A person in our Chamber Professionals Group on Facebook asked about receiving some guidance from other chamber professionals who have implemented strategic planning or long-range planning.
My take is that a chamber has to do at least an annual long-range plan, long-range being 1, 3, and 5-year increments.
The value of the plan isn’t so much that it will be implemented exactly as the plan says, because the world is too complicated and moving too fast for that. The value is in having a robust discussion among the board and the staff.
Choosing a Strategic Planning Facilitator
The individual you choose to bring in to facilitate discussion is extremely important. My recommendation is to work with someone who understands the chamber of commerce industry; just as every chamber of commerce is unique so is the industry.
Bringing in someone with experience in general nonprofit organization strategic planning is the worst thing to do. Chambers might have the tax designation of being a nonprofit but they are really small businesses, just like the vast majority of the members. Bringing in someone that knows about donors and how to run a charity organization, for instance, is a huge mistake.
Bring in someone who understands that the chamber is a entrepreneurial enterprise (risk, change, innovation, income statement, balance sheet); someone who understands the business community; and ideally, has been a leading staff member of a successful chamber or business of your size.
If you’re a small staff chamber with 1-3 staff members, you’re going to want someone who can come in and be realistic about what your chamber can accomplish given your staffing levels as compared to a large metro chamber with 25-50 staff members. You need a different kind of facilitator. Someone who understands your world.
You might want to reach out to Steve Snyder or Dave Kilby at the Western Association of Chamber Executives (WACE) because they facilitate staff and board retreats or you can reach out to one of the consultants in the chamber of commerce industry.
You can also reach out to a neighboring chamber president/CEO who has a lot of experience and success. He or she would understand your situation and be respected by the board. An internal staff member can’t really head up the facilitation of a long-range plan for his or her own board because, a prophet is never respected in their hometown.