This article on community building ideas is part of the Meeting the Needs Series that 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.
Chambers have long been the face of, and advocates for, business but as any chamber professional knows, they do a lot more in the community than just business. Chambers of commerce are always looking for community building ideas to help make their town or city better. But does the community understand how the chamber is working to meet their needs?
The answer is likely no or not entirely.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- some of the most common community building activities
- how to get your community to notice the chamber’s efforts
- creative community building ideas
- how to build a greater sense of community and what that does for your area’s future
Common Chamber Community Building Activities
We’ll begin by covering some of the most common roles chambers play in their communities and going over how community affects offerings.
Each chamber is different so in discussing community building ideas and activities, it’s important to point out the needs you meet in your community should be tailored to your own as well as the local economy.
Is your community largely:
- manufacturing based
- military dependent
- big on natural resources
- reliant on tourism
- bound to the bodies of water it’s near
- rich in healthcare and research
- or a bastion for higher education?
These type of distinctions will shape the varieties of businesses you attract, the types of people who call your area home, holidays, education, and even family life.
Chambers serve as connectors for their community in common activities like:
- July 4th celebrations and holiday parades
- economic development initiatives
- networking events
- legislative initiatives
- tourism assistance
- education and job training initiatives
- scholarship programs
- harvest festivals
- non-profit support
Many people assume the chamber of commerce is a government entity or an extension of the Better Business Bureau. While most chambers enjoy a very good reputation in their communities, sometimes a chamber needs to cultivate a little more community interest. In those cases, the following steps can help.
Tips on Getting An Uninvolved Community to Support the Chamber and Improve Chamber Recruitment
Step #1 Create a Strategic Plan
A new strategic plan from the chamber can create a lot of buzz in the community. Make sure you send summary of the plan to all of your members, prospects, and community leaders. Give a copy to the newspaper and radio stations. Post the summary to social media. make a big deal out of it.
Step #2 Plan an event
Plan an event with high visibility and community interest. This allows you to meet people and generate a buzz with some new energy. People need to see you in action. In a disjointed community, that may involve several large undertakings or events. Supporting a candidate, issue, or cause can also give a noticeable example of the work you do.
Step #3 Get Out There
Follow up your event by making personal visits to current members and ideal members. Personal attention is key to your success. These suggestions might not yield members right away, but you’ll be building goodwill for the future.
Make Friends and Sow Influence
One chamber professional suggested:
“Your early adopters are the most important allies here. Figure out (or hopefully you already know!) who the leaders are in the community. The really involved people everyone knows or wants to know. Get them involved at the ground level, I’d even try one on one meetings to press the importance of the chamber to help build the community and support economy. You need lots of foot soldiers out there selling it for you, inviting people to events and setting the tone that this is important to the town. I’m assuming you have a board, so they should be doing the same. Ask them to each bring 1-2 guests to each event, people are much more likely to come when asked by someone they like/respect. Small towns are like high schools. You need the cool kids on board, and then everyone else will follow.”
A Final Note About Building Community
Finally, you need to ensure you’re giving businesses and members of the community something they find valuable. When you’re visiting them and speaking with business leaders ask about their largest concern. Understand what keeps them up at night and then look for solutions you can offer that will help them with those problems.
When it comes to community members, look for things people are struggling with or areas of improvement for your town. Things you might consider include: not enough high paying jobs, a lack of nearby or affordable education or job training, or a lack of beautiful spaces.
Keep in mind no one joins or supports the chamber anymore out of expectation or it being the next step in their business. You need to offer something more than a business obligation or nebulous claims of “networking” and you need to get community attention by doing something that benefits a larger part.
Creative Community Building Ideas for Chambers
Chambers of Commerce build community in a variety of ways based on the needs of the people in their local area. A few of these ideas could even produce revenue for the chamber. Some creative and successful programs that chambers have managed (and you might consider if you’re looking for that type of activity) include:
The Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce hosts a shred day. The cost of the truck is sponsored by a member. Ambassadors and staff donate their time to work the event. The chamber makes a nice profit on the 3 hr event and they host it 2-3 times per year. They give advertising to the sponsor, the business location, and the company that does the shredding at a discount.
Chamber members get two boxes for free and each additional box is $5. Non-members may also participate but they don’t receive two free boxes. They limit the service to 10 boxes a person.
Business Improvement District
Several chambers have started downtown beautification projects. As part of that, many of those chambers “sold” lamp post banners or decorations to member businesses. Some choose to use this same type of beautification program for holidays, hosting contests to decorate lamp poles or to recognize local “legends” such as the five banners of famous residents recently added to the Clovis Heritage Walk in California.
Farmers Markets or Farm to Table Dinners
Eating clean is a growing trend as is the farm to table movement. Many chambers are capitalizing on those by becoming involved in their local farmers market or hosting a farm to table event. Another popular idea is setting up that farm to table event outdoors right on the main street bringing the community together in a very visible way.
Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design, and management of an area. Chambers that work on this aspect of their community capitalize on the community’s assets for inspiration to create public spaces aimed at promoting people’s health, happiness, and well being and creating a community people want to stay in and move to. When you create amazing public spaces, residents are happy, businesses thrive, and tourism increases.
How to Build a Greater Sense of Community
The Fox West Chamber of Commerce said it beautifully on their website when they wrote, “A community begins with a location, but it doesn’t end there; a ‘community’ is much more than just geography. A community is people… people living, people working, people buying, people selling, people teaching, people learning, and people retiring after their life’s work to enjoy the fruits of their labor. A community must be nourished and kept vital if it is to realize its fullest potential. That is part of what our Chamber of Commerce does.”
“The Fox West Chamber of Commerce is committed to improving a greater “sense of community” in the Fox West Area. Our objective is to strengthen the civic, cultural, recreational, and educational choices for everyone in the community. We actively seek the expansion of business and industry to strengthen the economic choice of employment for you and your family. We actively seek improvements in the Fox West Area to provide a better place for you to live and work.”
Some of the ways to put these beautiful words and community building ideas into action are through:
- business connections and referrals: ensuring members and potential members meet the types of connections they are most looking for. Sometimes that may mean introducing them to nonmembers as well.
- community contributions: whether donating time or money to community causes, doing this gives the chamber a more prominent spot in the local fabric of the community
- visiting with your elected officials and promoting your members and their concerns and accomplishments
- coalitions: getting behind topics and issues your community feels passionate about
- workforce and economic development committees: working to make your community one in which people want to live, visit, and work
- partnerships: inviting elected officials to be on your chamber board as ex-officio members and attending city meetings as well
Meeting the needs of your community is important for several reasons. It helps the chamber be part of a movement to invest in strengthening your community and transforming it into a place people want to be. Knowing what your community needs and acting on it also shows members of the community that you care about where you live and understand the symbiotic relationship between community and business. Being a prominent part of the community helps build the know, like, and trust that makes others want to be a part of what you’re doing. Take these community building ideas and leverage them to meet the needs of your community as an essential part of your chamber’s future and growth.
Wondering about how to meet the needs of other specific demographics? Read the previous articles in our Meeting the Needs Series.