We’ve proposed a theme for the 2011 ACCE Conference in Los Angeles: Running your chamber like a business. As I think about the difference between a business and a chamber or other nonprofit, it’s all about the MONEY.
A chamber is in business for its members. Dues and program and event fees should sustain the administration of a valuable benefit package.
But your members want you on the edge of innovation. Small businesses expect you to be more high-tech than they are and they want access to an arsenal of benefits that don’t come with additional invoices. Large businesses want your Chamber to be at the forefront of community investment and progress. Elected officials want you at the table and, at times, want you to set the table, for public policy discussions involving business interests.
Self-sustaining won’t quite cut it. Chambers need to be profitable. Period. Profits equal up-to-date technology, the ability to maintain key staff, investing in the community and reinvesting in Chamber programs.
eHow.com, a site similar to Wikipedia, likens running a Chamber to running a small business but goes on to articulate their perception of a distinction:
“The chamber may have any number of programs that will appeal to its members: newsletters, awards, educational opportunities and so forth. These may or may not be moneymakers, but they should forward the mission of the organization–which should be helping its members in their business endeavors. Because a chamber is a nonprofit organization and its funds go toward the betterment of its members, certain programs may be loss-producing activities by design. However, a good executive is constantly monitoring the numbers to make sure predetermined goals are met, even if they are nonfinancial ones such as number of members served.”
Yikes! In this day and age, anything that loses money isn’t destined to last long and I would venture to say your members would have misgivings about your Chamber investing in a program that breaks the bank – yours OR theirs.
It should make for some interesting conversation at the convention…