Is Your Chamber Organizationally Solid?

Dave Kilby

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the chambers of commerce that are growing, doing well financially, leading the way and soaring to success are also the ones that are organizationally solid.

So, what exactly do I mean by the term “organizationally solid”?

In order to truly be a 3C chamber (a catalyst for business growth, convener of leaders and influencers to get things done and a champion for a thriving community) that excels at being in the solutions business, a chamber needs to have its act together with its leaders knowing and adhering to the rules, understanding their roles and responsibilities, and having a true representation of the organization’s finances.

Key Documents

A short list of MUST HAVE items that a chamber CEO should be able to access at a moment’s notice include:

• IRS Determination Letter: this is the official record of your tax-exempt status.

• Articles of Incorporation: gives your chamber its legal status in your state.

• Bylaws: establishes the ground rules of how your chamber will operate.

• Policy and Personnel Manuals: Outlining the policies (and often the procedures) that will guide the organization on a day-to-day basis.

• Minutes of Board Meetings: hopefully, the minutes report what was done, NOT what was said.

• IRS Form 990: this is the organization’s tax return.

• IRS Form 990T: if applicable, this is filed if you have unrelated business income (UBI).

Putting your hands on all of the above seems like a Chamber 101 no-brainer, but sadly, every year we hear horror stories involving one or more of the above: not filing a tax return, not adhering to or ignoring the bylaws, the Articles of Incorporation have expired or the chamber “never received” an IRS determination letter.

Know Your Numbers

Another key element of being an organizationally solid chamber is knowing your numbers and being able to access financial and membership data such as:

• Monthly financial reports for the last five years.

• Most recent audit conducted by a CPA firm.

• Membership reports (preferably monthly).

ALL chamber CEOs should be able to quickly access all the above and, frankly, might want to conduct a quick organizational check-up.

I think it’s especially important for all new execs to pull these together as an organizational foundation to give them a clear understanding of their chamber.

Trust me…nobody wants a surprise with ANY of the above. A word to the wise — take some time soon, complete this homework assignment and pull these documents and info together. It’ll be well worth the time and peace of mind knowing you’ve moved your chamber one step closer to being organizationally solid.

Dave Kilby is president and CEO of W.A.C.E. and executive vice president of corporate affairs at the California Chamber.