For the Next 5 Years, Adapting to Digital Age, Engaging with Members Is Key, Execs Say

What do you believe will be the biggest change in the chamber industry over the next five years?

Christina Davis
LAX Coastal (CA) Chamber

I think the biggest change in the chamber industry over the next five years will be how we engage with our customers. I think chambers need to continue to find creative and unique ways to provide value to our members and the business community at large. We are not a one-size fits all organization. In order to keep our members happy and continuing to invest in our product and services, we have to think outside the box and/or reinvent the way we produce our programs. We need to continue to innovate and try new things and challenge the status quo.

JD Shinn
Dallas Area (OR) Chamber and Visitors Center

As much as we continue to strive toward meeting our members’ desires and needs, today it has become evident that we, as an industry, will struggle to remain relevant if we refuse to adapt to new ways of doing business. We are an industry that has weathered many storms, but in an age of information overload, it has become essential to take data points and be selective with what we say and do so that when we speak, our communities hear us. But not just hear us—that they actually value what we say because we’ve already listened to what they have said to us.

Lori Mattson, IOM
Tri-City (WA) Regional Chamber

I believe that more chambers will form foundations to fund education programs and initiatives, workforce development, community and regional development, leadership programs, entrepreneurial programs, and quality of life issues. This provides untapped philanthropic resources and a charitable vehicle to lead initiatives that are meaningful to the membership and the community.

Joshua Bonner
Greater Coachella Valley (CA) Chamber

While society in general is more digitally connected than ever before, the reality is we are becoming more disconnected on a personal level. People are so inundated with communication flow (news, social, etc.) that it is causing them to retreat from traditional social structures like service clubs and associations. Most people struggle to even connect with their own family, let alone an association.

A lot of chambers are grappling with “member engagement” and discussions around how to improve it most often are chamber-centric, i.e. how can “we” improve it. That discussion misses the mark. We are trying to fit an old model built on sense of community and togetherness into a new world model of individualism and independence, where tangible value, not relationships, is the most precious commodity.

The chambers that continue to succeed will be the ones that are delivering value outside of the traditional networking model and are able to capably communicate it to their business community. That includes legislative results, measurable economic impact (job attraction, etc.), and other services that do not involve time commitments on the part of the member.

We pay our electric bill (even if begrudgingly) because we know we need the lights on. W.A.C.E. has wonderful classes any executive can attend on how to super-charge your advocacy efforts; the challenge is getting that story out to your business community. Just like the utility analogy, how do we convince them that their business is measurably better because their chamber exists, and conversely that their business would face significant headwind if it did not? That requires a skill which is under-invested in within the chamber community—marketing. Very few chambers either employ a marketing expert or have an ad agency to help them get that story out. Our industry is going to have to embrace that as a primary skill set moving forward when we look at budget commitment, as well as how we evaluate the resumes of both staff and executives.

John Tayer
Boulder (CO) Chamber

Chambers need to be at the forefront of the accelerating technology evolution. It will change the shape of everything from the workplace to daily commutes. If we’re not out in front, preparing our members and communities for these changes, we won’t matter.