Moving Beyond Membership: Funding Your Chamber of Commerce’s Future

This article was originally published in the ACCE’s Chamber Executive magazine.

One of the most pressing demands on chamber professionals is ensuring they have the funding needed to support their organization’s efforts and plan for the future. We recently welcomed Casey Steinbacher as a guest on our podcast. A former CEO of three chambers and an expert in urban innovation strategies, Casey has worked with chambers across the country. I thought her words about “finding next” were particularly applicable as I work to help in funding chambers of commerce.

Staying Essential to Your Community

“Chambers have forever had tension between the mission and the model,” Casey said. “The mission is always about growth and prosperity.” Monetizing that mission typically meant primarily or even exclusively membership revenue.

When COVID first made its appearance in 2020 though, chambers quickly became an essential service and that extended beyond membership. If you needed masks, PPP assistance or access to a small business loan, chambers did everything needed to help both members and non-members and keep their community up and running. Finding a way to retain that essential status and continue to be relevant to all members of a community is the key to the future of our industry.

Our firm, Convergent Nonprofit Solutions, is currently working with Casey on a capital campaign for a chamber in the southeast. The thoughtful and proactive planning effort happening before that campaign is impressive. Setting expectations that they do community work, not just business work, and finding specific, innovative outcomes that will measure diversity and inclusion improvements in the community are just a few of the priorities for this chamber that will ensure its essential role for the future.

Identifying Partnerships for Solutions

No matter what the size of the chamber, workforce development, attraction and retention are key issues today in every growing community. In a major association campaign we managed recently, partnerships were the clear solution to help navigate the workforce challenge.

This association saw that 20,000 jobs would be unfilled in their state by 2028 and 70% of those jobs required education beyond high school, while only 42% of the current workforce had any level of higher education. To address this gap, they made talent pipeline enhancement a major cornerstone of their capital campaign. They specifically identified two scalable initiatives to pursue, as well as a partnership with the sovereign Native American tribes of the state.

When working with the Greater Macon Chamber in Georgia on their capital campaign, we partnered with nonprofit organizations in the community that had similar issues they were trying to solve and a need for funding. The result was magnified beyond what the chamber would have been able to achieve on its own.

Funding your Chamber of Commerce’s Future

If you’re questioning how to raise the money for new projects, programs or initiatives that are above and beyond the member services you provide in exchange for dues, a capital campaign may be the right answer. Even in communities where chambers aren’t the primary economic development organization, the chamber will often bundle together initiatives that support, complement and expand upon the efforts of the local EDC. These chambers may not be seeking funding for industrial recruitment and business attraction, but they may well be undertaking other economic and community development initiatives such as business retention, workforce development, small and minority business programs, entrepreneurship, etc.

Taking steps to secure the future of your chamber of commerce can start now. Convergent can help you conduct a feasibility study to test the waters for the funding that will allow you to move beyond your membership and fund a forward-thinking plan for the growth of your community. Contact us today for more information.

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