In order to talk about the future of chambers of commerce, I think it’s best to first examine the history of chambers. In a conversation with my colleague, Chris Mead at the American Chamber of Commerce (ACCE), we both agreed that since chambers of commerce have been a mainstay for 250 years, they are likely to continue their work for many years to come.
In a look at the history of chambers, there is no better resource than a book that was written by Chris Mead, The Magicians of Main Street: America and its Chambers of Commerce, 1768-1945. Interestingly enough, you might think this book is just for us “chamber geeks,” but it’s rich with history and cleverly articulates the beginning of chambers and their role in many historical events. Without it, many would not know the role a chamber played in the Charles Lindbergh flight, the Transcontinental Railroad, the development of canals and so much more. The chambers of the past are much like the chambers we know now. The commonality being a group of people forming together to solve an issue of its time. From the early days of trading, building infrastructure, organizing events to support its culture, and most importantly, to speak with a voice not encumbered by government bureaucracy, chambers are highly resilient and effective.
So how does this translate to today? It is often said that “once you’ve seen a chamber, you’ve seen a chamber.” In a small way this plays to an advantage for chamber supporters. Almost always a consumer looks at your involvement with a chamber of commerce as a “good housekeeping seal of approval.” In a study conducted by ACCE through the Schapiro Group out of Atlanta, it was noted that being active in a local chamber of commerce is an effective business strategy because two-thirds of consumers believe that such companies use good business practices, are reputable, care about their customers, and are involved in the community. The study translates that businesses who belong to a chamber see a 73% increase in consumer awareness, 68% increase in its local reputation, and an 80% increase in the likelihood that consumers will patronize the business in the future.
While the Schapiro Study represents a very transactional “what’s in it for me” approach to membership, it’s the transformational work of a chamber that will set the footprint for success for years to come. Chambers will continue to conduct networking, stage events and produce publications as a form of return on investment for its members. However, most importantly, chambers will act as a voice for business in good times and in trying times. Chambers will need to change as demographics shift and the expectation of its members tie their investment and involvement to more community-based success and problem-solving. This is very challenging for an organization that has a broad demographic of members representing a variety of industries, businesses that work out of their home as sole proprietors all the way up to the largest organizations. There is no one true value statement for our membership other than membership in the chamber supports a stronger community. Numbers do matter when it comes to affecting policy at a local, state and national level. Numbers do matter when it comes to supporting community based needs.
For nearly 100 years the Daytona Regional Chamber has had a very rich history of being looked at as an organization that can bring the right people to the table to discuss issues and move forward with solutions. While not all decisions and actions are agreed upon by all in a community, it is the approach of the Chamber to build a strong center of commerce that will lead towards the betterment of a community as a whole.
What does the Chamber of the future look like? It likely looks similar in that it represents a community of people trying to solve very complex issues in their communities. It means that, as an organization, we will find a way to connect with modern forms of engagement by using technology while not forgetting the power of the chamber’s history of bringing together influencers in a community in a face-to-face forum. No virtual networking or use of social media will ever take the place of true honest dialogue when people are in a room together. Members will continue to look to the chamber to be an influence in the commerce of their area and most importantly to be the sane center for political action. This also means that chambers will need to look at how to fund the mission of the chamber rather than raise funds through very individualized products, events and opportunities associated with membership.
The Chamber of the future will continue to work towards bringing all sides of government towards the center. It does this boldly, without apology, as long as the end game is movement forward on many very complex issues. It attempts to take the politics out of politics by communicating and offering solutions where there is disagreement. In the end, the work of a chamber advocating for a fair and equitable business environment will be the differentiator in the success of a community and the Chamber. We will not be fearful of tough issues like homelessness, blight, the economic stratification of our community, or the needs of those who are working pay check to pay check. We will, however, be the cheerleaders for all that’s right with our community while dealing with the less positive issues intentionally, often times behind the scenes, while providing solutions.
The Chamber of the future will be diverse in its representation and will not reflect “your grandfather’s chamber”, where those sitting around the table all look alike. We will be different in age, gender, in ethnicity and in financial status. We will be representative of the community and make sure everyone brings a different strength to the table. We will respect the history and culture of the organization and the community, and we will be willing to risk moving forward when the outcome signifies success for the area.
Our Chamber is well-positioned to be the chamber of the future that is needed. We have strong, dedicated volunteer and professional leadership, who give of their time, talent and treasure, all for the greater good. We understand the importance of having a sound foundation and strong financial position so we can help our members succeed. We are good stewards of our member’s investment by being transparent and take seriously our fiduciary responsibility. We understand that good is not good enough and we will challenge ourselves through national accreditation to always strive to be amongst the best. We will continue to appreciate the confidence our members, elected officials and community leaders place in our hands and take our jobs very seriously.
Everyone likes to be a part of a winning team … you are welcome to join ours.