Membership and membership development may well be the most important aspect of your role in your Chamber. After all, if you don’t have a significant membership base, who is it that you are serving? Oh, by the way, which comes first: the services that your organization provides to your members or the goal of growing your membership? Two of the most frequently asked questions posed to any Chamber executive are: 1.What is it that Chambers do? 2. How many members do you have in your Chamber? They can also be the most difficult questions to answer. We all know the standard phrase used by marketing coaches: “what is your elevator speech?” How do you articulate the product you are selling in the time it takes to ride up or down in an elevator with a potential investor? How long is the elevator ride? If you’re in the Chamber world, you might hope for a slow moving elevator in a 100 story skyscraper because it would take that long to briefly describe everything your Chamber does for its member/investors and for your community.
Consider for a moment that you are the customer and you have been asked to buy a product. That product is membership in your Chamber of Commerce. What is it that the Chamber is selling to you that will make you decide to join? Just like the customer who walks into an electronics store or a grocery store, each person joins a Chamber of Commerce for different reasons. Many join for networking opportunities. Some join for a sense of belonging or they want to feel like they are doing something to make a difference in their community. Still others join because they feel it is their civic duty. Often, the latter is a larger company such as the local utility company or community bank. Whatever the reason, one thing that each has in common with the other is that they want their investment to have value; to create a measurable return. Returning to our earlier questions, if your Chamber is providing services and programs that your membership has demonstrated it needs and wants, your membership will grow. One of the more effective ways to find out what your members want is to ask them. While surveys are somewhat useful in reaching larger audiences, the anonymity that surveys provide may also mislead you in learning what members really want. Focus groups are an excellent way to have meaningful dialogue that often leads to important conversations. And for your largest investors, one-on-one conversations with the CEO are invaluable. When was the last time you had a meal with your most important investors?
Who in your Chamber is responsible for membership retention and growth? If you answer that it is your membership development officer, you are missing the point. While that may be his or hers job description, it is every member of your staff and especially the CEO.