I remain amazed at the resourcefulness of chambers in raising the funds necessary to support their work.
At our board meetings, our convention and in peer group meetings, generating income—especially non-dues income—always seems to be part of the discussion. There is a great deal to be learned from what’s working in other markets, but remember the well-used chamber admonition: “When you’ve seen one chamber, you’ve seen one chamber.” Here are some of my observations on funding chambers:
Dues: Get your mission-driven investors to set the pace on dues. It’s still the best measure of commitment. Dues are a guide, not an absolute for investing in a chamber. Be flexible. I would rather keep a member who is happy at $1,500 than lose them because they will not be happy at $3,000.
Mission critical: Tap the True Believers. Raising revenue in support of mission critical projects is a great way to fund chamber work. Economic development campaigns are the best example of this opportunity, along with specific public policy objectives.
Marketing: Different door, just as green. Events, programs and membership make a great entry point to corporate marketing budgets. Many companies have more flexibility when spending marketing dollars than they do when joining a chamber.
Strategic Plans: Never underestimate a good strategic plan. Done well, they are a great tool for increased investment in the chamber. Look no further than ACCE’s “In This Together” campaign, getting committed members to fund a specific add-on to its mission.
Non-dues: This is the catch-all for anything that flies. Insurance programs, drug cards, travel, discounted group purchasing, Groupon-like programs. These bottom line boosters are great additions yet few meet the test of time. But we all try and ride the waves while they last. Remember “long-distance discount” programs?
Reserve Funds: Hard to get, easy to lose. Consistent contributions can make for more than a rainy day fund. Reserve funds can produce a steady stream of income that supports an annual operating budget.
My bottom line: The value and sustainability of a revenue stream is in direct proportion to its relationship to your mission. The farther it is from your mission, the more dangerous and fleeting the income. The closer it is, the greater the validation of your leadership and purpose.
Stay thirsty my friends.
Timothy R. Sheehy, CCE
Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce
ACCE Board Chairman 2011-12
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Download this article: From the Chair: Working Capital (1)