This article on the chamber board is part of the Meeting the Needs Series which is designed to help chamber professionals meet the individual needs of certain market segments. See the footer of this article for a list of posts in this series.
Ahhh, your chamber board members. Love them or hate them? Wait, don’t answer that. Sometimes they can feel like family and other times they can try your patience like a teenager. But developing a good working relationship is essential for you and for meeting the needs of your chamber board.
If you are new in your role, starting off on the right foot is critical. If you’ve been there a while, you may be learning to manage your board. This article will cover tips for new EDs (President/CEOs) as well as more established ones; providing for the needs of new and veteran board members, as well as the basics that everyone requires. Finally, we’ll give you some tips for better board meetings.
You’re New, They’re New
So what happens if you’re brand new and a lot of your chamber board is new too? It can feel a bit like an awkward date wondering who should make the first move. You might worry you’re being too bold. They might wonder about your level of interest in the position if you don’t grab the reins. Here are the most important things you need in this situation:
- Expectations. A new board may have no idea what is expected of them. Going over the expectations of what task falls under what group’s purview is a good way to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. You don’t have to be dictatorial in this. You could put it all in an infographic or a Venn Diagram. But what if you don’t know what they should be doing? Then you read the…
- Bylaws. This document will tell you everything you need to know about the workings of the chamber. It doesn’t hurt to become an expert in your by-laws. By-laws will dictate board member elections in as well as hundreds of other important components of your operations.
- Meeting times and agendas. Once everyone’s clear in their roles and are up to speed on by-laws, it’s important to map out time to meet. It’s likely these have already been established for you, but with a new batch of people involved it’s always good to clarify the schedule works for everyone. According to ACCE’s Operation Survey, boards meet between 6-12 times per year, the average number being 11. Decide what works best for the entire executive group.
You’re New, They’re Not
If you are a new chamber leader, working with an entrenched board, you may receive a lot of pushback. However, if they hired you, keep in mind that very few people want to be wrong about something they wholeheartedly supported. Most humans feel uncomfortable when trying to hold two contradictory beliefs. Believing you’re a good hire and not supporting you would be a case of cognitive dissonance. A supportive board in the hiring process is likely to remain supportive as long as everyone works well together. That means:
- Setting expectations and protocols for communications. If you’re new to the role, be clear about how you’d prefer to work and how you will communicate to them from a reporting standpoint. Will you be sending weekly emails or monthly agendas a week before the meeting? How often can they expect reports or updates? The more of these you make automatic, the better expectations you will build and the fewer unnecessary questions you’ll field.
- Gathering information and communicating a plan. Taking over the reins can be a challenge under the best of circumstances but if you’re the only new person in a sea of “we’ve always done it this way” it can be downright exhausting. That’s why gathering information and speaking to each of your board members individually can help you understand their expectations of you personally, the role, the chamber goals, and thoughts for the future. It can also assist you in understanding the chamber history, the relational dynamics, and the potential drama makers.
- Asking a favor. If you have a particularly difficult board member, consider asking them for a favor. Remember the cognitive dissonance law we covered earlier that referred to how people don’t like to hold contradictory beliefs? Consider, if they do you a favor like lending you something, it is difficult for them to dislike you. After all, who would lend something to someone they disliked? This neat little psychology trick is often referred to as the Benjamin Franklin Effect. That’s why asking the board member to do something for you (like chairing a committee as it gets off the ground) likely builds more support in the long run.
Everyone Has Been There Since the Dawn of Time
Sound familiar? In this scenario, everyone has a long tenure. You may be a source of irritation for one another or as counterbalanced as a smoothly operating piece of machinery. But that doesn’t mean they don’t require anything from you. To meet the needs of this group, you want to:
- Introduce new things with a why, a goal, and some data. While working together like a machine can be incredibly efficient, we all know what happens when something new is introduced into that machine. That’s why if you have an innovative idea, you want to share it in a way that will garner the most support. Explain why you are changing things, what chamber goal this idea steers you closer to, and present some data to back up your assertion.
- Show appreciation. Everyone works a little harder when they feel appreciated and your board is no different. When discussing needs, it’s easy to think of things that are tangible like chamber marketing collateral materials. But often it’s the intangibles that get the most neglected. Tell your board they are appreciated. Show them your appreciation and it will nurture a strong working relationship.
- Build exclusivity. While this is not a need of your current board, it is a need of your future one or rather your relationship with the future board. Many chamber professionals lament not being able to recruit chamber board members. It’s hard for them to find the caliber of people they’re looking for. That might be in part due to a lack of knowledge among the members of what is expected of the board and it might be a lack of exclusivity. As part of showing appreciation to existing board members, you also want to build up the position and make the members feel like it is an illustrious calling. That way more people will want to fill the roles when they become vacant.
Chamber Board’s Basic Needs
So there you have a few tips that will help out no matter what the experience level of you and your board, but how can you be sure you’re meeting the chamber board members’ needs? No matter the length of tenure, all chamber board members need:
- Solid, predictable communications
- Chamber business collateral to pass out to potential members
- Expectations on what their role is, meeting attendance, and recruiting (if that’s a component of what they’ll do for you
- Fixed meeting agendas delivered ahead of time
- Training. Don’t assume because they are successful community leaders and business people that they know how to speak about the chamber. If you prefer a certain style of persuasion, for instance, get them the training they need.
Earlier we mentioned how appreciating board members and elevating the role to something chamber members aspire to is part of improving recruiting but it’s not the only thing you can do.
One of the reasons it’s becoming more and more difficult to recruit board members is that everyone has a lot of pressing responsibilities and the idea of adding “another meeting” to their schedule sounds unbearable. That’s why how you run your meetings is one of the most important things you can do to help board member satisfaction.
8 Tips for Improving Chamber Board Meetings
If you do some research in improving meetings, you’ll likely come across suggestions like sending out an agenda ahead of time (like we mentioned) along with these chamber board meeting tips.
But what more can you do? Are there any creative solutions for dealing with a chamber board’s inattention problem?
- Change your demographic. Generally, Gen Xers hate meetings. Boomers and Millennials like face-to-face interaction. Keep this in mind when analyzing your board.
- Be clear you’re not a resume builder. List expectations of board members and reiterate them often. Create a cause and effect. If they don’t meet the expectations of the role something must happen. Then do it.
- Don’t host meetings for meeting’s sake. Is your agenda comprised of status updates? Address them in an email. Cancel the meeting.
- Use multiple forms of media. No one said a meeting must be held face-to-face (check your by-laws just in case). You can get creative with video calls, conference calls, a private Facebook group for updates and exchange, or even wiki pages or shared documents that allow for group feedback.
- Personalize meetings. Are you addressing issues that only affect a small portion of your chamber board? If so, make it mandatory for them and optional for others. Personalize content for your board members the way you might chamber members. That way when they’re told to attend, they know how important their opinions and presence are.
- Revisit the frequency. Too many meetings can be exhausting. Too few and work piles up. Optimize your meeting schedule. If once a month is too much, change it.
- Set the length and communicate it. There’s no reason every meeting must be an hour. Set the time based on needs and agenda. End on time. Do you have outstanding issues? Assign them out at the end.
- Vary the location. Board meetings that occur in the same room every time quickly turn into “bored” meetings. Switch it up outside of your conference room. Maybe you can give members a chance to host them.
- Add something surprising to each meeting. That will give attendees something to look forward to.
Some people simply hate meetings. But if you must keep them every month consider these creative solutions. If all else fails, bring snacks.
Whether you’re new in your role or have been with the chamber forever; whether your board has more veterans or newbies, building those relationships and ensuring you are meeting their needs is one of the most important fundamental jobs you’ll be doing in your role.
Additional Learning Resources:
If you’re struggling with your chamber board relationship, check out this article on The Secret to Building an Effective Chamber Board.
Wondering about how to meet the needs of other specific demographics? Read the previous articles in our Meeting the Needs Series.