Monday, November 24, 2014

Chambers of Commerce Everywhere Thank You!!!

Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful, that's what matters to me.

Steve Jobs

This is the week we focus on gratitude and the things that make life good. Every week I work with Chambers of Commerce all over the country and I never cease to be amazed at the incredible gifts they give to their communities every, single day. You are the unsung heroes, the silent celebrities, the faithful servants.

This week, remember why you do it. Why you give so much of yourself to this job no matter how hard it is. Remember that the work you do is for a better community and a better life for everyone who lives there.

Take some time for you and for your families and know that I am grateful for all you do and for the privilege to work with and share with so many of you.

Happy Thanksgiving,


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How important is a 501c3 for your Chamber of Commerce?

This is a question that comes up all the time in our work with Chambers. It seems lately it has been coming up more and more. I had a conversation last week, while teaching a workshop, about a Chamber that actually has board members that keep suggesting the Chamber should be doing more for the non-profit sector. Does that board really understand just what a Chamber is?  I just want to offer a few points for consideration on this topic……….

  1. WE; Chambers; are non-profits. We just aren’t charitable organizations. The non-profit designation is JUST a tax status. It doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to make money, just that we are taxed differently.

  2. Because of our c6 status we are allowed lobbying in our budgets. The c6 eliminates us from many funding opportunities that would be available if we had the c3, charitable status. So setting up a separate c3 Chamber Foundation will open the doors for grants and will allow you to run programs like Leadership, Education and some Economic Development initiatives through a charitable channel. This gives your members the opportunity for a tax deductible contribution very often for the same things they are already investing in through your Chamber.

  3. Know going into this process that it will take some time and money to get the c3 up and running. Make sure you are being advised by someone who understands the non-profit world. If you can actually bring someone to the table who has the knowledge and will do the paperwork your success will be much easier.

  4. Use your Chamber friends that already have a c3 as a sounding board on the process and what they did to get there. It’s as easy as a reach out to your State Association network, going to ACCE discussion groups on LinkedIn or just making a few phone calls to your Chamber neighbors.

  5. A word on the non-profit members of your Chamber…… For most Chambers the non-profit member segment is the lowest investor. It’s important to have them, but they are a member just like everyone else. If we spend an inordinate amount of time on our lowest investors we all know how that plays out for us. Don’t forget the 80/20 rule when it comes to time spent on investors. In light of this, wouldn’t it be more efficient to have a charitable arm yourself so that your members have a “cause” to attach to their giving??
People understand the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life and the United Way. Unfortunately, they don’t see the Chamber as a cause. Yet everything we do has a significant impact on the life of every citizen in our communities. What must you do to become a “cause” that everyone understands? Tell the stories and give them a contribution outlet!!



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

You Should Be Very Scared......

“Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.”

Eric Liddell___Chariots of Fire

I was on the phone with a client today and found myself ending the conversation with an admonition about the work that needs to be done with regard to the upcoming calendar. We are just three short weeks away from the “Holiday Olympics”!! It’s a long distance event that runs through January 19 and it’s mandatory for ALL. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Years and MLK…….

Remember we are in the “business business” and that means that our members are focused on a few other things besides us during this time. Namely, their business! However, we still have our “business” to do, and I’ve been there. I know that members can check out during this time because there are just too many other things going on. Some of you may have year-end invoicing which is, of course, critical to budgets but not necessarily top-of-mind for them! We can’t get caught short by not being prepared for the marathon.

So how can we run the distance with grace, dignity and some modicum of efficiency??

Review. Take a comprehensive look at all projects, events, meetings and strategy sessions that occur during this time frame. Really look at them. What’s necessary, what can be postponed for a couple of months, what can be canceled altogether……. DO IT NOW! This is NOT the time to start something new.

Prioritize. Shuffle those things around and make sure the absolute MOST important get pushed quickly to the top. Only commit to things that are critical. Put everything, EVERYTHING in your calendar and make sure the entire team is clear on changes and what’s important. You can’t manage expectations if no one was aware they were changing. Beyond staff calendars, make sure that you communicate clearly, to anyone who is affected, any change to the organizational calendar.

Focus. When the stress of these joyous occasions starts to creep in, recognize it for what it is and get on top of it. Go back to your list. Do what must be done. Stay with one thing to the end and don’t let yourself get distracted by all the additions to the schedule both personal and professional.

Relax. People please. I beg of you. Each morning when you sit down to your desk, sit silently for a moment, close your eyes if you are comfortable doing that and think of ONE thing that you can do THAT day for YOU that will help you relax. Go outside and sit on a bench for goodness sake. I don’t care how big or small it is, just do it.

Commit. Make a promise to yourself and recommend the same to your staff and commit to holding each other to it. Promise that you will remain calm, stay on track, recognize and recover quickly when you derail, be kind and pleasant and remember that your members are in exactly the same spot as you!

Oops I forgot Festivus (for the rest of us)………anyone celebrate that one?? I’m hoping this blog post will help you avoid “the airing of grievances”! As Eric Liddell said in the quote above, run your own way, but know that the power to reach the end comes from inside. Dig deep, be prepared, pace yourself, do what you have to do and breathe!!

Off to the races!!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Effective Chambers of Commerce One Step At A Time

“Have a bias toward action…..let’s see something happen now. You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away.”  ____Indira Ghandi

I believe that one of the biggest distinguishing elements between a really successful Chamber of Commerce and one that struggles is the presence of systems. I also believe that the absence of standard systems is one of the things that makes it difficult for any Chamber professional to walk into a new job in the industry and just get down to business. Throw those statements in with the reality that we never, ever get “out of the weeds” in this work and what you end up with is a lot of pretty frustrated although well intentioned folks. I know, I was one of those people and I work with you now every single day!!

The main obstacle to overcome is just getting started. You may have one operational system or you may have 20. They may all be perfectly functioning or they may need to be completely rewritten. They may exist and just sit on the shelf. Again, you just have to take that first step, make it a manageable one that you are committed to and then put action behind it.

Take a look at this sample list of systems in order to analyze where YOUR organization currently stands:
  • Personnel Handbook

  • Board of Directors Handbook

  • Onboarding protocol for new members

  • Retention/Engagement Plan

  • Data collection protocol

  • Orientation and Annual Strategy sessions for Staff, BOD and key volunteer groups like Ambassadors

  • Strategic Plan and/or Annual Program of Work

  • Financial Management Plan

  • Ambassador/Membership Committee Handbook

  • Succession plans for Staff, BOD, and Committees

  • Communications Plan
After taking a look at these the first thing is DON’T beat yourself up if they don’t exist. Feel free to congratulate yourself if they do exist, but ONLY if they are regularly reviewed AND you are accountable to them!

  • Make a list of what’s missing.

  • Prioritize them in order of what YOU feel is most important.

  • Take that top priority and PUT THE REST AWAY!!

  • Research the industry for samples of plans in that area.

  • Make your list of steps to accomplish it and a timeline to keep you on track.

  • Communicate to all involved.

  • Assign or delegate anything that can be.

  • Start AND complete the first task!!

  • Move on toward completion one task at a time, but GET IT DONE!
Move your organization to the head of the class by establishing systems that will help it function efficiently and effectively now AND will maintain it through any transition or change in leadership that may occur in the future. Yes you need to do it, but it’s important to do it!!!



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Organization Management Insight from the Campground

I have been a camper my entire life. I got rid of my gear a couple of years ago and recently got the camping itch so I reinvested in my gear and I am writing this blog post from a beautiful, ocean view campsite at Myrtle Beach State Park on the coast of South Carolina. OK, I’m sure you are wondering what I could possibly have to say to you from that vantage point that could even remotely relate to the management of an Association or Chamber of Commerce. Guess what? Don’t we learn from everything?? OR shouldn’t we be open to learning from everything???

So here goes for the campers and the non-campers AND the people who think a low end motel is camping……..

Fresh perspective.

Whenever I set out on a camping journey I’m always surprised at how little I really need to do the things I do every single day. How many clothes, things, toys do I really need? Everything I need for a four day camping trip will fit very comfortably into my little Chrysler convertible. So it makes me stop and think about all the “stuff” that I surround myself with and why. The same is true in our professional lives. How often are we dragged down by unnecessary meetings, by having too many people involved, by using too many tools that should be making our lives easier, by having too many events when a few significant ones would be enough? Take some time and take stock of all the “stuff” that you manage and see where you can tighten up and simplify!

Getting outside of your usual surroundings.

This is my office, this is my desk, this is my telephone. This is what I do. These are my tasks. I do this every day. STOP IT!! Go to the neighborhood coffee shop and work for an hour or so. Take your lunch down to a beautiful spot and just refresh for an hour. I worked with someone once who believed in “management by walking around”. I LOVED it!! When was the last time you just strolled down your main street and stopped in businesses to just say hello? When was the last time you walked into your staff members office just to check in and not because you needed something from them? When have you popped by an upper level investor or had lunch with a local leader outside your usual? Get out and “manage by walking around”!!

Slowing down. Being deliberate.

Being intentional can be a real challenge sometimes. This work that we do forces a level of multi-tasking that is frankly not productive for even the person with that as a top skill. Trying to do too many things at a time may work for a while, but there comes a time in every single management situation where we must slow down, we must touch one thing at a time, we must be deliberate in order to be effective. Make sure you know when it’s that time.

Talking to strangers.

I was in the bath house this morning and got into a conversation with a lady from Ontario. It wasn’t an earth shattering conversation, but I discovered a couple of things about the world and about myself by just talking with her. When we teach networking we always talk about not hanging out with the same old crowd. When we, as Organization Management Professionals go to conferences or workshops, what do we do…….gravitate to the same old crowd. It’s comfortable, it’s easy, it doesn’t really require anything of us. So when you find yourself going down the same old, same old path, take a turn, stretch and find someone you haven’t spent time with. You can meet some pretty amazing people along that path and get some new ideas that you might not have otherwise.

Honing your power of observation.

You drive the same route every day, you go to the same routine meetings, you walk down the same sidewalks, you have the same conversations. Decide that today you will look out your window and see something new. Decide that today when you meet with your Board of Directors that you will learn something new from them or see something in them that you hadn’t seen before. This week when you attend County Council, look around and spot something that you hadn’t noticed. Getting into a rut is so, so easy and can make your brain lazy. Power up your intellect and walk away with something new.

You may NEVER raise a tent off the ground and you may not relish the smell of bacon cooking outside, but I still hope you can take this and apply it to your situation whatever it may be and that it will help you and your organization stay firmly grounded!!

Happy Trails!!


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Be Who You Are!!

When we take personal inventory of our lives there are some things that just are and there are many that we have the capacity to change. The same is true for our Organizations. I happen to be 5 feet 5 inches tall and there is absolutely nothing, aside from heels, that I can do to change that. My eyes are blue and while I suppose I could wear green contacts the underlying truth is……my eyes are blue. So when you take a look at your organization you have to do it with real honesty. There are things you can change and things you can’t and losing sleep over the latter is NOT going to provide the energy necessary for a strong Organization!

What we can’t change…….

Geography You live where you live. Spend time looking for ALL the positive aspects of your location and emphasize those.  What are your geographical assets? Take a look at other communities that are similar to yours for best practices that might fit.

Statistical demographics for your community. Organizations are a reflection of their community (or they should be!!). Who are your people, what is your economic outlook, who are your employers, what kind of education system do you have. You get the picture! Understanding your community should inform your direction.

History. When I was hired by my Chamber I was the 5th President in 7 years. There was a lack of faith in what the Chamber could do because it looked unstable. It was a community that didn’t really know what we did and in fact an Organization that didn’t really know. Folks, you absolutely cannot change what has happened before you and what you MUST do is stop worrying about it and stop talking about it!

What we can…….

Size. You can grow and you can shrink. Both are up to you. Understand what the market is, what your share of that is and then set some goals. As far as shrinking goes, concentrate on building relationships and active engagement with members and it will take care of that and the increase as well!

Structure. What are your systems? What works, what doesn’t? Use the good old S.W.O.T. analysis and you may find that there are basic structural issues that will make you better or hold you back.

Roles and Responsibilities. What’s your role in your community and what do they believe that you do as an Organization? You need to clearly understand this first before you can see to it that everyone else does. Chambers do you handle tourism? Economic Development? If you don’t you still have a role in those areas by virtue of being a business organization. Where is there something missing that would be an opportunity for you to shine and offer your community something more?

Presence. We say it ALL the time!!!! If you don’t actively tell your stories how in the world will they know who you are? Your “presence” or lack of is your job. Engage your community in the good work you are doing by telling them!

People. Staff, Board Members, Ambassadors, Program Volunteers. You have control over this. Make sure your systems are solid, your communication is aggressive, expectations clearly discussed and accountability maintained. If you’ve got all that then changing “people” is absolutely possible. Not always fun, but definitely possible!!

Take an inventory of your Organization just where it is today. The one thing we can ALWAYS change is our attitude and our response to the way things are. Act today on what you can change and accept the things you can’t. It’s healthy, it’s real AND it’s progress!!