Chamber Careers Depend on Relationships, Partnerships, Listening to What Allies Tell You

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started your chamber career?

Glenn Morris, ACE
Santa Maria Valley (CA) Chamber

If I could send a note back 13+ years to me as a new chamber CEO, I’d stress three themes. First, it’s OK (necessary) for the chamber to let some of its traditional activities go in order to focus on what really matters. Second, the role of a chamber executive comes with a lot of political capital … used well, business owners, community leaders, and others will follow. Third, to really make a difference, it matters who is on your team … pick well!

Sharon Mayer
Allen Fairview (TX) Chamber

That my part-time job for a friend would turn into a career! Truth! I was asked to fill in at the Arlington (TX) Chamber for two weeks. Six years later, I left after moving up from receptionist to VP of Member Services. From there I went to another chamber (my first job as an executive) and finally to my current chamber as CEO. I just completed my 24th year at this chamber.

But that’s not really a response, so if I had to name one thing, it would be that working for a chamber requires more than a certain skill set — that can be developed. What can’t is what, in my opinion, is key to successful chamber leadership: loving what you do, realizing that the work is important, members don’t always know what they need, and that it helps to be intuitive and ask the right questions.

Boards don’t bite — they are people too. I was terrified the first time I had to make a presentation to a board of directors but quickly realized they are your biggest allies if you develop a trusting, transparent relationship with them.

My best advice to a first-time chamber executive: If you don’t have a passion for building people up (members and staff), building a respected organization and the willingness to put in the time and effort, move along — chamber work is not for you!

My mantra: Chamber work is a passion, not a profession!

Kristi Gee
Belgrade (MT) Chamber

When I started my career in the chamber world in 2014 as an assistant to the executive director, I wish I had known the importance of partnerships. The executive director whom I worked with had been with the chamber for 30-plus years. She had formed all these great partnerships, but never encouraged me to do the same. When I took over in 2018, many of those partnerships went away.

It has taken me four years to gain those partnerships and create new ones. I encourage our membership & events coordinator to form partnerships with all of our members and because word of mouth is king here, our membership is stronger than ever before.

Patty Villenueve, IOM
Carefree Cave Creek (AZ) Chamber

At the start of my chamber career, I wish I would have known that listening is the most important piece to building relationships and communication.

Yes, listening! When our brains are quiet, and our lips are closed is when we learn the most about a situation, an opportunity, or a relationship. Listen! Ask questions, but really listen!

The bonds, partnerships, collaborations and relationships you build will become strong from listening. People will think of you as a trusted partner because you are truly hearing them.