Two years ago, ACCE entered its second century with an ambitious new strategic plan. It called for us to build an association capable of taking risks and challenging the profession through best practices and supporting members. We dubbed these the “Proven Core” and “Envisioned Future” of our plan.
Last year, we published Horizon Initiative: Chambers 2025 with a goal to provoke debate about the future of the chamber movement. This year, the publication and the plan came into alignment and our envisioned future is taking shape.
The Horizon Initiative dominated our attention over the past 12 months. Industry professionals can’t get enough discussion about the opportunities and disruptions reshaping chambers of commerce over the next decade. Chambers’ boards have also responded to the eight influences as a framework for planning. Strong viewership of our Horizon video series did little to slow demand for in-person presentations. Invitations to keynote state and regional conferences have continued to cue up, as have speeches and facilitations for individual chambers. Staff has racked up record air miles and board members have also gone on the road to pitch Horizon. The team presented the Horizon Initiative “show” more than 50 times, from New Hampshire to New Mexico, Alabama to Alaska.
The relentless roadwork has been exhausting for a few, but energizing for the entire chamber community. New ideas emerge from every audience. Never before has ACCE staff visited so many communities in a year or spent so much time with chamber volunteer leaders. All this interaction has helped clarify our next steps.
The Horizon Initiative is quickly morphing from a document to a living movement. The shift started soon after it was released when chambers began using the report as a foundation for their planning efforts. Chambers across North America are sharing “horizon-inspired” ideas for marketing, programs, and advocacy efforts. We’ll capture many of these plans, concepts, and examples, along with supplemental reading and research, in a Horizon web portal set to launch later this summer. The content will live and evolve online as long as the broader chamber community is inspired to innovate and willing to share.
But the Horizon Initiative is evolving further than best practice samples and idea sharing. It’s causing us to reevaluate how we execute our mission at ACCE. For example, the uncertainty around dues revenue detailed in the Belonging and Gathering chapter has prompted our SVP Chris Mead to take a detailed look at leaders and outliers across all revenue areas. The first installment of Chris’ project graces the cover of this magazine. Meanwhile, the chapter on Social and Political Fragmentation has led to more interest in collecting a chorus of voices from the “sane center.” Explorations are underway for chamber coalitions around municipal pensions and other tough policy issues.
Our strategic plan calls for challenging assumptions and responding to trends. Thanks to Horizon, we’re doing both.
No Horizon Initiative chapter has had a more profound impact more quickly than the one titled Population Shift. We can’t be sure about every predicted future trend, but demographic shifts are inevitable. Most chambers and business communities will either become more welcoming and diverse over the coming decade or they’ll become smaller and less influential. It’s easy to choose your preference, but not so easy to achieve the outcome.
To diversify their membership, chambers must embrace inclusion in all its facets. Inclusion isn’t a one-time decision, it’s a journey. ACCE is on the journey, too, and we’re committed to establish guide posts for the industry.
First, it’s important for us all to articulate our values. The ACCE board of directors did that last fall by adopting the association’s first commitment statement on inclusion. Words are empty without actions. That’s why our statement is accompanied by three impact areas: deepening an organization-wide inclusive culture, articulating the unique chamber business case for inclusion, and building career pathways for underrepresented groups in the industry. Each of these has an action plan in place and work is underway. To have a lasting impact, our focus must be sustained.
The Board’s Inclusion Work Group will ensure our sustained focus. Comprised of board members and representatives of the Diversity & Inclusion Division and co-chaired by Richard Dayoub, CCE, from El Paso and Doug Minter from Knoxville, the Inclusion Work Group crafted our commitment statement and shaped the action plan. Now that we’ve moved to implementation, the group has transitioned to a leadership and counsel role. Their work is helping shape a more diverse and inclusive future, not just for ACCE but for the whole profession.
Amid our focus on the future, ACCE continued to help chambers address the needs of the present. Chief among them is the virtually universal chamber focus on improving education attainment. This year the Education Attainment Division (EAD) graduated a second fellowship cohort of top education specialists in member chambers and launched a third. Action plans developed by our 40 graduates, plus entries from award winners and data from the EAD self-assessment tool, now form the most robust and useful collection of information about business action to advance cradle to career education outcomes available anywhere.
All this great programming and content is made possible through our robust partnership with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation and continued support from national funders and experts including Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Educating and Informing
For an organization like ours, which measures progress not by bills passed or investments won but by answering questions and making connections, headlines are not the goal. Many of ACCE’s most important accomplishments are the quiet kind that come from phone calls, downloads, and follow ups. Perhaps you’re among the thousands of members who have accessed a sample marketing plan, left a webinar with a new idea, or brought performance data to your board via Dynamic Chamber Benchmarking. If so, you’ve tapped HERO, the strongest information and professional development support team in the chamber world. Over the past year, HERO has averaged 10 AskACCE inquires per day. Thanks to their constant building and promotion, 1,200 new samples were added to the library and Chamberpedia pages were visited 74,000 times.
Our granddaddy professional program and focal point of the year remains the annual convention. Not only did Montréal exceed expectations for attendance and engagement, it also helped underscore the importance of the Canada-U.S. partnership, the world’s largest bilateral trade relationship. To ensure year-long value from extensive convention efforts, all of our 50+ Montréal workshops are available online.
In-person niche training and network building events outside the annual convention were well attended this year. Metro and Major Cities Councils both set attendance records and more than 90 attended the Sales Training Conference, held this year in Austin. Two new gatherings, the Events Conference and the EAD Alumni Roundtable, came out of the gates hot, drawing larger than expected crowds.
Strong and Ready
Not surprisingly, our robust programming, helpful information and ground-breaking content has translated into membership and financial strength. Over the last fiscal year we achieved an 89 percent retention rate among chamber members and added 152 new organizations to our roster, a remarkable number considering ACCE’s already impressive market penetration rate. The ACCE Benefits plan also shows stability and modest growth, while our appeal to foundations and sponsors continues to expand. We closed the fiscal year in March with revenue over expense that was healthy enough to build up the “opportunity fund,” another innovation created last year. The state of the association is strong and getting even stronger.
ACCE is fulfilling the promise of its strategic plan: supporting chamber professionals today and preparing the industry to face the challenges of tomorrow. We can’t know everything the future holds, but the past 12 months prove we can be confident ACCE will help the chamber industry see around the corner and seize tomorrow’s opportunities.
2014–17 Strategic Plan in a Nutshell
ACCE’s Core Competencies
Download this article: 2015–16 Year-in-Review
Bringing the Future into Focus (4)