Are you now in charge of chamber membership development? Whether you’re the new chamber membership director, business development person or coming from another staff position (congratulations on your promotion!), it’s always exciting to start bringing on new members for the chamber … but it also can be a lot of stress.
In a role as important as director of chamber membership, there’s very little time to learn it. You must dive in and make sure you’re starting out with the best practices for launching your new position. But what if you’re not sure what those practices should be? What if this is your “first rodeo?”
Here’s what should you do in your first 60 to 90 days in chamber membership development.
First, take a deeeeep breath. You were hired because you’re a natural fit for the position and you’re good with people. You have the skills, you have the interest … you might just need a little help getting the processes in place.
In this article, we’ll share best practice ideas and assist you with building a strong foundation for chamber membership development and recruiting. If there’s nothing currently in place from the last membership director or if you’re the first in this role, you can use this article to begin building a foundation. If there was someone in your current role, and processes and procedures were fleshed out, you can use this as a checklist to prioritize your to-do list and to see if anything else needs to be added. Or you can use it to rebuild if they didn’t leave the position in the best shape.
Are you ready to learn how you get your community excited about the chamber and start bringing in those members?
Let’s get going!
The chamber membership director position becomes infinitely easier when you have information from someone who has been there before, performing the role, for many years. A veteran membership director can explain the cycles that occur in membership and how the economy may or may not affect chamber membership in your area.
While your president or executive director could be a good source of information, unless they were directly involved in recruiting there may be everyday challenges they don’t understand about the role. They likely were looking at recruitment and retention numbers, not tasks and techniques.
You need someone who’s been there.
Since you may not have access to the person who held the role before you, or maybe you’re the first in this role at your chamber, we asked someone who understands the intricacies of membership, someone who performed the role for nearly eleven years and someone who left their successor a detailed operating manual what she would do in the first weeks in the position.
Beth Bridges is The Networking Motivator, author and speaker. She literally wrote the book on networking, which is a huge help in a role like membership director. However, she’s not just an expert networker, she was also the chamber membership director at the Clovis Chamber for almost 11 years. During that time she attended over 2,500 networking events, something you will likely be doing as well. Although you don’t need to attend so many – that’s one of the points of Beth’s book!
During her time at her chamber, she relied on good old-fashioned, yet strategic, networking and education to build the membership roster. No matter what your chamber budget, you can put her strategies to use.
Chamber Membership Development – Building Your New Position
We sat down with her recently to discuss her advice for someone taking over the membership director position and she helped with an easy three-step process to take charge of your chamber membership and put you on the path to success.
Some membership directors will suggest just getting out and meeting people. While that’s important, it’s also a good way to exhaust yourself. There is likely an almost endless number of networking events in your community. You can’t attend all of them. Nor should you want to.
Beth suggests a more strategic angle in her three-step approach.
Step One: Assess the Internal Layout
Before you begin your membership recruitment efforts Beth advises understanding the complexities of the chamber itself. Assess the personalities and the roles. She suggests, “The first thing to do as a new chamber membership director is to find out who are your allies and ambassadors. By allies, I mean the people on the chamber staff and board who are the biggest promoters of membership. Learn who the membership position works most closely with. Is it the events director? The executive director? The retention team? Which board member is consistently the one who brings in the largest number of new members.”
As Membership Director, Know Who You Work with Closely and Who Actively Supports the Chamber
Step Two: Find and Connect with the Top Word-of-Mouth Proponents of the Chamber
Believe it or not, there are people in your community actively referring other businesses to you, even without you asking them to! As a membership director, you will occasionally receive warm leads from these people. These leads come in hot, asking you for membership information, because they’ve already talked to someone else who is a big believer in what you do.
Today, we call this word-of-mouth or referral marketing and it’s one of the most effective forms of marketing out there. Think of purchasing decisions you’ve made. Which means more to you: someone you know telling you it’s a fantastic opportunity or watching a commercial telling you it is? Most people believe their friends and acquaintances over advertising. Referrals are far more likely to convert into sales than other forms of leads.
Even before you go about recruiting chamber ambassadors to fill those word-of-mouth marketing roles for you, know that there are supporters out there. You just need to find them.
- If you ask new members how they came to you, review some of the past answers. Who referred them?
- The next time someone calls you to ask about membership, ask them if someone referred them.
- Do searches on social media or set Google alerts to listen to people talking about you in the community.
Beth reminds us that the person (or people) who are talking about the chamber might surprise you. She says, “It might be someone who’s not in a position to join the chamber. Is it the city economic director? The librarian who talks to all the newcomers? Your mom?!”
Now you need to do what any gracious person would do when they receive a compliment. “Get these people on a special ‘thank you and recognition’ list,” Beth Bridges suggests. Make them feel valued and appreciated. They’ve already been a strong supporter of the chamber before this. Imagine what will happen once they know you recognize their efforts and appreciate them!
Celebrate and Appreciate Those Who Help You.
Step Three: Reach Out to Your Chamber Ambassadors Committee
If you are fortunate enough to already have a chamber ambassadors group, Beth suggests meeting with each one of them, individually, as soon as possible. In these meetings, you should “learn as much about them, their business and their life as you can. Find out why they are an ambassador, what they enjoy most about it and what they would do if they were in your position!”
These insights can be invaluable. Beth mentions, “By doing these things, you’ll know where you can get the most leverage and you’ll learn more about your position, where it’s been and where it should be going.” Ambassadors can be a rich source of information, particularly if the outgoing membership director isn’t available to give you background.
“Your ambassadors will almost certainly be some of your best chamber friends and you should treat them all as if they are,” says Beth, “Personally, two of my best friends right now are people whom I met when they joined the chamber and became ambassadors.”
Listen to Your Chamber Ambassadors.
So what do you do if you don’t have an ambassadors group?
Cultivating a chamber ambassadors committee or group will help you reach more people and provide a different voice for your recruitment efforts. Take action if they’ve been used to just being the greeting committee. Ambassadors are one of your most valuable assets in growing your chamber.
Things to Look for in Chamber Ambassadors
You will likely need to recruit ambassadors like you would members. However, there are characteristics important to ambassadors that aren’t as important in identifying members. These include:
- someone of good business standing and professional reputation in the community. Think about those who are influencers in their market or the community in general.
- willingness to meet chamber ambassador expectations.
- ability to attend meetings and meet recruitment goals as required.
- the type of person other people want to be around. Ambassadors become the face of the chamber. Make sure your ambassadors are the type of people who others will want to identify with. If you like them and want to be around them, chances are very good that your potential members will, too.
Additionally, you’ll want to think about what form of word-of-mouth marketing you want them to be involved with. If you expect ambassadors to attend important events, you want someone who will enjoy that sort of thing. If you want social media ambassadors who will write reviews and post good things about the chamber, that’s a different set of qualifications.
Recruitment Doesn’t Happen on an Island
As much as you may feel that the brunt of recruitment efforts fall on you (and they do…you are the director, after all), know that your most effective way of being a success in your new role first and foremost involves building a powerful network of allies and ambassadors. Next, make sure you’re seeing the chamber as a whole entity, not just a recruitment machine. Programming, events, and legislative initiatives may all affect your ability to do your job. Make sure you set aside time to talk with those people at the chamber so you know what’s coming up.
Don’t Try to Recruit From an Island of One
Additionally, look for ways you can work together with other chamber staff to make your jobs easier. For instance, knowing what members went to which events may help you craft personalized renewal letters. And the person in charge of chamber programming may want to know that several former members mentioned leaving the chamber because they didn’t see the programming as being a good fit for their business.
While most chamber staff understand the importance of working together, they may not be aware of the small intricacies and data that when shared can make a big impact on their job performance.
Congratulations and Enjoy Your Position in Chamber Membership Development!
You have selected one of the most fascinating roles at the chamber, one that will place you in touch with lots of businesses throughout your community. These tips will help you get started on what we hope is a wonderful experience as the voice of business in your community.
If you’d like to know more about how to network effectively and strategically, read Beth Bridges’ book Networking on Purpose. Networking is a critical skill for any chamber membership director or professional in any role and this book will help you master it.
This article is part of our “Now What?” series, designed to help new members, new chamber staff and new board members get up and running to be an effective part of your chamber of commerce as quickly as possible.