Magazine Article Archive
Take a Broader View of Your Plan
It’s my privilege to serve as your ACCE Chairman this year. I take over leadership from Roy Williams, CCE, who did a tremendous job as our leader last year and is a rock star in the chamber world!
With more than 25 years in the chamber industry, I feel really lucky to have a job where my finger is on the pulse of my community and where I have the opportunity to make a difference. Every day I see disruptive economic forces in our marketplace, and I’m amazed how businesses respond to these impacts and are successful at adapting and changing their business models. A couple recent examples:
- Bartell Drugs, a family-owned chain of 59 drug stores that has been in business for 100+ years, was recently in our local news for serving draft beer—lots of it—on Fridays at one of their stores. Yes, this is unusual for a traditional drug store, but Bartell holds its own competing with national drug store chains on virtually every corner. How does beer mix with the drugstore business model? Amazon headquarters moved in nearby, and Amazon work teams can drink beer on Fridays. Bartell offered a growler filling station for the Amazon workers, and it was a huge hit. (A growler is a reusable jug, usually 64 ounces, that you fill at breweries or brewpubs.) Takeaway: What opportunities do we see moving into to our communities that chambers, or chamber members, should exploit?
- Outerwall, a publicly traded company you may know as Coinstar or the company that bought Redbox, was started by a local college student. He was sitting in his dorm room looking at the jar of coins on his desk and thought there should be an easy way to turn them into cash. From a grad school project a business idea was born: a machine that counts coins. Ironically, the original concept is now but a small portion of the company’s revenue. Outerwall realized its business model was automated retailing, not automated coin counting. In a partnership with Starbucks, Outerwall is rolling out thousands of coffee dispensing machines and soon will branch out to fresh food kiosks, beauty products and more. Take-away: When scanning the environment for opportunities, don’t limit yourself with your current plan or your current product, no matter how successful it is.
I’ve highlighted these examples because I’m a strong believer that as chamber leaders we need to change our business models to be sure our organizations are responsive and successful now and into the future. Every day, I look at trends and new developments, and try to analyze the impacts or opportunities. Then I use ACCE resources to benchmark my thoughts and possible strategies.
We have a tremendous national organization. It’s our key repository of best practices and actionable information for chamber leaders, and our best lookout for emerging trends that might affect our businesses, our communities and our careers. I challenge you to explore the possibilities for advancing your chamber’s mission by checking out the resources ACCE offers. From HERO (Help Expertise and Resources Online) to ACCE U online training, to mentor groups and the peer connections you can make from your desk or at meetings such as our annual convention, you have access to invaluable information.
Make sure that ACCE is your essential business partner!
President and CEO Bellevue (WA) Chamber of Commerce
ACCE Board Chair, 2013-14
By Kelly Hall, CCE
A Chamber’s First Intercity Visit
Last fall the Longview (TX) Chamber of Commerce led a delegation of business and community leaders on their first ever intercity visit. Their destination: Chattanooga, Tenn. An intercity visit, sometimes called a “leadership exchange,” is a trip to another city or region taken by a diverse group of leaders from a community’s public, private and nonprofit sectors. The visitors discuss their community’s challenges and opportunities with leaders from the host community. The interaction among leaders facilitates the exchange of best practices and lessons learned between the two cities. Kelly Hall, CCE, president and CEO of the Longview Chamber, discussed the trip with Ian Scott, ACCE’s V.P. of Communications and Networks.
What made you decide to launch an intercity visit program?
The visit was designed to inspire new ideas. We wanted to make sure our corporate and civic leaders are taking time to think creatively about the future of Longview with a 40-year time horizon. The intercity visit was designed as the annual mechanism to facilitate that kind of creative thinking. In my opinion, a chamber’s unique strength is its ability to convene all the right people needed to develop and implement a shared vision for the region. We’re using the intercity visit to facilitate visioning and shaping the future of Longview.
How did you select your destination?
First, we considered existing issues/concerns. Downtown revitalization has been a priority for our organization for more than 10 years. One of our long-term goals is to ensure we maintain a vibrant downtown. We also wanted to select a destination where our team could learn about the importance of developing a shared regional vision, building a collaborative economic development team, and fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Lastly, selecting a community with similar demographics was important. Community leaders felt they needed to visit an area that reflected our demographic makeup, only larger, but not so large that our delegation couldn’t relate.
I wanted to visit a community that has taken its own intercity visits. It was important to me that our first trip was to a community where civic leaders understand what an intercity trip is and have experienced success from the research and development process. Perhaps most important was selecting a community that knows how to tell their story!
The final decision was based on the input of our partners: the city, county and EDC. It also didn’t hurt to have leaders who had personal and professional connections with Chattanooga and had been part of the transformation process.
What did you learn that you didn’t expect?
The most important lesson we learned was not to expect. This message came through loud and clear from the mayor of Chattanooga who was part of Chattanooga’s inaugural intercity visit 30 years ago. He advised us not to approach the trip with specific goals in mind, but to explore, learn, and “allow the process to get messy.” The messiness is uncomfortable but it encourages healthy dialog that allows meaningful solutions to emerge. We resolved to allow the process to evolve and then become strategic. Of course, this is hard to do for someone with an A-type personality.
Has anything changed since you’ve been back?
While we didn’t enter the trip with specific goals in mind, a lot has happened since we returned. We’ve contracted with MindMixer.com to launch LongviewTexasListens.com, a moderated online forum that facilitates a two-way conversation about key issues. We think this will be a more effective tool than town hall meetings to shape and ultimately win public buy-in for our emerging regional vision.
Also since our visit, the city has appointed an I-20 Task Force to begin addressing redevelopment along the interstate corridor. Our past chairman, who helped champion the intercity visit process, was asked to chair the task force—a perfect example of how strategic alignment works.
Anything new planned for your next trip?
For our visit to Fort Collins, Colo., this fall we plan to add break-out group sessions on more specialized topics such as how to fund redevelopment, affordable housing, zoning and healthcare. After seeing an innovative community bike-share program in Chattanooga, we’re exploring how to become a bicycle-friendly community. As a group we’ll dig deeper into how to enhance our community brand. It’s imperative as we shape the future of Longview that we remain true to the brand and create experiences that stimulate commerce with a vibrant downtown, fun tourism activities and successful redevelopment efforts.
One thing we’ll be sure to keep from last year’s trip is an opening dinner where we assign seats to pair up board members, city department heads and elected officials with their counterparts in our host city. That produced some great knowledge sharing and started us off on the right foot.
Any words of advice for other chambers considering this kind of program?
Plan, plan, plan. I can’t overemphasize the amount of prep time one of these trips takes. They can’t be thrown together. Involve your staff early in the process and learn to delegate. Expect to spend lots of time developing the program with key stakeholders, staff, and the community you are visiting. I leaned heavily on ACCE’s Guide to Intercity Visits and the Regional Planner from Hamilton County, Tenn.
Also, budget time to research your community. It’s important to know the history of your community’s planning process as well as the progress that has been made over the past 20+ years. We produced a “looking back” historical prospectus and a demographic cheat sheet that attendees loved and used throughout the trip. This piece allowed attendees the opportunity to reflect and contrast data with the host community.
Be mentally and emotionally prepared to return feeling overwhelmed and invigorated. Your leadership will have seen first-hand opportunities they want to become a reality tomorrow. Consider having strategies in place to help direct conversations so your organization doesn’t move into “fix it” mode before your community has had a chance to conduct meaningful research.
Finally, I strongly suggest that you join another chamber’s intercity visit to see one executed first-hand. Better yet, take your chairman or chair-elect with you so they fully grasp the concept. I didn’t do this, but wish I had. And make sure your board has your back before embarking on this kind of trip because they inevitably generate some conflicts and tough questions along the way. Remember, conflict can be healthy! It encourages creative thinking which spawns innovation.
The 5-Star Accredited Longview Chamber operates the CVB and Main Street Council for Longview and manages retail and commercial development recruitment and expansion projects.
Kelly Hall, CCE, is a 26-year veteran of the chamber industry and has led the Longview Chamber for eight years. She earned the Certified Chamber Executive distinction in 2010 and currently serves on the ACCE Board of Directors.
By Gary VanLandingham
Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric Co., believes that an organization’s ability to learn—and to translate that learning into action—is the ultimate competitive advantage.
Most successful businesses practice what Welch preaches. They learn the facts, understand the risks, and make well-informed decisions. States, however, often make budgetary and policy choices based on few facts, outdated assumptions, and ineffective analytical tools. That’s why states are increasingly turning to The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative (Results First).
Results First uses a cutting-edge analysis developed by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. The initiative currently works with 14 states to implement the kind of cost-benefit analysis that businesses have long relied on.
The Results First model is a nonpartisan, evidence-based approach based on data from hundreds of programs that provides states with an apples-to-apples comparison of different policy options to help them make the best use of their limited tax dollars. The model:
- Calculates the potential return on investment of different policies
- Predicts the risk of investments in these programs
- Ranks projected benefits and costs
- Identifies ineffective programs
- Assesses the combined benefits and costs of a full portfolio of policies.
Currently, the Results First cost-benefit process is being used primarily to analyze crime prevention and treatment programs. In Washington State, which has the most experience with the model, policymakers invested in proven crime-prevention and treatment programs that contributed to reduced rates of crime, juvenile arrests, and incarceration—and the rates dropped more than the national average. These investments will achieve about $2.7 billion in savings over a period of 50 years, starting in 2000, for Washington State residents. Many of the benefits are being realized quickly; others will occur over a longer period of time, including higher lifetime earnings for people who participate in the programs. As the use of the Results First model expands, it can also guide the allocation of funds for education, child welfare, substance abuse, and mental health programs.
In almost any state capitol you might hear someone say that government needs to run more like a business. State leaders understand they have a lot to learn from the business community about managing risk, weighing benefits and costs, and evaluating outcomes. This puts business executives in a strong position to talk to governors and legislators about joining The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative. Businesses need an educated workforce, safe communities, and modern infrastructure. By supporting Results First, businesses will help states find the most cost-effective path to reach these critical goals.
Gary VanLandingham is director of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, which works with states to implement an innovative cost-benefit analysis and to cultivate a climate for evidence-based decision-making that can enable states to eliminate ineffective programs and shift resources to those that generate the best outcomes. To learn more about Results First and how you can induce state leaders to use available data to make smarter spending decisions, go to http://goo.gl/LP6MyL.
By Sarah Myers
Help, Expertise & Resources Online
ACCE’s HERO team (Help - Expertise - Resources - Online) strives to save the day and provide valuable information to make a difference at your chamber. We answer your questions on membership management, sales, board retreat planning, outsourcing, social media, buy-local initiatives, ACCE’s surveys on Operations and Salaries & Benefits, other benchmarking data and lots more. Here are some recent questions we handled:
QUESTION: We need to communicate with former members who dropped their membership.
Do you have any example letters?
ANSWER: The HERO microsite has more than 1,200 samples, including letters for dropped members and “Come Back to the Chamber” campaigns. This question recently appeared on the ACCE LinkedIn group. There were several replies with others wanting to see example letters. We asked the same question of some of our division members who sent five more letters to add to the Samples Library. These examples all include benefits of renewing membership with the chamber, stressing networking, online inclusion in business directories, and making a difference to build a sustainable local economy. Visit the Samples Library and Browse “Flyers, Mail, Forms” or search by keyword “dropped.” Need help? Email us at HERO@acce.org.
We need to do more with social media. We have accounts with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr, but only Facebook, is active. Even then we struggle with staff posting regularly.
We often hear from chambers who are working on social media planning and communications. This is an exciting time to be in communications and marketing for chambers and businesses. As Charles Leadbeater, author of We Think: The Power of Mass Creativity, noted: “You are what you share.” From our Chamberpedia section on Communications and Marketing we have collected excellent resources on the Social Media page. It highlights social media marketing, including several marketing plans, a white paper with social media definitions, and examples of what some chambers are doing with their social media campaigns. View examples of the social media marketing plans, and then adapt the goals, objectives, strategies, and metrics analyses for your own chamber. Use these resources freely to help your own chamber put a personal touch on marketing through social media. Additional ACCE resources include our Communications and Marketing Division, a network of chamber communications and marketing professionals who offer even more support and resources. ACCE also has a LinkedIn group for Marketing and Communications, and ACCE University offers links to pre-recorded webinars on social media and numerous other topics, including a new recording for “Grow Your Chamber with Email & Social Media: Simple marketing strategies for chambers.” These resources are part of your ACCE membership benefits.
QUESTION: We are seeking policies or guidelines on non-member attendance at chamber events. Are your events open to businesses in your community, member or not? Do you have specific guidelines that you follow for non-members?
ANSWER: To find this answer, we queried chamber members through ACCE’s LinkedIn group and Hometown Chambers Council. All said they didn’t have written policies, but noted that most chambers charge more for non-members to attend events, and some events are members-only. Some of the chambers said they charge $10 more per event for non-members. Another chamber charges more for non-members to attend their Small Business Seminars ($30 for members; $50-60 for non-members). Comparatively, other chambers offer a “member price” and a “general admission” price that ranges 25-75% higher. Some chambers offer members-only events such as a Business Expo where members participate with booths and business promotions; non-members may attend, but not exhibit. Another chamber offers membership luncheons and Business After Hours events as promotions to non-members. Non-members do not sponsor the luncheons, but all local businesses are invited, members and non-members. Non-members usually pay a higher rate for the luncheons. Many chambers view these guests as potential members and encourage their members to invite non-members. Another chamber has most events open to the public except when seating is limited, which then becomes a members-only event. Most of the responding chambers charge both member and non-member fees for events, and only members can sponsor specific events.
QUESTION: How HERO does work?
ANSWER: The HERO team is co-directed by Audrey Imhoff and Sarah Myers, reference librarians with advanced degrees. An ACCE member question or information request starts our sleuthing through ACCE’s growing database of chamber documents, samples, surveys and best practices reports. To get answers, we will contact other ACCE staffers and members, or tap online resources such as LinkedIn groups or email groups. When we find useful information, we not only use it to answer your questions, we file it in that growing database mentioned earlier, and make it searchable for members like you. The final result is live information, always evolving, always available online through the HERO microsite, and usually life-saving for harried chamber professionals. Visit us on the web by clicking on the prominent HERO button at www.acce.org and let us save your day!
Sarah Myers is Co-director of Information and Research at ACCE.
By Mick Fleming
In my often-used “Deathbed Confessions” speech, which I delivered for the last time in 2012, I talked about the seven deadly sins of chamber management and community leadership. These were lessons I had heard, scrubbed, categorized and enhanced over 20 years. These lessons – just stories really – came from folks who were leaving the profession due to retirements, firings and career changes.
Many of you heard the speech during its five-year life cycle, or at least heard of it. It was good for laughs, knowing nods and embarrassed blushes from audience members who recognized their own realities in my tales from long-departed peers.
Alas, the time had come to retire that road show, but one of the deadly sins seems more relevant with each passing season: Financial Denial.
Why is it that soon after a chamber CEO succession, there’s an “Oh my God!” moment when the fiscal realities of the organization become painfully obvious to the new boss?
Why are membership retention rates so hard to track during the last few years of a chamber exec’s career? Why are there unstated restrictions on the balance sheet’s “unrestricted net assets?” How can the value of chamber-held real estate or capital campaign pledges be so high when a position is pitched to a CEO candidate, but 30% lower a month later? Shouldn’t verbal agreements for severance payments to former employees appear on financial statements? Why are a third of the members paying a lower dues amount than is called for on the board-approved rate card?
This denial problem is not just related to periods of transition. What good is a line of credit from the friendly banker serving on the board if the chamber can’t draw upon it when cash is tight? What does that big festival actually produce in net revenue for the chamber after paying staff? Why doesn’t the accounts payable line on the financial report include all the vendors who need to be paid?
In too many cases, the answers to these questions are the same: Staff and board leadership don’t know and they don’t want to know.
In my experience, very few such financial difficulties reflect villainy (are nefarious). They’re just denial. CEOs and membership VPs don’t lie about the most recent renewal rate; they simply hang onto a number from long ago when they suspect slippage in the current year. They don’t steal money; they simply borrow money from Peter to pay Paul (in legal but risky ways) and delude themselves into thinking that eventually they’ll be able to pay everybody.
Don’t misunderstand; these problems are not confined to the chamber world. Similar questions were asked of financial firms that turned their books over to the Feds following the crash in 2008, and are posed routinely to national charities during IRS audits. Such concerns are the reasons that M&A law firms make so much money on due diligence prior to takeovers.
One of the primary reasons many of us struggle desperately to appear bigger than we are can be traced to some leadership guru with really nice hair who preached decades ago that if you’re not growing, you’re dying. To which, I usually respond, “If I’m adding rolls of flab and double chins, I’m growing AND dying.”
The important work of running a chamber of commerce can be scaled to almost any budget size, provided the fuzzy math is kept to a minimum. Resist the temptation to deny reality, especially to yourself. Tell your leadership and staff what they need to know, even if the reality is scary.
It’s not a sin to be poor or small, but it is a sin to not know whether you’re rich or poor.
By Sarah Sladek
Traditionally, chambers have relied on membership dues to sustain themselves, but there’s nothing traditional about today’s marketplace. We’re living in a post-recession era, driven by technology, trying to sell memberships to a generation that hates to be sold anything. Tradition just isn’t going to cut it anymore.
As a result, chambers are challenged more than ever before to provide exceptional member value and create alternate revenue streams. Success with both of those endeavors begins with understanding and embracing what’s fueling growth in the marketplace – which is undoubtedly a younger demographic that relies heavily on the use of technology.
Let’s take a lesson right from the business world’s playbook. For decades savvy businesses and retailers have known that young Americans are an indicator of future trends and a key cog in the economic engine that drives consumerism in America.
This is especially apparent with the arrival of Generation Y (those born 1982-95), the largest generation in history. Not surprising, companies of all sizes are turning their attention to this gigantic and influential group of consumers, ages 18-31, which will become the majority of the workforce by 2015.
However, most chambers of commerce lag a bit behind when it comes to future-focus. Before you dismiss them as too young or too difficult, know this: Gen Y spends a whopping $200 billion annually and their buying behaviors influence the buying habits of all generations.
Gen Y resembles the largest consumer market in the U.S. and their arrival has redefined consumerism for all consumers, regardless of demographic, geography, or industry. It’s what I refer to as a trickle-up effect.
Here are two shifts, introduced by Gen Y, now influencing your chamber’s ability to recruit and retain members and diversify revenue streams:
Consumer Spending: The recent recession has created a proceed-with-caution attitude towards spending. Generation Y will occasionally splurge on high-end products if the products are durable and useful (iPads, smart phones, Ugg boots). For all other purchases they believe it is important to get the lowest price. As such, they’re more likely to search online for product reviews and discounts before they buy. Bottom line: They will not spend money on anything that doesn’t deliver great value, and the rest of the market is beginning to follow suit. A chamber membership has to deliver something of value for companies to want it. If people can find the same benefits elsewhere for the same price or less, your membership holds little to no market value. It’s not about joining because it’s the right thing to do. It’s pure economics at play here.
Technology: Dubbed the “Digital Natives,” Gen Y is the first generation to be raised using technology. In fact, they value phone and internet access as much as oxygen and freedom and more than dating. They own multiple tech devices including smartphones, tablets, and gaming systems, and constantly multitask across these platforms. Other generations are following suit, especially the parents of Gen Y, the Baby Boomers, who are investing in technology. Bottom line: If your chamber isn’t using technology to complement every product and service it provides, you are choosing to alienate Generation Y.
What does this mean for the future of value and revenue for chambers? It means your chamber must develop products and services focused on these two areas of market growth: younger generations and technology. Here are three suggestions:
Education: Education is very hot in terms of non-dues revenue. With jobs in flux in many industries, an approaching retirement wave, and Generation Y, a well-educated but inexperienced generation, becoming the majority of the workforce by 2015, members want to ensure they have the latest knowledge, right skills, best credentials, and a leg over the competition. Professional, needs-based online and in-person training programs, certification, or accreditation will be incredibly valuable to companies for the next several years. Education should be provided at a substantial discount to your chamber members, and available for a fee to non-members.
Technology: Technology opens the door to many revenue streams. Web TV shows, webcasts or webinars on educational topics, podcasts, mobile apps, conference apps, virtual events, and digital publications are all examples of tools that can be used to generate revenue while also engaging members.
Niche Events: Hosting specific educational events to address hot topics serve members well, while giving sponsors an opportunity to really be engaged in the event and featured as specialists on the topic. For example, a niche event on start-ups would resonate with Gen Y. Younger generations have a strong entrepreneurial drive, and many chambers fall under criticism for not providing more education and services to start-up businesses.
Right now, your chamber has the opportunity to create something of significance to the marketplace. Know where your market is headed and provide what it needs and your chamber will undoubtedly create a valuable, profitable, successful membership organization.
Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University, which helps organizations engage the participation of Generations X, Y, and Z. She is the author of The New Recruit: What Your Association Needs to Know About X, Y, & Z (2007), Rock Stars Incorporated: Hiring the High-Performance, High-Maintenance Hotshots Half Your Age (2008) and The End of Membership As We Know It: Building the Fortune-Flipping, Must-Have Association of the Next Century (2011)
By Katherine House
Inspecting and adjusting this key component of chamber revenue is an ongoing process.
This article is adapted from an upcoming research report on chamber of commerce revenue models, which focuses on trends, commonalities, best practices and trajectories of the most common engines that power chamber revenues: dues, total resource campaigns, community events, economic development funding, sponsorships, affinity programs and publications. The report is sponsored by ACCE and the Western Association of Chamber Executive (WACE).
For chambers of commerce, the revenue mainstay has long been annual dues based on company size. Dues historically accounted for 70 percent (or more) of most chambers’ revenue, but that number has been in steady decline for 30 years. In large chambers today, dues range from 27 percent to 37 percent of total revenue. Even small chambers now see less than half of their income coming from dues, according to ACCE’s 2012-13 Operations Survey.
The last decade saw an accelerated shift from the traditional dues model to tiered dues, and the trend continues. A 2013 survey of WACE members found that 28 percent had a tiered dues structure, more than double the 12 percent counted in 2006, according to Steve Snyder, WACE vice president. ACCE’s 2012-13 Operations Survey tells a more dramatic story: nearly half of the 294 reporting chambers said they have a tiered dues structure. Neither survey takes into account chambers that use a hybrid of tiered dues and fair share models. (A hybrid model typically places employee count restrictions on some, or all, tiers to prevent large companies from joining at significantly lower prices than what they were paying before the conversion.)
As the name implies, tiers are levels of benefits received for a specified dues amount. Under the traditional fair share dues model, the cost of membership is scaled according to the number of employees or revenue of the member, with occasional variations such as total deposits for bank members or the number of beds for hotel members. With tiered dues, benefits increase as the investment level increases, no matter how many employees are involved.
Lower tier benefits include listings in directories, web sites and mobile apps. Typical middle tier benefits include free email blast advertising, booth discounts at trade shows, or a profile of the CEO or company in chamber publications. Upper tier benefits usually include all the benefits of the lower tiers plus such things as invitations to select events like breakfast with the mayor or advocacy trips, customized research reports and free consulting services.
According to ACCE’s survey of chamber operations, only 40 percent of the smallest chambers (revenues under $450,000) use a tiered dues formula, compared to 50 percent of chambers with revenues above $2 million, and 64 percent of the largest chambers (revenues above $5 million). The largest chambers also were more likely to be early adopters. Fifty percent had been using tiers for more than five years, compared to 21 percent of chambers with less than $900,000 in revenues.
In August 2011, the Tucson Metro Chamber in Arizona switched to a tiered dues structure. One year later, dues revenue had increased 16 percent; this year it jumped another 16 percent. Not surprisingly, Mike Varney, chamber president and CEO, is a big proponent of tiered dues. Without them, he believes leaders are “leaving money on the table and missing an opportunity to improve the chamber’s revenue stream.” Before arriving in Tucson, Varney had converted the Las Vegas Chamber to a tiered dues schedule. He’s now increasing the number of Tucson’s tiers from four to five, adding consultative services to some benefit levels, and developing customization within tiers, among other changes.
In Destin, Fla., dues revenue increased more than 40 percent from $210,000 to more than $300,000 when a tiered structure was enacted in 2005, according to Shane Moody, CCE, FCCP, president and CEO of the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce. Post-recession, dues contribute about $260,000 annually to the chamber budget.
In Chester County, Pa., membership revenue has risen nearly 14 percent to $376,000 since the chamber introduced tiered dues in 2009. At first glance, that number may not seem remarkable, but during that time the chamber saw a net loss of 80 members related to downsizing, mergers or closures during the recession, says Nancy Keefer, CCE, president & CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry. Today the average dues per member is $420, compared to $374 before the conversion. (Editor’s Note: Effective Oct. 14, Nancy Keefer became president and CEO of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce in Florida.)
Changing demographics, post-recession penny-pinching, technological change and the promise of revenue increases have heightened the buzz about tiered dues. It’s a growing trend, but it’s not a revenue panacea and it’s not for everyone. Many chamber executives don’t feel the need to switch from the fair share model. Some believe tweaking the fair share model will accomplish their goals. Others maintain that their board is not ready to make the switch. One executive said he didn’t think the tiered structure would work well with the preponderance of small businesses in his community. Another didn’t think a tiered dues model would co-exist well with a total resource campaign, although some chambers do both successfully. These are well-founded concerns; not every experiment with tiered dues is a success.
Show me the ROI
Tiered dues would not have staying power if the benefits were one-sided. “Members are questioning the value they get for membership in ways they haven’t before,” says Varney. With tiered dues, members can easily understand the services they will receive in exchange for their investment. As a result, proponents say the model is well suited to a time when potential members, especially younger ones, place significant weight on ROI, rather than joining the chamber because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Tiered dues advocates note that today’s consumers are accustomed to bundled packaging from cable TV providers, health clubs, and even their local car wash. “Younger members grew up with a pay-as-you-go model for their cell phone minutes and music downloads, which is contrary to the pay up-front, full-price model traditionally used by chambers,” says David May, president and CEO of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce in Colorado.
Some chambers use
Lorraine Clarno, president/CEO of the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce in Oregon, says younger business owners “are not joiners. They make purchases of services.” May and others say the nation’s economic woes sharpened the focus on ROI as cash-strapped businesses scrutinized expenditures more closely.
Beyond that, technological change has affected what members need from chambers. Social media and web sites allow businesses to connect with customers around the corner—and around the world—without attending chamber networking events. With webinars, TED talks and other information and education online, middle managers may not feel the need to attend chamber leadership seminars.
To some, the advantages of tiered dues can be summed up by what it is not: a system based primarily on employee counts. “There’s nothing fair share about the fair share schedule,” says John Quigley, president and CEO of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Illinois. Members “should pay based on what [they] want out of it.” While Quigley’s chamber still uses a traditional dues structure, he continues to study tiered dues models and is confident his board will make a change in the not-too-distant future.
Indeed, says WACE’s Snyder, it can be difficult to justify the fair share model when talking to large prospects. In his days as chamber executive, he found one of the most difficult objections to overcome came from owners of large businesses who said, “Why do I have to pay more just because I have more people when I’m not getting any more [benefits] than the one- or two-person shoe shop?”
Kyle Sexton, a Salem, Ore., marketing strategist who helps chambers develop tiered dues structures, offers a more blunt assessment of the shortcomings of the traditional dues model. If “you use a fair share model now, you are punishing your members for growing, and rewarding them for lying to you,” Sexton says. “Neither is a good premise for a long-lasting relationship.”
For Clarno, the switch to tiered dues 10 years ago was a key part of her strategy to move the Beaverton chamber “from being events-driven to becoming a business services organization.” She also believed that tiered dues might offer an opportunity to increase retention. She was right. During economic downturns, she says, her chamber has been able to retain members even if financial concerns caused them to renew at a lower tier. Under the fair share model’s take-it or leave-it pricing, some members would have dropped their membership altogether, she says. Now that companies are on more secure financial footing, the chamber is taking calls from businesses wanting to upgrade to higher tiers.
Abandoning the fair share model has other advantages. With tiered dues, chambers reduce the number of “asks” in one year and members in higher tiers reduce the number of checks they write because many benefits are included in the tiered dues payment. Businesses with headquarters outside the chamber’s region may be more willing to join the local chamber when they have a choice of benefits—and control over which ones they buy.
“When we went to a tiered dues business model, it was much easier for the membership to understand,” says Moody of the Destin chamber in Florida. The chamber currently has five membership tiers, ranging in price from $325 to $6,300. The change in dues structure also allowed the chamber to take a “better look at what we were doing and how we were doing it,” he says. Moody is not alone when he says switching to tiered dues was also precipitated by a desire to close “a pretty big gap” between the average cost of providing member services versus the average dues. In other words, the chamber was providing too much for too little.
Marianne Virgili, CCE, IOM, president and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association in Colorado, concurs. She believes that chambers have historically sold themselves short. Too many chambers believe members are helping them by joining. “No,” she says, “We’re helping them out. We’re a centuries-old brand.”
Implementing tiers is no guarantee of increased dues dollars, and the conversion is not a simple adjustment. Lost revenue, unhappy members, or even job termination might result if a new dues model generates disappointing results. Internal hurdles such as retraining salespeople may be an impediment. A chamber that struggles with billing processes will be challenged in tracking members’ usage of benefits.
Cathy Lewis, IOM, vice president of membership for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce in Kansas, has sold businesses memberships under both the tiered and fair share models. The chamber recently switched back to the fair share model, in part because of a leadership change. “You’re not doing the chamber a favor or the member a favor when you try to think you know what they need,” she says of the tiered model. She believes that chambers with tiered schedules should be wary of selling memberships solely on the benefits within each tier, without stressing the overall economic development contribution that the chamber makes to the community.
Mick Fleming, president of ACCE, agrees. “The most successful tiered models recognize that the people who give the chambers the most money may not care about the benefits in either a fair share or tiered dues membership kit. These companies are led by community investors who think of the chamber as a conduit for their contributions to the larger good, and as the voice of the employer community. The top tier value description should be as much about what a company gives as what they get,” he says.
John Bosse, vice president of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, is aware of the shortcomings of both the fair share and tiered models. Four years ago, the chamber took a step toward tiers by offering a Gold Membership in which members paying 50 percent above their fair share rate were entitled to certain benefits such as limited event tickets and a complimentary conference room rental. The strategy was successful; the chamber is on target to have 600 Gold members this year, out of 4,300 total members.
For the past year, Bosse has talked to chamber executives nationwide and collected a binder full of information on tiered dues schedules in anticipation of rolling out a new tiered schedule this fall. But he could not find a satisfactory way to make the tiered model work for the organization’s members. Now the chamber plans to retain the fair share model and the successful Gold option, and it will unveil two packages of benefits that can be purchased separately. “At the end of the day, [switching to tiers] is not about the revenue to chambers,” he says. “It’s about what members want and what they need.” Bosse did not want members feeling “like they were forced to buy something they didn’t need.”
He was also concerned about how a tiered schedule would affect the chamber’s smallest members. Cincinnati, Bosse points out, already has a higher basic membership fee ($455) than many area chambers. And, he says, depending on how the tiers were structured, event attendance might have declined, a problem for any chamber linking event attendance to sponsorships.
Bosse is hammering out details of the new packages, which will be available to any size member. One will be branded as an “Access” package, while the other will be a “Marketing” package. In the Access package, one of the seven benefits will be an invitation to a VIP reception before the annual lunch, where attendees will be able to meet and mingle with the speaker. The Marketing package will offer seven options, such as a credit for banner ads on the chamber’s web site and top preference to be featured in testimonials about the chamber.
Studying the benefits other chambers offer under tiered models helped him create some of the new benefits included in the packages. He and his staff also sought input in-person and conducted surveys to determine the most popular and least popular benefits, an exercise that helped in developing the new packages, he says. Now Cincinnati is studying the feasibility of a third package focused on specific perks for members’ employees.
Designing a Tiered Dues Schedule
Creating a tiered dues model involves tough choices. Here are some major considerations and common variables that affect decision-making:
Number of tiers: There is no magic number or formula; it depends on the size of the chamber and its ability to offer a variety of benefits, the demographics of the customer/prospect base, and the local competition for products and services. The minimum number of tiers generally seems to be three or four, says consultant Cathi Hight. No matter how many tiers you choose, it’s essential that you offer appropriate benefits and services to differentiate them, she says.
“People want to have choices,” says Clarno of Beaverton, Ore. “They don’t want to be overwhelmed.” The same goes for the staff. Executives would be wise to consider how many tiers and value packages the staff can comfortably manage, says Lewis of the Lawrence Chamber in Kansas. Her chamber switched from a tiered structure back to the fair share model in January 2013. In hindsight, she says, the organization’s 10 tiers were “too many to administer for our size chamber.”
You may find it valuable to give a special name or recognition to members paying at the highest levels. For example, the top three tiers in the Fort Collins dues structure are considered “Trustee” investors. Dues range from $3,000 to $10,000. The highest dues amount paid by a non-Trustee-level investor is $1,500.
The Knoxville Chamber in Tennessee offers 11 levels. The first six are designated “Base Tiers,” while the last five are called “Premier Partner Tiers.” Portions of the dues from all of the Premier Partner levels are used for economic development, according to Michelle Kiely, the Knoxville Chamber’s vice president of development. Knoxville also offers variable pricing within upper tiers, which helped simplify the chamber’s conversion process to the tiered structure, says Melissa Spangler, vice president of member services. That way, two businesses paying different rates under the fair share model could participate in the same tier without a significant loss in revenue for the chamber.
In Tucson, Varney is trying something different for his chamber as he rolls out a revised tiered schedule this fall: variable pricing in his second-highest tier. Businesses investing in the Chairman Tier will pay anywhere from $5,000 to $14,999. “If you’ve got a great program of work, they’ll invest more money” based on the value they perceive, he says.
Including Full Time Employee (FTE) Restrictions: The concern chamber leaders express most often about tiered dues is whether large members will choose a lower level tier. For this reason, chambers may opt to establish a tiered system of benefits, but add FTE count restrictions to some levels. Sexton advocates such a practice, which he refers to as a “safety net clause” whereby large employers are not eligible for lower membership. By doing so, chambers offer a “great transition from fair share models,” he says.
How chambers implement these size limitations varies. Some place a maximum FTE count on one or more of the lowest tiers. Others charge a range of prices at various tiers, depending on employee count. Still others list a base rate for certain tiers, but require businesses with a certain number of employees to pay an extra amount per employee. No matter how you implement such restrictions, it’s critical that businesses with a small number of employees realize they have the freedom to join at their level of engagement. At the Chester County Chamber of Commerce in Pennsylvania, one of the investors in the highest tier is a home-based business.
Selection of Benefits: Tiered dues are “about selling what people want, not what you think they need,” says Virgili of the Glenwood Springs chamber. The benefits each chamber offers will vary depending on business model and member needs, but there are some universal considerations. Current members probably won’t look kindly upon the reduction of benefits, which is why Sexton advises that “Your current benefits will be your basic business tier.” Adopting such a strategy “obviously puts pressure on your chamber to add benefits to complete your marketable packages.”
The key to setting up an effective dues schedule (at least at lower levels) is to find benefits that don’t cost your organization much but are highly valued by members, Virgili says. And while chamber leaders want to offer popular benefits, they should be careful not “to offer benefits that aren’t scalable,” says Hight. If you offer every member at a certain level an ad on your home page, what happens if so many people choose that level that you can’t deliver?
Then there are benefits that you may choose to leave out of your tiers altogether. When Keefer established the tiers for the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry, she decided to keep sponsorships separate. By doing so, she says the chamber was better equipped to weather the recession. Other chambers offer investors discounts on sponsorships or the ability to sponsor select events. In hindsight, Cathy Burwell, president and CEO of the Helena, Mont., Chamber of Commerce, says she would not have offered members at certain tiers a free foursome in the chamber’s golf tournament because the tournament regularly sells out. By doing so, she likely gave up revenue because investors at the highest level probably would have invested anyway and paid to enter the tournament had it not been included, she says.
Some chambers offer investors at the highest level a position on their board of directors. Hight has mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it provides businesses that are the most committed to the chamber an opportunity to lead and the prestige that comes with it. It also helps ensure that the highest investors are the most highly engaged. But if the board is “made up of top investors only, will you have the representation of all your members?” she asks. And what do you do when the popularity of such a tier means the board grows to an unmanageable size?
No matter how you construct your tiers, realize that what you initially roll out does not constitute the final word. Chambers frequently tweak the benefits within each tier, depending on what’s working and what’s not. After a year or two, some chambers may find they have more, or fewer, tiers than needed.
Pricing: Perhaps nothing varies more from one chamber to another than price points and the price differential between tiers. Both the actual cost of providing benefits and the perceived value need to be factors in setting tier rates. At the same time, it’s advantageous to study the various price levels at which many members are currently paying and tweak benefits accordingly. For example, chambers that have a lot of members paying about $700 in the fair share model likely will want to create a tier within “comfortable reach” of that price point, says Hight.
When determining the value of services, factor in how much it would cost members to buy those services outside your organization, says Hight. Chambers tend to undervalue their services, and it’s prudent to compare some of your benefits to those offered by other membership organizations, and for-profit businesses. For example, she asks executives if they figure the value of their mailing list by comparing prices offered by list brokers.
Never underestimate the dollar value of the highest price point, says Burwell. In fact, she advises picking a high investment level even if you aren’t certain who will invest there. “Never say it’s not achievable,” she says. There is “always someone who wants to be the biggest and the best. For some companies it’s about showing they are a big supporter of business in the community.” The Beaverton chamber added a new top level after it had implemented its tiered schedule.
It’s not only top investors who may surprise you. Sexton estimates that 10 percent of new members are likely to move up to a higher tier within the first year of sales after a transition. This typically yields an increase in revenue among that group from 18 percent to 23 percent, depending on pricing, he says.
Pricing for Non-Profits: Some chambers with tiered dues, such as Beaverton, Ore., do not designate a separate tier for non-profits. Clarno believes that non-profits should choose their level of engagement just as other businesses do. Other chambers label their lowest tier as the tier for non-profits. The Fort Collins chamber offers a tier labeled only for non-profit organizations. All the benefits match those in the base tier, but the non-profit tier is priced lower. There are many variations on this theme. Your philosophy and track record with other non-profits should dictate your approach.
Member Input: A little member input can go a long way toward developing an effective tiered dues structure. In Beaverton, Clarno solicited input from a task force of board members and other leaders, then test marketed the structure with all new members for six months. “That worked really well,” she says. The trial period not only gave her board confidence in the plan, but also provided an ideal “training ground” for staff, allowing them to fine tune their sales pitch. The tiers were tweaked slightly before the chamber sent bills to existing members at the end of that year. An added benefit of test marketing was that new members became “some of the best champions” of the revised dues structure.
Degree of Customization: Advocates of tiered dues say the model offers investors more flexibility by allowing them to pick benefits best suited to their needs. Once they pick a tier, investors may be offered additional customization options such as choosing between four tickets to the annual dinner or the awards luncheon. A magazine ad credit would allow the business to choose the issue and size ad desired.
Some chambers also offer a la carte pricing on some services in conjunction with tiers. Beyond that, it’s common to allow investors at the highest tier to customize their benefits packages just as they do under the fair share model.
The Tucson Metro Chamber will soon offer greater customization within three of its five tiers. Investors in the top three tiers will be able to choose any three benefits from a list of six. Benefits include a $200 advertising credit, two hours of CPA services and two hours of consulting with a marketing expert. All of the consulting services will be offered by chamber members at a nominal fee to the chamber. Members offering the services embraced the idea and saw it as a way to meet potential customers.
Clarno sees tiered dues as the first step toward offering custom membership packages. Ultimately, she believes chambers will need to offer 100 percent customizable packages, regardless of investment level. She just hasn’t figured out how to implement such a system—yet.
Katherine House is a business writer based in Iowa City, Iowa.
Challenges with Tiered Dues
The hard work of implementing tiered dues doesn’t end once the dues schedule has been developed and announced. There are complex logistical and customer service issues to resolve.
- Billing. How quickly do you plan to have all your members paying at the tiered rates? Tucson Metro Chamber President and CEO Mike Varney believes everyone can be converted to the new schedule in one year; other chambers take longer. Figuring out how to handle billing for investors whose fair share rate has fallen between tiers can be daunting. When there is a significant gap between “old” and tiered dues, explain the new schedule to your investors and help them pick the level of engagement best suited to their needs. The Knoxville Chamber smoothed the transition to tiered dues with a two-year plan, says Melissa Spangler, vice president of member services. The first year it rolled out its tiered dues schedule, it sent members their invoices at the same amount they paid the year prior. But they also notified members which tier they had been slotted for and the amount they would be billed the following year, if the member chose to stay at their current tier level.
- Benefits tracking. Chambers need reliable software or other ways for tracking the benefits investors use. Deciding how, and how often, to notify investors about unused benefits can be tricky. You want investors to take advantage of benefits within their tiers, but if they don’t, they might not renew at the same level. Lorraine Clarno, president/CEO of the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce in Oregon, warns that “too much babysitting” about benefits can drive members “crazy.”
- Internal accounting headaches. Make sure your chamber has a streamlined process for allocating dues dollars to other line items, such as when an investor’s annual banquet tickets are included within a tier. This may take more time than you expect.
- Training. The entire staff—not just the sales team—must be familiar with the new dues schedule. Everyone must be able to answer questions and field concerns at events, and they must learn when not to charge someone for a product or service included in the value bundle with a member’s tier.
- Refunds. No matter how hard you work at educating members and staff about the new tiers, you will process refunds for duplicate payments of services. Make this as friction-free as possible.
- Compensation. In Helena, the chamber switched its salespeople from a salary to a straight commission plan when tiered dues were implemented. The Knoxville Chamber continues to use a salary plus commission compensation plan, but modified its commission structure when it converted to tiered dues.
- Dues increases. Most agree it can be more difficult to raise dues with a tiered dues structure. Consultant Cathi Hight suggests setting prices so that you don’t have to raise them for a few years after rollout. The Knoxville Chamber marks every bill with a “voluntary dues increase” just as it did under its fair share model. When members pay the increase regularly, they become eligible to participate in a higher tier.
Explaining Tiered Dues
One challenge of changing your dues structure is explaining to members how the structure works and why it’s preferable to the old system. Here are examples from chamber web sites, press releases and newsletter articles that explain tiered dues. Links to more samples.
“This new dues structure allows us to better support the companies that support our entire membership while preserving the benefits that everyone in our network currently enjoys.”
“As a business development organization dedicated to helping our Members profit and grow, we have various levels of investment designed to maximize one’s ROI and answer specific needs. Whether you’re looking to connect individually with the most influential senior executives of leading businesses or seeking the maximum amount of exposure in our region, we have the level of offerings right for your business model.”
Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce
“ … membership levels are structured on a benefit-driven tiered system that allows you to choose a level based on support of our efforts and and/or benefits that you would like to have access to.”
Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce
“ … we are confident that you will agree that the tiered membership plan recognizes the diversity of our membership and provides tangible value. … We recognize that these different member groups derive different benefits from a Chamber, and with the tiered dues structure we have the ability to meet the diverse, evolving expectations of our local businesses.”
Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce
What Benefits Can You Add to Tiers?
There are countless permutations of dues packages. If you’re trying to figure out tiers for your chamber, here are some of the 70 we’ve collected from various chambers’ tiered dues schedules. They are arranged in approximate order from the lowest tier to the highest. The full list is available online at http://goo.gl/o9uV6v.
- Free category listing on web site (number of categories can vary)
- Enhanced listing in directory, such as boldface font or highlighted text
- Enhanced listing on chamber app
- Discounted mailing list/mailing labels (discount and/or frequency can vary)
- Membership plaque
- Free mailing lists (frequency can change)
- Free link to member’s social media pages from chamber web site
- Custom Twitter posts with link to member’s web site (quantity can vary)
- Free e-mail blast advertising (frequency can vary)
- Free banner ad on home page of chamber web site (duration and frequency can vary)
- Free notary public service (quantity of documents can vary)
- Free video included on chamber’s YouTube channel
- Inclusion of business literature in racks at chamber office
- Complimentary membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- Subscriptions to publications (number can vary)
- Free tickets to specific events (quantity can vary)
- Opportunity to write article for chamber blog or other publication (frequency can vary)
- Credit for booth space (dollar amount can vary)
- Booth discount at trade show/job fair (discount can vary; location of booth can vary, or certain locations could be excluded)
- Receive e-mail alerts on timely topics, such as legislative updates
- Invitation to participate in Ambassador program
- Profile of CEO or company in chamber publications
- Discounted ribbon cutting ceremony (dollar amount or percentage off can vary)
- Hole sponsorship at golf tournament
- Streamlined check-in at select events (events can vary)
- Complimentary drink tickets at select events (events can vary)
- First choice of sponsorship opportunities
- Ability to host certain events, such as Business After Hours
- Invitation to participate in inter-city visit trips
- Private meeting/meal with chamber president and/or leadership
- Invitation to select chamber events, such as breakfast with the mayor
- Customized research reports
Links to Tiered Dues Schedules
For a more detailed look at how chambers set up tiered dues schedules, links to four actual examples are below. Links to more samples.
Beaverton (OR) Area Chamber of Commerce
Six tiers ranging from Bronze ($250) to Mission ($2,000).
Chester County (PA) Chamber of Business & Industry
Six tiers ranging from Entrepreneur Membership ($285) to Visionary ($6,000). Non-profits with 1 to 49 employees are eligible to join at the Entrepreneur Level; those with 50-plus employees must join at the next tier ($500). Entities applying for the Entrepreneur Membership must pay a $35 application fee.
Destin (FL) Area Chamber of Commerce
Five tiers ranging from Business ($325) to Trustee ($6,300).
York County (SC) Regional Chamber
Eight tiers ranging from 1-Star Membership Investment ($368) to 8-Star Vision Leader Membership Investment ($20,000).
Transforming communities is at the heart of our work as chambers. Growing our economies and creating wealth for our citizens is most likely to occur in a growing, vibrant community. But that work isn’t easy. It requires constant collaboration and an understanding of both your own community and what is working in other cities. And, it requires big thinking!
Oklahoma City’s business leadership recently returned from our annual intercity benchmarking visit. We, and chambers of all sizes, take these trips to learn from other regions’ successes—and their failures. We are also honored to host a number of intercity visits each year.
The reaction from our leaders and the leaders who visit here is nearly always the same: they’re inspired by what they see in a different community, and energized to know their own work at home continues to make a difference.
In much the same way, the upcoming ACCE Convention in Oklahoma City can have the same impact on you. Long before I became chairman, ACCE selected our city to host the 2013 convention.
Recent weather has dealt us some serious setbacks, but this region is open for business and very much looking forward to hosting you in July.
Whenever we gather for a major professional development event, we see what works in other communities and other chambers. We can learn new ideas, expand our aspirations and, importantly, see mistakes to avoid. This summer, the 1,000 chamber leaders who make the trip to Oklahoma City will leave the conference invigorated about what we do—and the potential to make that work better and bigger.
Our city couldn’t be more honored than to host you at the most important chamber gathering of the year! We are excited to not only extend our hospitality, but also to inspire you with the story of our city’s transformation and growth. We are incredibly proud of the strides we have made as a region and a chamber over the last 20 years. We’re sure that you will leave here with new inspiration and ideas from the intense learning sessions, the priceless network experiences and the examples of big thinking in Oklahoma City.
If you haven’t yet made your plans for the July convention, get signed up! I’m counting on you! And, if your chamber isn’t currently taking a periodic benchmarking visit to a similar community, ask around at the convention to learn what it takes to get started. Many of the attendees have examples of successful initiatives they are implementing today, which would have been more difficult to achieve without the lessons learned on such a leadership trip.
Learning from each other—and seeing the possibilities—are the highest values that ACCE provides its members. The association has dramatically enhanced virtual products and services, but you’ll really maximize the value if you spend a couple days with the top people from chambers across the country. Real estate developer Donald Trump once said that “as long as you are going to be thinking anyway, think big.” I look forward to thinking big with each of you in July!
By Rob Radcliff
Old way: create a “community vision,” develop a strategic plan, tie it to job creation/capital investment goals, raise a bunch of money and then do it again four or five years later.
New old way: create a “community vision,” develop a strategic plan, tie it to an aspirational, Big Hairy Audacious Goal, (BHAG), raise a bunch of money, perform successfully on
the BHAG and then move on to the next BHAG!
Now let me stop right here and make it crystal clear this is not a slam on strategic plans. In fact, quite the contrary, all good economic development initiatives are grounded in a strong, forward-thinking strategy. If you don’t have one, you need one! But let’s face it, not all strategies make for compelling reading.
You’ve heard about BHAGs before. Here’s a real life example: Vision 2022 is the new 10-year strategic vision of Jackson, Miss. Authored by Market Street Services, the plan is grounded in solid data, expresses long term economic development goals, and is built on a broad and inclusive process. The difference is in the packaging. Market Street’s comprehensive plan has everything needed for implementation but too much detail for folks outside the economic development world. So the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership highlighted 10 big projects from the plan, all focused on regional talent and infrastructure, things that community leaders could get excited about. In a regional leadership retreat before the plan was written, ACCE President Mick Fleming called these kinds of projects “boulders,” the foundation upon which any plan is based. One of these projects is a true BHAG that could literally change the landscape of Jackson forever.
The goal is to build a lake in the heart of the region! The lake idea isn’t new for Jackson; it’s been discussed for years. What’s new is invigorated chamber leadership willing to stick out their proverbial necks and say “this is so important that we are building our entire game plan, in fact our reputation, on attainment of this objective.”
What has changed? What was the inspiration behind taking this idea off the shelf and placing it front and center in the community mindset? There are three keys:
- Jackson, like so many other great cities and regions in this country that struggle with growth challenges, has had many “strategic plans,” some better than others. All of them talked about the need to improve public education, quality of life, growing a more qualified workforce, improving physical infrastructure, attracting better air service, etc. Sound familiar? I bet your community has a few like that! This type of comprehensive plan is vital, but at some point the luster wears off and it’s hard to generate enthusiasm to move forward and execute the strategy. The recession changed things. It gave regions like Jackson the chutzpah to say “Enough is enough. We need to do something dramatic to spur real change.”
- Jackson looked closely at peer communities through a series of intercity visits, and discovered some common threads in those that are taking big leaps. For example, Nashville has used its reputation as “Music City” to help attract the talent needed to build a world class health care sector along with a truly diversified economic base, while also becoming a national leader in tackling the challenge of urban public education. Challenged by a struggling economy and galvanized in 1995 by the worst domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history, Oklahoma City built a river through downtown to help spur development, and subsequently passed four separate “self-taxes” to help build infrastructure for the future. OKC has led the nation for four years now with the lowest overall unemployment rate among regions of one million population and higher.
- Like Nashville and Oklahoma City, Jackson has volunteer and staff leaders who are willing to “take a leap/take a risk” to move the community forward. At the end of the day, this is the most important criterion. Without it, the other two don’t really matter!
I don’t know if Jackson will be able to finish their lake. There are substantial hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is generating the necessary revenue to move the plans forward. But I do know Jackson will be a better region for taking the risk! After all, isn’t that what leadership is all about?
Reprinted with permission from the Resource Development Group’s blog at rdgfundraising.com. RDG, located in Upper Arlington, Ohio, works exclusively with economic development groups, providing planning and fundraising consulting services. Rob Radcliff is a principal officer of the firm and has personally managed dozens of economic development funding campaigns that have generated more than $250 million for clients.
By Marianne Virgili, IOM, CCE
In 1986, I was a young chamber employee when my boss told me that he was sending me to the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Organization Management. After a year executing special events for a busy tourism chamber, I couldn’t see how anybody, especially a mother with young children, could continue in such a demanding profession.
My then-CEO, Stebbins Dean, was seeking a position in a larger chamber and he said that he would recommend me to replace him. He explained, however, that I would need the tools provided at Institute to succeed.
I headed off for a week that would forever change my life. Institute is where I learned budgeting, communications, strategic planning, and membership development skills. More important, it is where I met a network of peers, who like me, were engaged in building their businesses and communities.
A year later, I was hired as CEO of my chamber. I dealt with a number of stereotypes—I was too young, too short, and a woman—but after all, it was the late 1980s. Still, I was undaunted.
Institute gave me confidence. It offered education, benchmarks, and experienced peers. Those peer relationships sustained me. Before long, our chamber began receiving national recognition. During my tenure, we have been a finalist for chamber of the year three times, and I was selected as an outstanding female business leader in Western Colorado by the Western Colorado Business Journal. Years later, I became a Certified Chamber Executive (CCE).
Throughout its 92-year history of educational excellence, Institute has been the common bond that ties leaders of our profession together and is part of the fabric of the nonprofit management industry.
If you have never attended Institute, I invite you to join me at one of its five sites. I guarantee that this will be the best investment in your career. If you have graduated from Institute or are currently participating in the program, I encourage you to join me in ensuring that every industry professional is aware of the tools and resources that are available to succeed.
During these challenging times, education is more important than ever to our industry. The work we do matters to our organizations, our communities, our nation, and the world. No one should have to do it alone. Everyone deserves a mentor. Join me in identifying and mentoring an emerging leader in the industry, and share how Institute opened up the door of opportunities for you.
I am excited, humbled, and challenged to serve as Institute’s national chair and extremely grateful for everything I learned from Stebbins Dean—he was one terrific mentor.
Marianne Virgili, IOM, CCE, is president and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Institute for Organization Management National Board of Trustees. To learn more, visit www.institute.uschamber.com.