hours of training earn a “Certified Non-Profit Professional” designation from the Chamber. That certificate ends up hanging on the walls of the non-profit, with the Chamber’s logo front and center as the certifying agency. SMART STUFF!
- Share your resources: In much the same way as they’ve shared their knowledge with other groups in the community who all work hard towards the same end result…a stronger community to live, work and play…the Loudoun County Chamber is also working to share resources with other agencies in its footprint. Connect Loudoun, through its partnership with the http://www.ConnectNorthernVirginia.org web site, is helping make a difference on the ground in their community by helping connect non-profits and those who can help them. Connect Northern Virginia is an interactive online community portal that connects people, organizations and resources so they can easily engage to address important community needs. Now, I’m not advocating that we all reinvent the site at our own Chambers, but perhaps we could all take a look at ChamberForGood.com which does the same type of thing for Chambers across the US. Definitely worth a look, in my opinion!
- Share your ideas: The Loudoun County Chamber has a few standing committees. Like most Chambers, they make an effort to get information from each of the committees to share with the rest of the membership. In most organizations, it’s a difficult task. We don’t have enough staff or enough time to send someone to every meeting, etting busy members to report back can be a bit like herding cats, and sometimes the information we get back is a bit too technical or specific for a general audience that isn’t as familiar with the topic. With all that in mind, my last official meeting of the day was with a group of committee members…one from each committee…and Andrea Lucas, the Chamber’s communications manager. We were creating a special communications team that would serve as liasons to the Chamber. We talked about the overall mission, and then we started to brainstorm. By the end of the hour, we’d determined that these committee members would be responsible for helping to grow the reach of the committee beyond just it’s members, communicating the needs and efforts of each committee, and educating a much broader base on the virtues of the committee’s work. For example, they have a Green Business Initiative with a committee charged with uniting community members with an interest in environmental sustainability, providing the business community with achievable goals for incorporating green practices into their facilities, and managing the Green Business Challenge each year. Now, you and I both know why it’s so important to be “thinking Green” these days, but does Joe the plumber understand? Does he realize the importance of your Military Affairs committee if he doesn’t do any business with the military in your community? Does he have a CLUE what workforce development or economic impact means? It’s the job of this new communications team to help educate members and non-members alike in language they’ll understand. They’ll be working to identify potential guest bloggers and video presenters who can talk about the work of their committees in terms even Joe the plumber can understand. They will be working diligently to raise the profile of their groups and the work they’re doing, both to members and non-members alike. They will be raising awareness and broadening the reach and frequency of the messaging that Andrea is already doing so well. In short, they will be “Brand Apostles” for their individual committees, working to make their efforts mean more every single month. No additional staff time, no additional budget. Just working smarter and sharing ideas.
So what do you think? Are there some things being done in Northern Virginia that you can make your own right where you are? If I can help you activate any of these suggestions in any way, don’t hesitate to reach out! And if you want to talk to the Chamber itself about their programs, I know that their Director of Membership & Brand Strategy, Grafton deButts, would be happy to hear from you, too.
Thanks for reading! Have a Chamber of Commerce day and let me know if there’s anything I can do to support your efforts, or those of your organization!