Assuming a leadership role with the Tulsa Regional Chamber in 1999 signified a time of transition and growth. Having previously held a position on the association side, the chamber world was unchartered territory for me. Jay Clemens, IOM, CCE, and then-CEO of the Tulsa Chamber and now president and CEO of the Association of Oregon Industries, told me when I started work in September that in January I would attend the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Institute for Organization Management program in Arizona. At that moment, I had no idea how important a role Institute would play in my future.
Institute, established in 1921, is the leading professional development program for association and chamber executives, educating thousands on the many facets of running a nonprofit organization. Each year it hosts hundreds of attendees at five different universities throughout the United States. Participants receive course instruction on advocacy, legal issues, human resources, and much more. Institute’s curriculum is directly tied to the bodies of knowledge of the CCE and CAE industry certifications.
After managing to get through my first holiday squeeze of dealing with budgets and year-end wrap-up, I jumped on a plane to Tucson the first week of January not knowing what lie ahead. Upon arrival and during check-in at the University of Arizona, I realized that I was getting ready to spend a week with hundreds of energized, like-minded organization professionals from all over the country. Institute staffers were extremely professional, and volunteer leaders made me feel right at home.
I must admit I was a bit surprised that I would be thrust into this week of learning during my first few months on the job. I was hoping to learn more about my new chamber before attending what many consider to be the premier association and chamber school in the country.
Settling in and receiving my welcome packet, I learned that I would be spending the majority of my week with a single class of association and chamber professionals from Alaska all the way to Florida. Between classes, I would walk the university campus and attend networking events with men and women from associations and chambers of every size. Staff members from large and small organizations were in attendance, and the energy was palpable. Unbeknownst to me, this would become my professional network; these people would become my friends, and this educational experience would catapult my chamber career in many ways.
After my first two classes, I began to grasp why my boss had whisked me off so quickly. The real knowledge began to sink in. The information I learned and the relationships I formed were the foothold I needed to position myself for a strong start in my new role. Everyone around me was so hungry to learn and take all of this new knowledge back to their organizations and begin implementing new, exciting ideas. This feeling snowballs over the entire four-year program and culminates in an elegant graduation ceremony at the end of Institute week. Graduation came all too quickly for me, and I soon found myself researching the steps required to obtain my CCE. Institute equipped me with the necessary tools to excel at my job, and I’m very grateful that Jay Clemens provided the opportunity for me to attend.
I recently celebrated 15 years in the chamber industry. I have had the good fortune to serve as a member of ACCE’s board and chair of its Membership Development Division, I became a CCE and serve on the CCE Commission and was Class Advisor for, and eventually chaired, Winter Institute. Institute’s expert faculty and engaging experiences facilitated a learning environment that gave me a solid foundation of industry knowledge that I still apply today.
I have the privilege of serving as chair of Institute’s National Board of Trustees in 2015. It is going to be a fantastic year of continued growth and success. If you have attended Institute, then you already understand the many benefits that this program offers, and I urge you to pay it forward by sending your staff. If you haven’t attended, I encourage you to make 2015 the year you do.
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