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Date ArticleType
10/10/2017 General
The Why, What & How Of Your Chamber

The Why, What and How of Your Chamber
Submitted by Dave Kilby, President & CEO of WACE

When was the last time your leaders took a “pause” to reflect on and discuss the
WHY of your chamber of commerce?

According to our brand research, your WHY or purpose needs to be the three Cs:

Catalyst for business growth;
Convener of leaders and influencers; and
Champion for a stronger community.
If you take a look at The Magicians of Main Street by Association of Chamber
of Commerce Executives Senior Vice President Chris Mead, who chronicles the
history of chambers of commerce from 1768–1945, chambers originally excelled
at the three Cs.

You can open the book to almost any page and find examples of chambers
leading by tackling business and community issues, all the while excelling at
being conveners and coalition builders.

So what happened? Did we all of a sudden in the years following World War II
have mission creep or amnesia and become chambers of events?

I’ve been around long enough to remember the day when the bulk of ALL chamber
funding (approximately 80%) came from dues, but somewhere along the line,
we adopted a “user fee” mentality and went “all in” doing events, and many got
addicted to government money. The combination of the two, I believe, dramatically
changed our organizations.

The possibility exists that we now have an opportunity to change again—and
return to normalcy—and be more like the magicians of main street showcased
by Mead, fighting for causes that will improve our communities and local economies.

For many chambers, the possibility exists that our brand research may be the
stimulus needed to give them permission to change.


With the above three C purpose in mind as our WHY, we also have data from
thousands of business people across the United States which clearly indicates
that members think it’s important for their chamber to focus on five core areas.
At W.A.C.E., we have called these our core competencies and think they are
the WHAT for today’s chambers:

Build business relationships;
Political action;
Promote the community;
Represent the interests of business with government; and
Strengthen the local economy.
Even though most chambers have plenty of room for improvement when it comes
to doing the above, you don’t have to stretch your imagination very far to connect
the dots and see how these core competencies fit with the three Cs.

HOW We Do It

A case can be made that while the WHY and the WHAT for chambers is nearly universal,
every chamber can be different when you look at HOW chambers follow through, and
the programming needed to fulfill their brand promise and mission.

The specific programs in a tourism town may be very different than in an agriculture
community—just as the challenges in a metro chamber are, most likely, very different
than a bedroom community.

The HOW is where each chamber can do its own thing. But I strongly suggest,
as our research points out, that chambers not lose sight of their WHY or the core
competencies (their WHAT) as they keep the promise of chambers in the 21st century.


Dave Kilby is the president and CEO of W.A.C.E., and is executive vice president of
corporate affairs at the California Chamber.

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