The average chamber member is anything but average. While you can crunch the data on average age, size of business, revenue, etc., it’s important to remember that each chamber member has very diverse interests. If you personalize your chamber memberships, you’ll appeal to many profitable niches.
Your chamber can provide services and offerings that appeal to these groups and help them grow their business. Niche offerings also assist members in meeting like-minded people who can help them through their own experiences in similar businesses or situations.
The groups or niche industries you serve will vary depending on your chamber demographic. They could include:
- female entrepreneurs
- young professionals
- culture-based networks
In this article, we’ll touch on some of the most common niche programs that likely apply to most chambers: women and young people. But before we do, it’s important to point out that although these groups have very unique needs, creating these offerings should never preclude them in partaking in other chamber events.
Keep that in mind when you personalize your chamber members for these subgroups. You want to address their unique growth and networking needs without making them feel like you are relegating them to a small box created just for that.
6 Important Things You Need to Know About Starting a Women’s Group (or other niche subgroups)
Schedulewill be important. Women’s groups will appeal to all ages including new women in the workforce, working mothers, and those considering retiring. They all have different needs and schedules. Poll your membership to find out what works best for them or rotate between breakfast, lunch, and after-hour events.
- Small or large? Will this group serve as a resource for women and their business-related needs or be a small, limited mastermind group? Understanding your goals for your group will help you determine the specifics surrounding it.
- What value will this group provide? In addition to a goal for the group, you want to know what value it will bring to their membership. Will it be a resource to help them with specific challenges or is it meant to help women network and build relationships? Whatever you decide, sell that value.
- Inclusive or exclusive? Will you allow men to attend or people who fall outside of the chosen niche? You may have some men interested
in thecontent you’re presenting just as you may have older professionals who enjoy the active events you host for young professionals. Will you exclude them? There is no right or wrong behind this decision but whatever you decide, be upfront to avoid any embarrassing moments at events.
- Market. When you’ve decided on the specifics of the goals and offerings, you’ll want to market those to members. Be specific as to what you’re offering. Some members will have preconceived notions as to what a women’s group is. These ideas may bias their decision to join in the positive or the negative. Being specific about what you’re offering can help alleviate that.
- Provide personalized content. If you’re offering lunch and learns or educational programming aimed at your niche, make sure it’s personalized to their interests and needs. For instance, if you host a work/life balance seminar for a women’s group, you’ll likely want to address childcare and children’s needs as part of it since so many women are primary childcare givers. However, if most of the women in your group have teenage children or older, you don’t want to talk about kids in daycare. While that info is valuable, it won’t be to your chamber’s demographic.
If you’re putting together a women’s group that will focus on activities and events, here are a few ideas to get your started.
Inspirational and Fun Women’s Networking Event Ideas
Women’s networking events can be an incredible bonding and business-building time but they can also be so stereotypical that they become boring if you go to more than one of them. What can you do to make sure your women’s events don’t become boring?
First, think of your female members and what they need specifically that may be different from male members.
- Everyone wants networking.
- Everyone wants more customers.
- Everyone wants more time in the day.
These sorts of programs are best for everyone. If you want to do a topic that appeals to everyone do it as a larger session or find a way to customize it to a female audience.
Want to know what other chambers are doing for fun and engaging women’s networking events?
Fun Women’s Networking Events Ideas for Your Chamber
How About Food?
From wine tastings to chocolate buffets, food is a great uniter and conversation starter. A cooking demo or a theme class like fast meals for busy nights might be a lot of fun. However, you need to know your audience before deciding what kind of food event to host. I’ve attended an elaborate breakfast pastry spread that no one touched (but me) because the attendees were all very concerned with calories and healthy eating. Know your members before hosting an event that involves eating or drinking. Or add healther food choices to bring in an element of wellness to events.
Coffee, Chill, and Chat
The Parry Sound Chamber of Commerce hosts what sounds like a really enjoyable event with great ambiance. Heather Murch said, “We take over a coffee shop, have peer expert panels, small group topic chats, and of course building connections and eating pastry!”
Women-Owned Business Expo
The Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce hosted a women-owned business expo entitled “Women Lighting the Way.” They had a variety of businesses including a hospice care facility, boutiques, financial planning, communications and marketing firms, and many others. It provided women with networking opportunities as well as marketing exposure.
Bernadette Douglas shared that her chamber hosts themed events, which are very popular. She explained, “We have a theme every year for our quarterly programs. One year it was ‘Communicate Like a Pro.’ Sessions were writing, listening, and PowerPoint. Last year was ‘Your Personal Brand.’ Topics: ethics, online, presentation style and presenting yourself to others. 2017 (was) ‘Be the Boss of your Life.’ Topics: health, finances, legal, and career.”
Ideas for Young Professionals (Names, Recruiting, and Awards)
Women aren’t the only subgroup that could be very successful for your chamber. You might also have a growing group of young professionals. Getting young professionals involved in the business community not only guarantees continued economic growth of
Attracting young professionals can be a challenge for chambers. Do you segregate them from the rest of the chamber and give them their own group where they can mingle with people their own age or do you assimilate them into your main chamber group? Are chamber young professional groups beneficial or alienating?
This topic comes up in a variety of forms in the Chamber of Commerce Professionals Group on Facebook from awards for young professionals to ways to recruit.
Some chambers look to highlight the efforts of their niche members by recognizing them. When you do, you want to ensure you get the name right. How do you find a name that’s appealing but not limiting for young professionals?
Choose an Appealing Name for the YP Group
The following is a question from the Chamber Professionals Facebook Group:
The Dubuque Chamber has a flourishing ‘YP‘ program… 700 strong! [Editor’s note: it’s 2000 members now!] The thing is…I don’t like the term Young Professionals. It is limiting as some potential members perceptions are that YP indicates college age. Has anyone heard of a great replacement name for YP groups?? Our average age is 32.
If your chamber thinks the term young professionals is “too young” for groups that include thirty-something-aged members and up, here are a few suggestions from chamber pros across the country.
Mike Paone: If I could go back and start ours again I would pick “Emerging Professionals” or something along the lines of leaders of the future.
Barry Gentry: I’m thinking Tomorrows Leaders. Today. but..not sure. I also like Trend Setters but may sound too techy.
Stuart Harrison: We’re struggling a bit as we’ve created a bit of a wall between our “Young” members and the rest. Kind of
Stephanie Joy Meisner: We named ours the Cheyenne professional network but we also have mentors for the young professionals so it is a mixture of events and such.
Vanessa Bennett We just revamped our YP program. It is called PEAK…Professionals Engaging in Advancing Kingsport. The group is doing social events called Sneak PEAKs. Very proud of where they are headed…YP’s are a huge asset to a community!
Lynn Guillory: Last year our Chamber started a Young Professional group at the request of some of our younger members. They didn’t like Young Professionals so I challenged them to come up with something better….Their answer–FUEL Vermilion (Focus, Unite, Engage and Lead) I am so proud of them–78 members and growing.
Nancie Gray: Our group is Young Emerging Professionals aka YEP
Kyle J. Sexton: one of my client chambers calls theirs Pulse, but your brand is defined by the people who participate, not the name or what we may believe the name means without context. Name is less relevant than the people and how you make people feel.
Regardless of what you call the group, you need members. How do you get them?
Recruiting Young Professionals
When we talk about YP groups, people often ask how you begin recruiting for them and what activities should be offered.
Again, chamber pros give us some sound advice:
Nancie Gray: That has played a key role in the success of our group — it was their decision to do more than after hour type and professional development events. Many of our young pros are looking for a way to give back. Their biggest event of the year is Pinktoberfest which is a fundraiser for the breast wellness center at our local hospital.
Another key – which at times was not easy (and thank you
Melissa Fetterhoff: We’ve tried a variety of types of events – the ones that they are most drawn to are things like “trivia night”. whatever works for them – we’ll do it!
We have several segmented groups at our chamber – Womens, Human Resources, Golf (we have a men’s league and used to have a women’s league). The only caveat is that it’s an open group – for example – men are invited to attend the women’s luncheon (if they dare…)
Susan Williams Our group is FLEX Future Leaders and Entrepreneurs Exchange. We’ve had very engaged young professionals for several years but FLEX has really come together this last year. The key has been giving them the opportunity to serve while providing mentoring. We also work very hard to help them advance professionally. Our last two board presidents have been under 40 and I have had as much as 1/3 of my 18 member board made up of young professionals, one as young as 23.
Even if you don’t have a formalized group, if you have young leaders, you may want to consider a YP award.
Creative Names for Young Professional’s Award
For chambers looking for an award name for their young professionals, here are a few suggestions:
Glenn Morris: Our local paper used to do a “Rising Stars” award.
John S. Cox: Rising Star, Young Leader.
Jill Cutler: We have a Pioneer award for someone forging new ground.
Sharon K Sherwood: We do a Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. They must be between 21 and 39 years of age, have owned their own business for at least 3 years, must have made contributions through volunteerism and community
Shelle Summers: Emerging Leaders.
Renee Radcliff Sinclair: Many communities do a “40 under 40” or “30 under 30” recognition. That way lots of people get in on the action and are motivated to continue building their leadership skills. I’ve seen some communities choose 1 or 2 standouts from that group from awards like “Most
Shelby Lawley: McNamara Emerging Leader? I don’t like the distinction between man, woman, and young person. I think it discredits the young person and makes the man/woman seem ancient!
Ammi Lung Tucker: I like the Rising Star mentioned. Generation Next, Future Award.
Susan Williams: Our YP group FLEX Future Leaders and Entrepreneurs Exchange holds an annual event recognizing young professionals nominated from the community. We name one as FLEX Young Professional of the Year. This is the fourth year of the event. We’ve used the nomination letters and the resumes of the nominees in the past, and have scored based on the vision for our region’s future, leadership, entrepreneurialism, and relationship building as the criteria. This year I would like to add brief videos of interviews with each nominee. For objectivity, I have asked other chamber directors from outside our region to act as judges. More about FLEX.
A Final Word About Niche Personalization
Niche personalization is a great way to give certain groups exactly what they need from the chamber membership.
However, the danger comes when these niche groups make people feel like they can only be a part of that group within the larger group. While you want people to find their tribe in the chamber, you don’t want them to feel like you are assigning them one. Make sure “boundaries” for these groups are fluid and that people can choose to be a part of them or not.