The Future is Here: 3 Essential Pillars for Your Chamber's Success

By Sheree Anne Kelly 

We’ve never faced a pandemic of this scale in our lifetimes. Add to that global economic impacts that will likely linger for months or even years.

What’s clear is that the role of chambers of commerce has never been more crucial. Not just to help our communities through the pandemic, but to help drive economic recovery.

Our team sought out thought leaders and gathered insight to ensure that chambers not only survive, but thrive on the other side of this economic downturn. Research points to three critical components necessary to build a strong future for your chamber. Our world is changing fast and isn't going "back to normal" anytime soon, so the need for us to adapt is urgent.

How to Build a Chamber of the Future

Mission is Critical - Our missions must be clear, impactful and community focused.  If we are solving the greatest challenges facing our communities, and optimizing our opportunities, then our value proposition is undeniable. Your mission is the passion that drives your work and your community impact. It's your higher purpose. Whether your focus is economic development, workforce and talent, public policy and advocacy, inclusive and equitable growth, or some combination of community impacts, all your work must be driven to accomplish goals tied to this mission. This means letting go of side projects that don't affect the change you're seeking. We have to say "no" so we're more effective at the important things.

I'm not talking about a mission statement. This is committing to the passion that drives community impact. 

Lead with Courage and Purpose - We know chambers are trusted sources of information. But our role as community leaders is critical. Leadership is a spectrum, from conveners gathering stakeholders for problem solving, to a more middle ground serving as the sane center among competing interests, to the other end of the spectrum as catalytic leaders. You may create and lead change on some issues and convene on others. But we are leaders, and we must lead. This doesn’t mean going it alone – collaboration and partnerships will be key to our success.

Do you find yourself spending too much time reacting to external factors? You likely need to rethink your leadership role. Driving change as a catalytic leader moves you from reactive to proactive leadership.

Adapt Our Business Models - We can’t chase money, we have to chase the mission. Building resilient and diversified funding streams to support our community-based work is key to long-term success. Membership dues have been a flattening or declining percentage of revenue for membership organizations for years. As this economic downturn continues, selling a traditional membership will be even harder and less relevant in meeting modern demands for value proposition. Mission-based revenue sources may include investor models, creative sponsorships, monetized events and expertise, fee-for-service activities, and leveraging a 501(c)(3) foundation. We can’t rely on business models that served us 30 years ago, because our world has changed and is evolving even more rapidly today. Adaptations must be made. If not, we may not be around to lead and serve our communities.  

We’re in This Together

So many chambers have innovated through these challenging times. Our team is inspired. And we know continuing to disseminate best practices and innovations - and connecting as an industry to build our future - will make us all stronger. Thank you to those who’ve shared your work with the rest of us. ACCE highlights some of our favorite chamber initiatives each week at  Check it out and see if you can find inspiration too. 

Chamber teams will continue to need grit, passion, innovation, and a collaborative mindset. There’s no other industry out there that can make a greater impact on the future of our communities, and their economies, than our own. We’ll build our future together and history will undoubtedly have a lot to say about the role chambers played in recovery and beyond. 

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