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Ben Goldstein on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 11:17:00 am 

Nicki Anderson, president and CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, has a passion for customer service—something she brought with her from a previous role as owner of a personal training studio. As she explains it, customer service in the chamber of commerce profession has quite a few parallels to the her former industry.

“How many people join a chamber, pay their money and just expect magic to happen?” she asked. “It’s no different than in the health and fitness industry, when people come to a health club and expect to see results without doing anything.”

Anderson identifies as a “disrupter,” meaning she tries to experiment and do things differently than the competition. She believes that customer service in any organization is the number one differentiator that leads businesses, or in her case chambers of commerce, to stand out from the pack.

“In this profession, our customers are our members, because if they stop paying, then we don’t have a successful chamber,” she explained. “Nobody raves about average; my goal since day one has been: ‘What can we do to make our customer experience memorable enough—so they not only stay—but want to be an advocate and ambassador for us?’”

When she first arrived at the chamber, Anderson assessed the member retention data, and noticed that new members were dropping at an alarming rate. To find out why, she hired a membership engagement coordinator, who she tasked with contacting new members that declined to renew and asking them what issues caused them to leave the chamber.

“What we discovered is some new members didn’t get the direction they needed when they first joined the chamber,” she explained. “There is a small percentage of people who have a natural ability to dive in and get involved, but many of our newest arrivals felt lost and on their own without guidance.”

Another criticism from new members was the perception that the chamber was too cliquey. To correct this, Anderson began revamping the chamber’s culture, by having conversations with longtime members about becoming more welcoming to new additions.

“I told our ambassadors, ‘When you see someone that you don’t recognize, your first inclination should be to go up, extend a hand and welcome them!” she said. “Since making these changes, we’ve since noticed a dramatic shift in the way people feel a sense of belonging shortly after joining.”

Anderson cites ACCE’s Horizon Initiative: Belonging and Gathering as inspiration for the chamber’s new approach to customer service, which emphasizes the importance of making sure members feel connected to the organization, and part of a larger community.

“Retention wheels are great, but they aren’t enough; it needs to be deeper and more meaningful than just hitting the touchpoints,” she explained. “Everybody who joins an organization wants to have a purpose, and they want to feel like they’re part of something bigger.”

Want to hear more from Nicki Anderson about customer care? Watch our full webinar here.

Tags: Naperville Chamber of Commerce, Customer Service, Membership

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Communicating your chamber's value

Ben Goldstein on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 at 2:25:00 pm 

If you’re a membership sales pro at a chamber of commerce, you’ve probably heard something like this before while recruiting prospective members: “I would love to join, but I just don’t have the time.”

It’s one of the most common objections that chamber professionals hear as they try to recruit companies to join their ranks. And, it’s rooted in a misconception about the value that chambers offer their members and communities.

“If possible, try to identify your value in terms that rely less on attendance and participation,” advises Shari Pash, founder and CEO of Strategic Solutions for Growth, a consulting firm for chambers of commerce and other membership associations. “We have to be able to put our values into words, and then put them into our messaging. What is our brand? What are we known for?”

Pash says that chambers need to do a better job differentiating between members who primarily seek networking opportunities and those who join because they believe in the chamber’s broader mission to advance their communities as better places to work, play and live.

“I like to ask my clients: Are you a member organization that has events? Or are you an events organization that has members?” she says. “So many chambers tell their members’ stories beautifully, but they don’t take the time to tell their own stories.”

When approaching prospective members, Pash advises her clients to think in terms of WIFFM: “what’s in it for the member?” Chamber pros need to learn their value points; both functional services like trainings and discounts, as well as networking services like referrals and exposure.

“Because our prospects don’t know what they don’t know, we need to make sure we ask the right questions,” she says. “The more value points you can learn are important to them, the more effective conversation you will have.”

Even the best recruitment pitches, however, can fall flat when prospective members believe they lack enough free time to get their money’s worth from joining. Pash likens this attitude to that of a gym membership, in which the benefits of joining are only realized if you actually take the time to work out regularly.

“From a mission standpoint, all of the things you’re doing for your members are way beyond having to be involved like a gym membership,” says Pash. “Nowhere in your mission statement is it written that you have to have time to join.”

But, how can you tell if a prospective member will be more receptive to a networking-driven message or a mission-driven one? A good clue, advises Pash, is to look at their size. 

“Small businesses are more interested in exposure and growing their business; they need more customers and clients,” says Pash. “Still, it’s up to us to educate small business on the importance of mission and why it ultimately impacts their success.”

“Larger businesses naturally stay mission-focused,” she continued. “They want to see what kind of values we have and what we provide for the larger community, like education and workforce.”

A good way to develop the tool-set needed to effectively pitch membership have a group strategy session, in which someone transcribes your chamber’s various benefits and value-points in a written document, so the entire team will be on the same page, says Pash.

“There are 520 hours in a calendar quarter, so I recommend taking half a day to work on these tools,” she says. “Think about those four hours you spend. What does that do for the other 516 hours left? Are you more efficient and do you have better outcomes?”

Watch the full Webinar and question-and-answer session here.

 

Tags: Sales, Chambers of Commerce, Membership

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Membership stars take the stage

Ben Wills on Friday, June 16, 2017 at 3:55:00 pm 

Congratulations to winners of this year’s Membership Achievement Awards! These chambers of commerce (listed alphabetically) are in the top 10 (of their revenue category) for retention of members, dollars and/or new members.

Dollars listed based on the chamber’s annual revenue

Up to $450,000

Member Retention
Charles County Chamber of Commerce (La Plata, Maryland)
Cortland County Chamber of Commerce (Cortland, New York)
Dixon Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Dixon, Illinois)
Effingham County Chamber of Commerce (Effingham, Illinois)
Harwich Chamber of Commerce (Harwich Port, Massachusetts)
Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce (Ludlow, Vermont)
Orleans Chamber of Commerce (Orleans, Massachusetts)
Rowan County Chamber of Commerce (Salisbury, North Carolina)
Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce (Shawano, Wisconsin)
Wells County Chamber of Commerce (Bluffton, Indiana)

Dues Retention
Alliance Southwest Louisiana (Lake Charles, Louisiana)
Dixon Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Dixon, Illinois)
Effingham County Chamber of Commerce (Effingham, Illinois)
Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce (Hartsville, South Carolina)
Murray-Calloway County Chamber of Commerce (Murray, Kentucky)
Muskego Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism (Muskego, Wisconsin)
Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce (Ludlow, Vermont)
Orleans Chamber of Commerce (Orleans, Massachusetts)
Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce (Shawano, Wisconsin)
Wells County Chamber of Commerce (Bluffton, Indiana)

New Member Retention
Alliance Southwest Louisiana (Lake Charles, Louisiana)
Charles County Chamber of Commerce (La Plata, Maryland)
Cortland County Chamber of Commerce (Cortland, New York)
Des Moines Downtown Chamber of Commerce (Des Moines, Iowa)
Effingham County Chamber of Commerce (Effingham, Illinois)
Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce (Hartsville, South Carolina)
Murray-Calloway County Chamber of Commerce (Murray, Kentucky)
Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce (Ludlow, Vermont)
Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce (Shawano, Wisconsin)
Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce (Westerville, Ohio)

$450,001 to $900,000

Member Retention
Bartlesville Regional Chamber of Commerce (Bartlesville, Oklahoma)
Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce (Columbus, Indiana)
Greater Burlington Partnership (Burlington, Iowa)
Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce (West Chester, Pennsylvania)
Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce (Wilmington, North Carolina)
Minot Area Chamber of Commerce (Minot, North Dakota)
Pocatello Chubbuck Chamber of Commerce (Pocatello, Idaho)
Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce (Rocky Mount, North Carolina)
Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce (Siesta Key, Florida)
Winona Area Chamber of Commerce (Winona, Minnesota)

Dues Retention
Bartlesville Regional Chamber of Commerce (Bartlesville, Oklahoma)
Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce (West Chester, Pennsylvania)
Greater Burlington Partnership (Burlington, Iowa)
Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce (Wilmington, North Carolina)
Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce (Greenville, North Carolina)
Ludington and Scottville Chamber of Commerce (Ludington, Michigan)
Minot Area Chamber of Commerce (Minot, North Dakota)
Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce (Salinas, California)
Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce (Siesta Key, Florida)
Winona Area Chamber of Commerce (Winona, Minnesota)

New Member Retention
Bay Area Chamber of Commerce (Bay City, Michigan)
Greater Greer Chamber of Commerce (Greer, South Carolina)
Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce (West Chester, Pennsylvania)
Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce (Pennsylvania)
Minot Area Chamber of Commerce (Minot, North Dakota)
Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce (Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina)
Paulding County Chamber of Commerce (Dallas, Georgia)
Pocatello Chubbuck Chamber of Commerce (Pocatello, Idaho)
Temple Chamber of Commerce (Temple, Texas)
Winona Area Chamber of Commerce (Winona, Minnesota)

$900,001 to $2,000,000

Member Retention
Cambridge Chamber of Commerce (Cambridge, Ontario)
Garrett County Chamber of Commerce (McHenry, Maryland)
Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association (Glenwood Springs, Colorado)
Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)
Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce (Lima, Ohio)
Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce (Rutherford, New Jersey)
Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce (Oshkosh, Wisconsin)
Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce (Regina, Saskatchewan)
Vail Valley Partnership (Avon, Colorado)
Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce & Industry (Wichita Falls, Texas)

Dues Retention
Cambridge Chamber of Commerce (Cambridge, Ontario)
Columbia Chamber of Commerce (Columbia, Missouri)
Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership (Erie, Pennsylvania)
Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association (Glenwood Springs, Colorado)
Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce (Topeka, Kansas)
Greater Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)
Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce (Lima, Ohio)
Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce (Holland, Michigan)
Vail Valley Partnership (Avon, Colorado)
Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce & Industry (Wichita Falls, Texas)

New Member Retention
Cambridge Chamber of Commerce (Cambridge, Ontario)
Columbia Chamber of Commerce (Columbia, Missouri)
Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association (Glenwood Springs, Colorado)
Grapevine Chamber of Commerce (Grapevine, Texas)
Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce (Topeka, Kansas)
Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce (Humble, Texas)
Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership (Ocala, Florida)
Southwest Indiana Chamber (Evansville, Indiana)
Vail Valley Partnership (Avon, Colorado)
Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce & Industry (Wichita Falls, Texas)

$2,000,001 to $5,000,000

Member Retention
Arkansas State Chamber/Associated Industries of Arkansas (Little Rock, Arkansas)
Buffalo Niagara Partnership (Buffalo, New York)
Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce (Centerville, Massachusetts)
Chamber of Commerce of Fargo Moorhead West Fargo (Moorhead, Minnesota)
Fox Cities Chamber (Appleton, Wisconsin)
Kalispell Chamber of Commerce (Kalispell, Montana)
North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce & CVB (North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina)
Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce (Rapid City, South Dakota)
St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce (St. Joseph, Missouri)
Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce (Toledo, Ohio)

Dues Retention
Arkansas State Chamber/Associated Industries of Arkansas (Little Rock, Arkansas)
Billings Chamber of Commerce (Billings, Montana)
Buffalo Niagara Partnership (Buffalo, New York)
Chamber of Commerce of Fargo Moorhead West Fargo (Moorhead, Minnesota)
Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC (Colorado Springs, Colorado)
Kalispell Chamber of Commerce (Kalispell, Montana)
Louisiana Association of Business & Industry (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce (Rapid City, South Dakota)
St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce (St. Joseph, Missouri)
Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce (Toledo, Ohio)

New Member Retention
Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce (Dayton, Ohio)
Fox Cities Chamber (Appleton, Wisconsin)
Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce (El Paso, Texas)
Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce (Burlington, Vermont)
Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce (Rapid City, South Dakota)
St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce (St. Joseph, Missouri)
South Bend Regional Chamber (South Bend, Indiana)
Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce (Toledo, Ohio)
York County Economic Alliance (York, Pennsylvania)

Above $5,000,000

Member Retention
Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Georgia Chamber of Commerce (Atlanta, Georgia)
Greater Cleveland Partnership (Cleveland, Ohio)
Greater Louisville Inc. (Louisville, Kentucky)
Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce (Omaha, Nebraska)
Hilton Head Island - Bluffton Chamber of Commerce (Hilton Head Island, South Carolina)
Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce (Mobile, Alabama)
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina)
Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce (Davenport, Iowa/Moline, Illinois)
Tulsa Regional Chamber (Tulsa, Oklahoma)

Dues Retention
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce (Brooklyn, New York)
Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce (Chattanooga, Tennessee)
Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Georgia Chamber of Commerce (Atlanta, Georgia)
Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce (Omaha, Nebraska)
JAX Chamber (Jacksonville, Florida)
Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce (Mobile, Alabama)
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina)
Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce (Davenport, Iowa/Moline, Illinois)
St. Louis Regional Chamber (St. Louis, Missouri)

New Member Retention
Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce (Asheville, North Carolina)
Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Georgia Chamber of Commerce (Atlanta, Georgia)
Greater Cleveland Partnership (Cleveland, Ohio)
Greater Louisville Inc. (Louisville, Kentucky)
Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce (Omaha, Nebraska)
Hilton Head Island - Bluffton Chamber of Commerce (Hilton Head Island, South Carolina)
Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce (Mobile, Alabama)
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina)
Tulsa Regional Chamber (Tulsa, Oklahoma)

 

These awards are based on information voluntarily entered in Dynamic Chamber Benchmarking, in the Fiscal Year 2016 Operations Survey. Only data entered by March 31, 2017 was considered. If your chamber did not participate in Dynamic Chamber Benchmarking, you were not considered for this award.

Tags: Membership, Membership Achievement Award, #ACCEAwards, Awards

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A chamber without members

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at 11:37:00 am 

Since the very beginning, the chamber of commerce business model has revolved around membership. At the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry, that conventional wisdom is now being turned on its head.

Earlier this Spring, the Lancaster Chamber became the first in the nation to abandon the traditional membership dues structure—a bold move that upends more than a century of chamber orthodoxy.

The chamber hopes that by getting rid of dues, it will reduce barriers that prevent smaller or growing businesses from joining.

“Our mission is to have Lancaster County recognized as a model for prosperity,” said CEO Tom Baldrige, adding: “if we really mean it, we need to make sure that we’re offering our services to all businesses in a way that is welcoming and non-restrictive.”

Historically, the chamber has had about 2,200 members at any given time. There are more than 13,000 businesses in the chamber’s home county of Lancaster, though like other chambers, members come from other geographic areas.

“The fact that we were only dealing with those that joined and were ignoring opportunities with 11,000 other businesses led us to conclude that the traditional model was stressed,” recounted Baldrige. “We wanted to create a structure that was engaging of all businesses in the county.”

But what about the revenue? To support itself financially, the chamber devised a dual business structure consisting of two components: a “business success hub” that offers customized services on a fee-for-service basis, and a “community prosperity hub,” which seeks investments from businesses to finance the chamber’s agenda to enhance the community as a better place to live, work and do business.

“We call them investors, because they’re investing in the agenda and priorities,” said Cheryl Irwin-Bass, vice president and COO at the chamber. “It’s about being at the table and part of the discussions that influence the future of Lancaster County.”

The investors are sorted into ten different levels, consisting of three tiers with three levels each and a Chairman’s Circle tier for the largest investors. “Other chambers often ask why we didn’t just go to a tiered dues system,” shared Irwin-Bass. “This is very different, because it’s not about bundling things—it’s about unbundling. There’s not a lot of extras that come along with it.”

The chamber pitches the new model to members as they approach renewal time. “Before, if they dropped membership, it was a mark in the loss column,” recalled Irwin-Bass. “Now, we can tell them about the programs and services they may still be interested in, and steer their dollars into another business unit,” she added.

At the chamber’s annual dinner last year, acclaimed author Malcolm Gladwell used a sports analogy to describe the changes underway in the chamber profession. Gladwell compared soccer to basketball, noting that the key to improving  a soccer team is to build up the worst players, whereas the key to improving a basketball team is to make the best players even better, so they can dominate the court.

“In decades past, we were playing basketball,” said Irwin-Bass. “It was all about the biggest businesses, and we made our decisions around what was good for those companies.”

“Now, we’re playing soccer,” she continued. “The only way we can realize our mission is if every business and individual can reach their full potential. The better the individual does, the better the community will do, and that’s what we’re ultimately trying to achieve.”

The Lancaster Chamber will participate in a panel on the topic at ACCE’s annual convention, hosted this Summer in Nashville.

 

Tags: Membership

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