If you’ve been selected to serve on your chamber board, you can give yourself a little pat on the back. That means you’re being recognized for your community leadership, your business acumen, and the knowledge you can bring to the organization. It takes a very special volunteer to be selected, and then excel, as an effective chamber board member.
It’s likely you’re also the type of person who takes participation very seriously and you’re used to being one of the top performers in your industry. Leaders like you don’t do anything halfway so let’s take a moment to explore how you can be the best and most effective chamber board member ever by building a great relationship with your chamber CEO.
Effective Chamber Board Members Understand Roles in the Chamber
One of the most confusing parts of becoming a chamber board member is understanding what the board is in charge of and what is left up to the chamber executive. While each chamber varies slightly when it comes to specific job duties, this article will explore the dividing line between the board and the executive.
If you’d like to know more about the specific expectations behind your new role as a chamber board member, read our board expectations article.
Often new board members confuse the role of chamber board member with handling the daily tasks of the chamber. This may be because they see being on the board as oversight for the chamber and they might not have a good indication of just how deep that oversight goes.
Use the article as a guide and know that when the board and the chamber staff each do what they are best at, the chamber functions much more successfully. When one entity takes on a micro-managing role of the other, there’s a disconnect and it hurts chamber performance toward goal attainment. In order to have the most effective working organization, some clear lines should be drawn on responsibilities. Effective chamber board members ask and understand these responsibilities.
If there’s something that doesn’t make sense in this list of job duties, you can consult the chamber by-laws, fellow board members, or chamber staff for the specifics. However, generally the roles work like this:
The President/CEO of the Chamber Runs the Day-to-Day Chamber Operations
This role can be the lone employee of the chamber or the head of the chamber staff. Whether your chamber executive is the only chamber employee or s/he manages an extensive staff, the board’s contact is the chamber executive. Some of the responsibilities mentioned below for the chamber exec may actually fall under the responsibility of a particular chamber staffer, but overseeing employee tasks is in the exec’s role, not the board’s, so those responsibilities are listed under exec.
Some chambers still refer to the head of their organization as an executive director in much the same way a non-profit uses the title. However, there has been a general shift towards referring to them as a president/CEO. In this article, we will use president/CEO for the designation but know that it covers executive directors as well.
A Chamber President/CEO
- is interviewed and hired by the board.
- reports to the board, keeping them abreast of issues facing the chamber.
- receives periodic feedback from the board on performance as well as potential cost of living increases, raises, and or bonuses based on performance.
- handles or oversees daily administrative tasks for the chamber.
- puts together the budget for the chamber with input and final sign-off/voting on from the board.
- oversees minor purchases for the chamber including office supplies.
- pays the bills for the chamber (some chambers may have check-signing limitations for certain amounts).
- delivers periodic reports on goals, budget, and recruitment efforts.
- decides on the most effective ways to recruit members.
A Healthy, Effective Chamber Board of Directors
Some boards are very large, while others are small enough to fit around a conference room table. The larger the board, the more committees you may be a part of. A small board may itself function as a committee and not have any additional ones.
Regardless of board size, the most effective chamber board members:
- see their role as a partnership with the CEO, both have distinct roles but work together.
- understand there can be a financial aspect to their roles. They are either called to give financial investment to the chamber personally or through membership/ticket sales.
- assign professional goals for the CEO and review them with that individual (this falls on the entire board or it may be assigned to the executive committee. More about that under board leadership).
- developing criteria for membership (this may need to be reviewed periodically)
- practice fiscal responsibility. While the board signs off on the budget it should never see its role as the spender of money. Building up reserves and practicing fiscal responsibility on behalf of the chamber is a wise idea for everyone.
- recruit members (the exec/staff and board are both tasked with this responsibility).
- attend meetings as dictated by the by-laws.
- help maintain the system of checks and balances to ensure every goal is met. This responsibility is done at a high level. The goals are set and monitored by the board, but how they are met is left up to the CEO to determine.
- may handle difficult issues with another board member.
- are directing the organization, not running it. This is a subtle difference. The board speaks for the members and brings their business skill in a high-level advisory role. When it gets embroiled in the day-to-day, everything suffers.
Finally, within the board itself is the leadership position, which most likely is referred to as the “chair” or chairman. In larger chambers with more than five board members, there’s likely an executive committee, which includes the board chair, vice-chair, secretary, and treasurer. Some executive committees can be as small as three or as large as seven.
The chair role is not just in name only. There are specifics the head position of the board will need to orchestrate. These include:
- serving as a liaison between the CEO and the rest of the board.
- appointing/choosing the executive committee (this is not the case in all chambers).
- creating a policy of solutions. If someone on the board has a concern, it should be brought to the board as a concern and a proposed solution. It might not be the ultimate solution the chamber gets behind but it keeps down the negativity because it forces those with complaints to also come out with suggestions.
The One Simple Directive You Need to Know About Chamber Leadership
While the board is an important part of the chamber’s success and the individuals on it are prized for their business knowledge, when they take on too much, it can lead to inefficiencies. For this reason, the board shouldn’t get involved in the details of day-to-day chamber operations.
This level of micromanagement is counterproductive for several reasons such as:
- It doesn’t allow the CEO to do the job for which they were hired and invalidates the position. This can breed resentment and fatigue.
- It confuses the members and the staff as to who’s in charge of what. Now they don’t know whether to go to the CEO or the board.
- It doesn’t provide a system of checks and balances. It places complete chamber function in the hands of a temporary advisory body. That can mean a lot of changes every 2-3 years.
Goal setting, strategy, and budgets fall under the purview of the board, but the implementation tactics are decided by the CEO. Understanding these distinctions are key to being an effective chamber board member:
Let’s have a little fun and perhaps comic relief in the roles and expectations of the board. (Yes, some of these are over the top examples.) For instance, the chamber board members should never:
- tell the chamber CEO what and when to post on social media. There should be goals aligned for social media and that’s the part that’s important to the board, not a post about what color a dress is.
- hire or fire chamber staff outside of the CEO. The board oversees CEO performance. The CEO oversees their staff.
- decide the dinner entree at the next event. Again, revenue from the event is the board’s concern, not chicken.
- pick the font on name tags. There is no goal associated with font selection.
- decide the color of the welcome mat outside of the chamber. This task is not important to chamber strategy.
- select the music that plays in the chamber lobby.
- set event prices or pick out the table decorations (or dealing with any event details). Again, the focus here is on the goal. In an event debrief afterward, the CEO may seek insight and ways to change things in the future but it should be done as part of an event review and how these details help the chamber meet the goal or miss it.
- question the purchase of office supplies (unless they are over budget). Paperclips do not fall under major office equipment purchasing categories and should not require purchase authority from the board.
- decide whether two-ply or quilted TP is best.
While these things are meant to elicit a little bit of laughter, the crux of this article is a serious one. Identifying traits of a healthy and effective chamber board/CEO relationship will enable you to work together for the advancement of the chamber and the business community. When the board becomes locked in the minor details of operations, they are unable to perform their more strategic roles effectively.
The chamber needs your business acumen, goal forecasting, and strategic mind. Our success depends on it. When the chamber board and exec are able to work well together, each overseeing the areas in which they are experts, the chamber is a strong example of innovation and efficiency.
Watch this helpful video for the Secret Formula for Organizational Effectiveness.