In this article, we’re going to share the 15 common factors we’ve found in successful chamber leadership programs.
Want to start a chamber leadership program in your community? Or maybe you already have one and are wondering how to make it better. While chamber leadership programs are different in every community, there are a few things that the successful ones tend to have in common.
Take a look at this list and see what you’ve got in place … and what you could optimize in your program.
A Clear Vision of the Ideal Candidate
Successful leadership programs aren’t interested in recruiting everyone in the community to apply. You want people who want to be community stewards, who want to learn, and build their network. After they finish the program, you want them to be strong proponents as well.
Decide on the type of person you want to attract and then market to and recruit that person.
If there has never been a leadership program in your community, you will need to do a bit of education before you can gain community support. But community support is essential because you want community leaders to give their time to speak with your leadership class. They must see this program as valuable in order to commit their time to it.
Get support from the “movers and shakers” who are leaders in the topics you plan on covering in your program.
Fear of Missing Out
Fear of Missing Out or “FOMO” is a powerful motivator. Successful chambers share all the exciting activities they’re planning as they build their leadership program. They take pictures, write teasers and share those in their own media and on social media platforms.
When you finalize your leadership class at the beginning and when they graduate, make sure you share the list on your website and on social media, tagging people as appropriate. This will ensure their tribe sees the post and not only shares in a well-deserved congratulations but also feels a natural curiosity about what it takes to get lauded in the same way.
You want people to want to be a part of your next program and FOMO is the perfect way to trigger that desire.
A leadership program, while open to everyone to apply, should not be an open door for anyone to walk in whenever they feel like it. Successful programs have an application process, schedule, and selection process.
Participants need to feel that that this is an honor, with commitments and not something they can do when they feel like it. By setting clear expectations, they should know that if they are not met, there will be someone else behind them eager to take their place.
The candidates should be presented with clear expectations, including attendance.
But you don’t want candidates to think it’s all about limits and rules either. If you simply tell everyone that they must attend a class session every month for nine months, they may question applying for something that will be such a drain on their schedule.
However, if they know exactly how they will benefit professionally from this experience, you will have plenty of applications.
The benefits of your leadership program should be clearly communicated.
Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the strongest tools for successful programs. But until that ramps up, you will need to do some marketing to get applicants and people involved in the curriculum. You also want the community to get used to seeing your leadership program mentioned everywhere so don’t think of paid options as the only route. Use social media, create image quotes about your program, write a press release or two. Tell your participant’s stories and those teaching the leadership program.
Create a logo and get that logo out there. People are naturally curious and will want to know what your program is. Put together a marketing strategy and calendar for when you’ll do what. Encourage your board and ambassadors to talk about the program as well.
One of the strongest marketing tools you can use is to make your leadership class feel valued and applauded in public. Others will see that and want the same for themselves.
Market your program fully, using word-of-mouth, social media, branding and recognition for graduates.
A Strong Alumni Network
After your inaugural class goes through, encourage them to keep in touch with one another. This usually happens organically because of the amount of time they spend together. But the chamber can also help by doing things like creating a Facebook group just for leadership alums. Share images. Ask questions of the group and keep them involved.
When you have a need for leadership or volunteers, go to this group first. Give them a reason to work together again. Also, get them a branded graduation gift. They will appreciate it and it serves as good marketing for your program. People will see it and ask them about it.
Alums are an advertising and marketing asset and should be involved in reaching out to their network or referring people to you for the next class.
Visible Class Projects
The leadership class will come together and work on a class project. They will choose the project together like building benches in a public park or some other community project. Encourage the class to share as well using your leadership hashtag. They should be very proud of their efforts and their friends will hopefully like and comment on the posts.
Make sure that class projects are visibly credited, acknowledged publicly, and included on your website and through social media.
Get testimonials from your class and other participants. Create image quotes from them or video montages spliced with the class events/visits. Successful chambers share the comments about the leadership program widely.
Testimonials which include their experience and results are one of your most powerful marketing tools.
Participants have to meet certain expectations (like attendance) but if you don’t enforce these policies, there won’t be any accountability. Ensure you communicate expectations and how they will be enforced clearly. You don’t want any confusion.
Leadership programs are not free. The student or the employer is likely paying somewhere around $1,000-2,000 for the participant. No one wants them to get to the end of the program and not graduate. But if they don’t do what’s expected of them that will be the case. You need to show why it happened.
Have participants sign an accountability pledge so everyone knows prior to beginning the program what they must do to graduate.
Offering leadership training is great but why would they choose the chamber leadership program over other leadership programs or conferences? Be explicit in what they’ll learn and how they’ll do it. Whenever possible offer hands-on learning or opportunities to learn through doing.
Create an interesting curriculum and tie the value into professional development to serve people with varied backgrounds.
Dedicated and Valued Volunteers
It’s likely–at least in the beginning–that your session leaders will be volunteers. Be discriminating about who you work with and who speaks on behalf of your chamber leadership programs. But you still want great presenters who understand their industry and can apply those lessons outward to those who may not have any connection to the topic.
When people in the community participate in the leadership program, they are more likely to support it and take an interest.
A Diverse Draw
Some chamber areas are heavily dominated by a particular industry. While they would be remiss not to include conversations around that industry, there is no reason you want the leadership program to only talk about that industry and local government. When recruiting and marketing, make sure you are encouraging people of all industries, ages and backgrounds to participate. The program experience will be richer that way. Ideally, you want to cover about 8-9 topics/industries.
Popular topics include:
- economic development
- environment/alternative power
- retail (interesting discussion about brick and mortar and the internet)
- hospitality/food service
Successful chamber leadership programs consider what’s most important to their community right now and what they would like to open the door to in the future.
A Transparent Application Process
As your program grows, the competition will become steeper to be selected for a leadership class. You don’t want anyone believing that the chamber already knows who they will choose before the apps are sealed. Instead, explain how you will choose and on what merits.
Successful chamber leadership programs have a transparent application process which promotes trust in the values of those leading the program.
Finally, successful chamber leadership programs have the full support of their board. Building a successful program will require a lot of resources so you will need a board that supports that effort. Take the time to ensure your vision of the program is the same one they have and that they understand the long-term effects your program will have on the people of your community.
Start with your board to gain buy-in for your new or revised leadership program.