Connecting the Dots: Remember Why & What as Well as How Your Chamber Conducts Itself

Dave Kilby

NOTE: A version of the commentary below originally ran in the W.A.C.E. Insider back in September 2017, but with the recent increase in the number of new executives in the chamber business, it seemed like a good idea to refresh it and post again.

When was the last time your leaders took a “pause” to reflect on and discuss the WHY of your chamber of commerce?

According to our brand research, your WHY or purpose needs to be the 3Cs:

Catalyst for business growth.

Convener of leaders and influencers to get things done.

Champion for a stronger community.

If you take a look at The Magicians of Main Street by ACCE Senior Vice President Chris Mead, which chronicles the history of chambers of commerce from 1768–1945, chambers originally excelled at the 3Cs.

You can open the book to almost any page and find examples of chambers leading and being problem solvers by tackling business and community issues, all while excelling at being conveners and coalition builders.

Mission Creep

So what happened? Why did so many chambers all of sudden in the years following World War II have mission creep or amnesia and become chambers of events?

I’ve been around long enough to remember the day when the bulk of ALL chamber funding (approximately 80%) came from dues, but somewhere along the line, we adopted a “user fee” mentality and went “all in” doing events and many chambers “got addicted” to government money. The combination of these two shifts, I believe, dramatically changed our organizations.

The possibility exists that we now have an opportunity to change again — and return to normalcy — and be more like the magicians of main street showcased by Mead, fighting for causes that will improve our communities and local economies.

For many chambers, the possibility exists that W.A.C.E. brand research may be the stimulus needed to give them permission to change.


With the above 3C purpose in mind as our WHY, we also have data from nearly 25,000 businesspeople from across the United States that clearly indicates that members think it’s VERY important for their chamber to focus on five core areas.

We, at W.A.C.E., have called these our core competencies and think they are the WHAT for today’s chambers:

• Strengthen the local economy.

• Represent the interests of business with government.

• Promote the community.

• Build business relationships.

• Political action (help elect business-friendly candidates to office).

In my opinion, many chambers have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to doing the above, and you don’t have to stretch your imagination very far to connect the dots and see how these five core competencies fit with the 3Cs.

HOW We Do It

A strong case can be made that while the WHY and the WHAT for chambers is nearly universal, when you look at HOW chambers follow through and the programming needed to fulfill their brand promise and mission, every chamber can be different.

The specific chamber programs in a tourism town may be VERY different compared to an agriculture community, just as the challenges in a metro chamber could be VERY different than a rural or bedroom community.

The HOW is where each chamber can do its own thing. But I strongly suggest, as our research points out, that you not lose sight of the WHY and the core competencies (the WHAT) as you soar to success in 2022 and beyond.

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