Wondering who does what in the structure of your chamber of commerce? In this new category of articles, we’re going to cover definitions for popular roles within the chamber and the responsibilities of each one of these roles. Consider this series your primer on chamber foundations.
In the first post in this series, we’ll explore the differences between chamber board members and ambassadors. We will also cover what each is responsible for and how they can best be used in your chamber.
What is a Chamber Ambassador and What Do They Do?
While the exact role of a chamber ambassador may vary with the needs of an individual chamber, for the most part, it’s easiest to think of this group of volunteers as the forward-face of the chamber. They are usually involved in outreach and help with the vital activities of recruitment and retention.
- welcome businesses to the community
- seek new members for the chamber or explain what a chamber is/does
- attend ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new businesses/new business locations
- contact existing members to ensure they’re satisfied with membership
- inform the chamber office of member needs and concerns
- attend monthly Business After Hours events
- represent the chamber within the community
- perform social media responsibilities and share chamber event information as needed
Does My Chamber Need Ambassadors?
You might want to recruit chamber ambassadors if you want to work on retention or bring on more new members. While the membership director and President/CEO may be the roles most associated with these job functions it’s impossible for them to do it all. If you have an eager group of volunteers willing to help, you can create an ambassador’s group.
Ambassadors are ideal volunteers to help you with the following programs:
Many business professionals long for mentors and some chambers are creating formal mentorship programs in order to meet these needs. Ambassadors are the perfect people to handle the recruitment and assignments of mentors. Since they are business professionals themselves in the community they have a lot of contacts that can help them facilitate these types of programs.
There are lots of different types of mentorship programs. There are mentorship programs that are designed to connect a mentor and mentee for a long-term professional relationship and those that are created to solve a particular problem, concern, or enable a teaching moment such as some desiring help from a mentor on how to transition into another industry.
You can also create a mentor program around seasoned ambassadors helping new ambassadors be more effective at their volunteer duties.
Welcoming New Members
Creating a formalized new member onboarding program will help with retention. Making sure new members feel welcome and understand how to use their benefits increases the value they’ll find in membership. If you simply leave them to do it themselves, they may not end up using everything that could benefit them.
But who has time to dedicate to each new member to ensure they are getting the most out of chamber membership?
Sure, it should be on your main priority list but for some chamber professionals there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. This is where chamber ambassadors can really help out.
Since they’re not paid by the chamber new members may actually feel much more comfortable asking the ambassadors questions about their own experience with the chamber and how they use the member benefits in their business. It’s likely a new member will see ambassadors’ responses about chamber life as much more believable than those of a chamber marketing or membership person.
Using ambassadors for this role will also free up time for you to handle things you can’t give to a volunteer.
Let’s face it, you can never have enough help at events.
You need people to answer questions, set up, break down, share things on social media, take pictures, make sure everyone is enjoying themselves, help keep did things on track from a timing perspective, get people checked in, give them name tags, and so many other activities. There’s hardly a chance to do the emcee part of your job! Chamber ambassadors can help with all of those activities.
Ambassadors can also help invite people they know and ensure that you sell the tickets necessary to have a good crowd at the next event.
Ribbon cuttings are special events in and of themselves. Unlike the other chamber events where the chamber staff and board want the event to be successful for the chamber’s benefit, the success of a ribbon-cutting means a lot to the individual member and business.
Ambassadors have many roles in a ribbon-cutting including being an attendee and helping draw a crowd. An ambassador may also call upon their skills and connections to help ensure members of the media are there.
If an ambassador does get involved in the public relations end of an event, make sure to be clear that if they talk to the media they are not to represent themselves as the voice at the chamber. If the media wants to talk to someone on that end and not just an attendee, tell them who to contact whether that be yourself or the chairman of the board.
Which brings us to the question of “What does a board member do and how do those responsibilities differ from ambassadors?”
What Is a Chamber Board Member and What Do They Do?
A chamber board member, like an ambassador, is a volunteer. However, while the ambassador may serve in a public relations capacity making sure they represent the chamber to members and potential members in a positive way, a board member represents the chamber as part of leadership.
According to the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), “Board members are legally responsible for ensuring that a chamber is mission-driven, financially responsible, and compliant with laws governing their non-profit status. Boards also have bylaws which govern such things as the number of times each year that the board must meet, procedures for nominations of new board members, and rules governing contracts, payments, and deposits.”
The number of board members a chamber of commerce has depends largely on the size of membership for that chamber. According to Boardsource.org, the ideal number is somewhere between 15 and 22 for nonprofit boards. Anything more than that can become cumbersome with too many cooks in the kitchen. ACCE’s data shows “the median average for smaller chambers is 17 while the median average for the largest chambers is 62.”
Job Duties for a Chamber Board Member
It can be difficult for a new President/CEO of a chamber or a new board member to understand exactly where one’s responsibilities end and the other begins. If you have new board members, consider providing them with a document that outlines responsibilities and expectations. Better yet, give it to them before they even run for the position so they can make an educated decision as to the kind of time they have available for the chamber.
Chamber board members can expect to:
- Have a legal responsibility to making decisions that benefit the chamber and its mission
- Put the chamber’s interests ahead of their own personal or professional interests
- Do their best to ensure the chamber complies with Federal, state, and local laws
In each of those areas, board members will likely be involved in:
- Helping to draft and agree to a strategic plan and bylaws for the chamber, updating both periodically
- Ensuring the chamber’s mission and goals are reflected in its programs
- Drawing up or approving the chamber budget
- Recruiting future leaders for the chamber, including volunteers like board members
- Overseeing recruiting, interviewing, hiring, reviewing, and approving salary increases for the president/CEO/executive director
- Conducting risk assessments or hiring someone to perform them (think audits)
In addition to these, there are many other chamber board responsibilities. Here’s an article that can help you understand them all: I’m a Chamber Board Member. Now What? Responsibilities and Perks.
Often volunteers will start out in a committee or as an ambassador. Once they spend some time in that role, they decide to run for a chamber board position. A general chamber board member will have very different responsibilities and expectations surrounding their service than an executive board member will. It’s also important to note that some chamber bylaws limit the number of times someone can serve as a board member. Ambassadors do not have that same limitation.
What Do the Two Roles Have in Common?
With ambassadors and board members, you’re looking for people who are willing to dedicate time to the chamber. These positions are not short-term leadership positions. You want members who understand that these roles transform the individual into a part of the chamber.
For instance, what an ambassador or chamber board member says on social media–even if they label it as their own opinion–can be attributed to the chamber by others because of the important role that volunteer plays on behalf of the chamber.
That’s why both ambassadors and chamber board members must understand the expectations and conduct themselves with decorum at all times or it could negatively impact the chamber’s reputation in the community.
Additional Reading on Chamber Board Members and Ambassadors
If you want to know more about this topic, we have several resources that can help:
What Do Chamber Ambassadors Do
How to Create a Thriving Chamber Ambassadors Program
Questions for Prospective Chamber Ambassadors
Tips for Firing Your Ambassadors
Meeting the Needs of Your Chamber Board
The Secret to Building an Effective Chamber Board/CEO Relationship
How Do You Conduct Chamber Board Elections?
Also, check out ACCE’s resources on the topic:
Board Composition and Responsibilities
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