The pandemic has given chambers across the nation a wake-up call. The model we were built on over a century ago, where volunteer labor has been our foundation, has been broken for decades as volunteers and community leaders have less time and expect chambers to do more.
While our businesses have had to concentrate on staying afloat, chambers have taken two paths: do more or wait it out.
As an industry that has preached the need to remain relevant, waiting it out is not the answer; this is our cue to do more. It is an opportunity to reexamine our offerings, sunset those programs that are not mission-based, and take some risks to introduce content that provides value to the business community.
Changing as Needs Change
Your chamber’s purpose is the guiding force behind every decision your organization makes. When the coronavirus pandemic erupted, the business-as-usual approach to serving members, working with stakeholders and collaborating with others would have failed if we didn’t have flexibility and agility to change as the needs of the communities change.
Chambers have accomplished difficult tasks and achieved positive results by removing barriers in ways no one thought was possible. We have increased the speed of decision-making, improved productivity, used technology and data in new ways, and accelerated innovation.
More important, technology and people interacting in new ways is at the heart of the new chamber operating model. Your chambers’ successes that were forged during the crisis now need to be hardwired into this new business model, and as organizational leaders, we need to ensure our chambers do not revert to old behaviors and processes.
Write Your Own Future
If you are waiting out the pandemic to bill your members for renewal, charge for any events, or change programming, it’s time to reevaluate. You cannot wait around for best practices to emerge; you need to write your own future.
It is time to shift from the adrenaline-rushed pace that started with COVID-19 to a speed designed for the long run. You can choose to be a chamber that is experimenting now and doing so boldly. This will be a long process, and we need to leap into the arena and seize the moment to reimagine and reinvent the future, to remain strong and come back even stronger.
Given the challenges and roadblocks that have been thrown in our way, perseverance is crucial for today’s chamber. Many chambers have reinvented their organization by diversifying revenue streams, playing a pivotal role in economic development projects, jumping deeper into advocacy, and taking risks on nontraditional programming. They are recognized as leaders determined to see the business community survive the economic devastation caused by COVID-19.
Every chamber has the opportunity to be a leader in its community. Chambers were built for this moment; no other organization is built to leverage partnerships the way a chamber of commerce is.
Look to your neighbors, near and far, and seek opportunities to collaborate and leverage resources. Utilize your relationship capital to help businesses to evolve into a “next normal.”
Chambers must lead communities into new ways of thinking and lead local community organizations, governments, special districts, local businesses, and other stakeholders to be nimble and innovative. Businesses join our chambers for a collective voice, and we should be modeling that by working together and in concert whenever and wherever possible.
History has proven that we are resilient. We have seen that resiliency after earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, the 2008 recession, and 9/11. Even with some loss, our communities came together, rose above the chaos, confusion and challenges, and rebuilt our economy.
To do that again, we, as chambers, need to be flexible and innovative to help our communities adjust to the “next normal.”
Brace for Change
We need to be responsible and look at the reality of the situation brought on by COVID-19 and recognize that beyond the health consequences, the economic impact is just beginning. We need to fully brace ourselves that the remainder of 2020 and most of 2021 will be challenging and make changes to our organizations while we have choices—not when we are forced.
If you haven’t already, pick the path that moves your chamber forward into the next normal and re-envision for a post-pandemic world—or we can fail our business community and end up insolvent. The choice is ours.
Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, ACE, is CEO of the Greater San Fernando Valley (CA) Chamber.