Published

October 06, 2017

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Your Chamber of Commerce: A Guide to Starting and Growing a Chamber of Commerce equips you with the basic tools to get your chamber up and running. We address the most frequently asked startup questions, provide a wide array of resources, and describe how an interested, well-organized group can create a climate for growth and success in the community.

Chamber of Commerce Overview

What Is a Chamber?

A chamber of commerce is a voluntary partnership of businesses and professionals working together to build a healthy economy and improve the quality of life in a community. As a chamber works to accomplish these goals, it must champion many different functions: economic developer and planner, tourist information center, business spokesperson, economic counselor and teacher, government relations specialist, human resources adviser, and public relations practitioner.

Who Are Chamber Members?

Chamber members are businesses, organizations, and individuals concerned with the socioeconomic climate of a community. These groups have joined together because they stand a better chance of getting things done when speaking with a collective voice. Chamber members can include the small hardware store on the corner, the mom-and-pop diner, the established bank downtown, franchise and major retailers, and the local baseball team. There are no limits or restrictions on the number or kind of members that choose to get involved in a chamber of commerce.

Who Leads a Chamber?

A chamber of commerce is run by its members. They elect a board of directors who determines policies and sets goals. The chief elected officer presides over all board meetings. A chamber’s day-to-day operations are handled by a professional manager. This person is generally a paid employee. Some small communities have a manager who is either a volunteer or a part-time employee. You can increase participation by encouraging members to work on committees. Committees can include economic development, education, government relations, human resources, public affairs, and tourism.

What Are the Objectives of a Chamber?

The chamber keeps these broad objectives in mind as it works to improve a community’s economy and quality of life:

  • Help businesses prosper and grow.
  • Increase job opportunities.
  • Encourage an orderly expansion and development of all segments of the community.
  • Contribute to the overall economic stability of the community.
  • Promote the nation’s private enterprise system of competitive marketing.


Sample Job Descriptions

Chamber Org Chart graphic

 

Chief Paid Executive

The chief paid executive of a chamber of commerce serves as the chief executive officer, carrying out the policies and directives of the membership.

Typical job titles in this classification: 

  • Executive Director 
  • Executive Vice President 
  • President
  • President & CEO or President/CEO

Operations Executive

The operations executive serves as the chief operating officer of the chamber. This position helps manage and oversee personnel to ensure the execution of the day-to-day business operations of the organization.

Typical job titles in this classification: 

  • Deputy Director 
  • Director, Internal Services 
  • Executive Assistant/Office Manager 
  • Office Manager 
  • Senior Vice President of Operations

Finance

This position maintains the organization’s financial records and prepares reports for the chief paid executive and the board. It also oversees the organization’s accounts receivable, accounts payable, and billing, among other financial activities.

Typical job titles in this classification: 

  • Chief Financial Officer 
  • Controller 
  • Director, Accounting 
  • Finance Director 
  • Vice President, Accounting

Communications

The Communications Department plans and manages all communications activities and publicity including staff, membership, and public information.

Typical job titles for this classification:

  • Associate Director of Communications 
  • Communications Coordinator 
  • Director, Advertising and Campaigns 
  • Senior Communications Manager 
  • Vice President of Communications

Membership

The positions in this department solicit and enlist new chamber members, as well as membership renewals. In addition, this department solicits sponsorships for chamber programs and plans membership recruitment efforts such as membership drives.

Typical job titles in this classification:

  • Assistant Vice President of Member Relations 
  • Director of Sales 
  • Manager for Membership Services 
  • Membership Director 
  • Vice President, New Member Sales

Resources and References

Anyone starting out in the chamber industry can turn to the following resources for assistance.

Institute for Organization Management, a U.S. Chamber Foundation program, is the premier professional development program for chamber executives. Programs are held for one week each year at five U.S. college campuses, and Institute curriculum consists of four increasingly advanced, consecutive levels of study. Participants attend classes on the latest trends and techniques in chamber management taught by industry leaders, academics, and consultants. Class size is limited to enhance the learning experience and foster peer interaction. Call 202-463-5570, or email IOM@uschamber.com.

The U.S. Chamber’s Accreditation Program is the only national program that recognizes chambers for their effective organizational procedures and community involvement. To achieve Accreditation, a chamber must meet minimum standards in it’s operations and programs, including governance, government affairs, and technology. This extensive self-review can take three to six months to complete. The final rating, Accredited, 3-star, 4-star, or 5-star, is determined by the accrediting board, a panel of U.S. Chamber members. Accreditation is open to all chambers that have been operating for three or more years. Chamber members receive a discount on their application. For more information call 202-463-5560.

American Chamber of Commerce Executives is a professional association designed to help management personnel in their career development. For program information and materials, visit www.acce.org or call 703-998-0072.

Reference Books

Finance and Legal

Model Policies and Procedures for Not-for Profit Organizations
Edward J. McMillan, CAE
Available on the ACCE website, www. acce.org

Governance

Enhancing Committee Effectiveness: Guidelines & Policies for Committee Administration
John F. Schlegel, CAE
Available on the ASAE website, www.asaecenter.org

Hiring the Chief Executive
Sheila Albert
Available on the ACCE website, www. acce.org

Volunteers—How to Get Them, How to Keep Them: An Essential Guide for Volunteer Leaders and Staff of Professional, Trade and Charitable Nonprofit Organizations
Helen Little
Available on the ASAE website, www.asaecenter.org

The Perfect Board
Calvin Clemons, CAE, CMP
Available on www.theperfectboard.com

Human Resources

Career Building for the Chamber Professional
Available on the ACCE website, www.acce.org

The New CEO’s Guide: Advice for the First-time, Aspiring, or Current Association Executive
Beth Brooks
Available on the ACCE website, www.acce.org

Marketing and Communications

How to Develop a Customer Service Plan 
Available on the ACCE website, www.acce.org

Quick and Easy Newsletters
Available on the ASAE website, www.asaecenter.org

Membership and Programs

Guide to State Legislative Lobbying
Robert L. Guyer
Available on the ASAE website, www.asaecenter.org

Keeping Members: The Myths and Realities
Arlene Farber Sirkin and Michael McDermott 
Available on the ASAE website, www.asaecenter.org

Money Matters—Your Guide to Membership Sales
Available on the ACCE website, www.acce.org

Millennium Membership: How to Attract and Keep Members in the New Marketplace
Mark Levine, CAE
Available on the ASAE website, www.asaecenter.org

Robert C. Harris, CAE, provides free tips and templates on www.nonprofitcenter.com.