Chambers of Commerce are essential to the economic growth of our communities; through making introductions, facilitating projects, maintaining data on the areas served and their economic climates and keeping abreast of pending development projects. Today, all of that is not enough. Chambers now have to ensure their members understand the return on investment of Chamber membership as it can be easily overlooked during cost-cutting.
The first solution to lagging membership and attrition is reassessing how the Chamber provides value for its membership. Gone are the days when a business would join just because they are new to the area and need to make connections. Many current members can’t even make the events. That is why it is critical to provide a web presence such as a private online community, which is free to dues-paying members.
Through an online community members can:
- Network – With fewer members able to attend events, a forum in which they can connect with others (virtually) on their schedule is of great value.
- Update their own information – Saving administration’s and members’ time as business profiles can be updated by members on their schedule. With many businesses adding an Internet presence and social media profiles, it’s more efficient to allow members to update their listings than it is for administration to make multiple changes (to each profile) over the year. Plus the changes can be seen in real time. No waiting for the next printed membership list to reflect the update. Since each member is responsible for updating the profile, admins no longer have to gather information and hold it until it becomes worth their time to update multiple profiles at once.
- Promote their business – An online community allows member businesses to offer each other deals through a secure environment. It is possible to make editable web pages available to a top membership level. Imagine smaller businesses, who previously thought they lacked the knowledge and capabilities, can now have a web presence through your site. And because YourMembership.com’s membership management software is user-friendly and designed with the novice computer user in mind, page updates can be made without HTML or coding knowledge. Now you’ve tied the business website in with your own, allowing your members to offer something they didn’t think possible for a reasonable price and ease of use. Your website can also offer banner ads as a way of grabbing additional revenue (without annoying pop-ups of the public social networking sites). Consider allowing companies to post discounts for members on the Chamber website. It not only brings them business, but also it allows others the opportunity to maximize their dollars through additional advertising and revenue.
- Communicate – Improve communication and information dissemination with your members through blogs, forums, wiki and collaboration pages and micro-blogging features. Quizzes and surveys allow the Chamber to poll members on preferences (easily).
- Find a job – An online career center can help members search jobs in the area and they can sign up for alerts when new postings are available.
- Find an employee – Hiring can be a very costly proposition for member businesses. Why not make it easier for them and facilitate the process by allowing them to post jobs on your site?
- Educate themselves – You are the keeper of important economic information for your area. Why not share it on your site so that member businesses can easily access it? How about creating a webinar (maybe focused around technology?) and uploading it to your site? You can also upload informational PDFs and white papers.
In addition to an online community, consider:
- The ROI of what you’re cutting. Maybe your budget requires eliminating some events. Just make sure not to discard the ones that cause people to join your organization in the first place.
- Adapting activities to the times. Does it make sense to have an extremely expensive golf outing when so many member business are struggling? Improving members’ bottom-lines is out of the Chamber’s control but you can help bring people together. Consider dropping a costly golf outing for a speed dating job session instead. Match up job hunters with businesses who need employees, give them three minutes to talk with one another before they move on to the next company. Get inventive, get them together.
- Reframing goals around something other than member numbers. Don’t dwell on the number of members who are not renewing memberships. Gage your success on something the Chamber has more control over, such as numbers of jobs you’ve helped people land, number of economic projects you’ve helped bring to the community, etc.
- Broadcasting goal attainment. On the Chamber site, to local media, to the larger Chamber organizations, to anyone who will listen.
- Innovation. Try something unusual. Brainstorm with the board, family, your favorite charity, anyone who’ll spare the time, on what can be done to bring new life to your group – something that has never been done before. Sometimes it takes someone who is removed from the group to come up with a truly memorable idea. Ask strangers how they would get people excited about an organization. You never know what they’ll say. Be that group who took on something unique. Offer a free membership to the first 10 businesses who tweet an idea to you. Try a virtual scavenger hunt among business members. Try to be unexpected.
- Rewarding your stars. Whether it’s employees or members with the largest number of referrals, make sure that they know (that you know) you are successful because of them.
- Reaching out constantly and becoming/remaining human. It is better for members to hear too much from their Chamber than nothing at all. Whether that’s through newsletters, blog, RSS feeds, emails or instant micro-blogs, give them information on (at least) a daily basis. The more they hear from you, the more they’ll be able to say about what it is you do for them. While you’re giving them information, make sure you also stay likeable and human. Don’t let all of your correspondence be virtual. If possible, reach out to those cancelling their memberships and ask them what would’ve made them stay. Not only will you gain valuable information about your organization but you might just learn something about them in the process.
- Being attentive. Know what your members want by asking them on a regular basis. Then use the information they provide. Use polls, open-ended questions or old-fashioned face-to-face conversations – and then act on members’ suggestions and be attentive to their needs.
Ultimately, members should have a list of things they spout when asked what Chamber membership does for them. Make it easy. Spell it out. ROI should not be an impersonal equation. There’s plenty of room in the calculation for the human factor, and that’s how you’ll get them to stay.