Most Popular Topics from ABCs Workshops

Dave Kilby

After conducting four workshops this year focusing on “The ABCs of a Successful Chamber” and prepping for a fifth one next month in Oregon, it’s fun to look back and reflect on the list of topics that have generated the most discussion.

As expected, our Association’s Chamber Brand Research and our new “The Chamber Is” ad program are at the top of the list and have generated the most reflection for attendees as they discuss being a 3C chamber (catalyst, convener and champion) vs. a 3P chamber focused on parties, parades and pageants.


Here’s the eclectic group of topics that generated much interest during the workshops—especially from the chamber board leaders in attendance:

Bylaws: First off…when I remind attendees that they need to operate according to their bylaws or need to amend their bylaws to match what they do (assuming it’s legal) … everyone’s taking notes. The discussion of “Limitations” that are listed in the bylaws always seems to surface. Some chambers have limitations language in their bylaws that is decades old which says something like “The chamber shall be non-sectarian, non-discriminatory, non-partisan, non-political, etc.” Preferred language is “The chamber shall operate according to all local, state and federal laws pertaining to a 501 (c)(6) organization.” Stated differently…we are going to operate legally.

Getting the Best Board: Some of the components of this topic include: a frank discussion about the importance of and guidelines for the Nominating Committee. The fact that the best board members probably will NOT volunteer, and may, in fact, need to be recruited. Single slate elections—i.e., six candidates for six board openings—NOT a popularity contest will get you the best board. Term limits for board members also is a key component that helps guarantee turnover and can help address diversity.

Who Does What? Going over my “Who Does What” worksheet about roles and responsibilities is always fun. Topics like who signs checks, who can hire and fire the CEO and staff, who can publicly speak on behalf of the chamber and who decides that the CEO/staff can attend professional development training (like the W.A.C.E. annual conference) can always be counted on to generate interesting comments.

Go (at least) Three Deep: The concept here is that for every company which is a member of the chamber, you need to have at least three contacts (minimum) at EVERY member business. So, if you have 600 dues-paying member companies, my suggestion is you need a minimum of at least 1,800 people on your email distribution list.

Political Action: By far the most misunderstood topic that we cover during the workshop is political action. When I share that 72% of the business people surveyed in our Chamber Performance Survey say that it’s VERY important for their chamber to help elect business-friendly candidates, the room is usually abuzz with comments and questions.

At the end of the day, my hope is the frank discussion during the ABCs workshop results in chamber leaders thinking differently and that they will consider challenging “the way they’ve always done it” at their chamber of commerce.

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