Chamber Success: Advice on Transforming Chambers to Benefit Members, the Future

Tom Pierson, ACE

Throughout my chamber career, I have had the opportunity to transform two chambers from organizations with old school thinking to innovative chambers benefitting our members and the future. Recently, during my own board retreat, I was reflecting on our chamber’s success and wanted to share some observations I believe narrow the focus in a world that is always changing.

Boards Matter

Who is on your board?

I consistently challenge my nominations committee to consider who the thought leaders are in my area and if they are all on my board.

What are your board meetings like? We spend five minutes on yesterday and focus the remaining time on current and future issues. Board members can read reports from yesterday, but we need deep conversations on how to move toward tomorrow.

What is your vision statement? A successful vision statement needs to be aspirational and simple. My board knows it, my staff knows it, my volunteers know it, and our clients, as well as the community, know it. It’s everywhere!

Leadership Matters

What is your own personal standing in the community?

Does the mayor or elected leaders text you when they are setting policy? Are you visible in all areas of your community besides the business functions? When there is a crisis, does the community leadership look to you for answers and solutions?

Chambers are the conveners and thought leaders. So as leaders, we need to be seen as such and not be afraid to stand up to our boards when they are wrong.

Mission Matters

What are you talking about and how are you saying it?

In our multi-generational communities, words matter, so having a diverse staff and volunteers around you helps to craft the messages and issues pressing in our communities.

Are you there to serve your clients’ needs or simply exist to serve them food and beverages? Be sure to tighten your focus. Increased focus, along with your aspirational vision, will drive the mission of your organization.

Issues Matter

Are you tackling the top two issues in your community? Are you involved in the issues your community is facing? How are you moving the bar on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace?

Do you have issues dividing your community, such as wage issues or anti-fossil fuel groups? Are you getting involved to create change or simply standing on the sidelines hoping it will go past?

Resources Matter

How do you transform your community?

Use the tools and resources you have in your W.A.C.E. membership. Utilize the W.A.C.E. staff to survey your members; this is benchmarked to the best chambers in the country. Use the W.A.C.E. Resource Library to find best practices and chambers you want to model after. Attend, or have members of your team attend the W.A.C.E. Academy. Attendance will not only help you to learn the essentials, but also find leaders who want to help you grow and build a better organization.

When W.A.C.E. offers something like the “The Chamber is…” advertising campaign, take advantage of it, as it’s market tested and will help make your organization the true leader in your community.

Personal Retreat Matters

My last piece of advice is to take time to reflect. I attempt to spend a couple of days alone on a personal retreat once or twice a year. My time is spent working on my chamber’s goals for the upcoming year. I spend time reading, writing, and hiking to help me evaluate and exercise my personal and professional goals. I find we often get stuck on the life treadmill. Spending some time off line and re-evaluating priorities will help you immensely, personally and professionally.

Tom Pierson, ACE, is president and CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County (WA) Chamber.