Guest blog post
"If you aren't at the table, you're on the menu."
This pretty well sums up why Chambers of Commerce should be in the business of advocacy and public policy. As
Chambers around the state have seen successes on issues like transportation, workforce development, and economic development, advocacy for Chambers of Commerce is a critical piece of helping support your local businesses.
Advocacy and public policy do not require a high-powered lobbyist or former legislator to make a real impact at the state level. Advocacy is all about being at the table and expressing the thoughts and concerns of your members. The key is being there, having a message to share that will show a positive impact for your community.
Showing up is a key piece to advocacy. Your elected officials need to hear from you. And while inviting them to events back home is great, there is something to be said for being in the hallways at the Statehouse. Legislators talk to lobbyists all the time. It's something quite different when they get a chance to hear directly from their constituents in Indianapolis. Not only are you a friendly face (most of the time...) but you're a voice that they directly represent. Programs like the ICEA Day at the Statehouse are critical opportunities to meet with your legislators on their turf. It can make all the difference in the world.
ICEA is hosting it’s 5th Annual Day at the Statehouse on Tuesday, February 11. Please make plans to attend! It’s an easy way to share your member’s and community’s story, in a way only you can tell it. And you’ll be surrounded by numerous other chamber members from around the state. It’s a great way to meet with your legislators and network with chamber members from all corners of Indiana. Get registered and find out more about Chamber Day on the ICEA website.
Submitted by Shelli Williams, IOM - ICEA President
Chances are great that the November election results will mean big changes for the local elected leadership in your community. What a great opportunity for chamber staff members to really make a bigger impact for the business community.
Over the months ahead, the chief staff rep at your chamber should make an effort to sit down individually with newly elected leaders. (It doesn't hurt to also sit down with returning leaders as well to listen and remind them of what the chamber is all about.) Take time to meet for coffee or lunch. Even if you know the person, still make the effort to meet during typical business hours to talk specifics about community issues. Find out what the core issues are that persuaded each rep to run for local office. Listen about community concerns and align how the chamber plays a key roll in tackling these problems. Ask if he/she knows what the chamber is all about. What does he/she think about the chamber? Do the new elected officials even know what business leaders want & need?
Yes, meeting individually with elected officials can be time consuming. When you ask what they think about the Chamber, some of the answers may be hard to hear depending on the past history of your organization. But the results can pay big dividends. Local officials will know more about the chamber and you will know more about the elected reps. Establishing a relationship now will help to communicate the concerns of the business community to get results and that can be a win/win for both the local officials and the chamber leadership team.
Most volunteers do not want to have a seat on the Chamber's leadership team at the time of CEO resignation. The search process can be time consuming. Many volunteer search teams want to move too quickly and run the risk of not getting the right organizational leader selected through the hiring process.
When a staffing turnover occurs is the perfect time to assess the organization. Are there partners in the community that the Chamber should consider merging with to carry forward? Some counties have multiple chambers and this could be an excellent time to see if a consolidation is in the best interest of all possible parties. Has another professional on the chamber's staff been groomed to step up to lead the helm of the organization? Often times, search teams launch a national search when there is skilled, committed talent sitting right in the Chamber's office ready for the next challenge.
Board leaders should plan in advance for any transition in leadership. Does your Chamber have a succession plan in place? ICEA has resources available on the website to assist with developing this for your team. ICEA also offers fee for service executive consultation assistance to board volunteers faced with staff turnover. These resources can be found on the ICEA website under the resources tab.
When a staffing transition happens at your Chamber, please outreach to ICEA. We will post job information and share within the weekly e-news letter at no charge for any of our member Chambers. You can reach the ICEA office at 812-871-3000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have heard many board members state that they don't want the chamber to become 'too political'. Even Chamber staff professionals have often been overheard at conference stating that their chamber 'doesn't get into advocacy'.
So, you think your Chamber doesn't do advocacy? Think again. If you have had a seat at the table where important community decisions are discussed, that's advocacy. When you meet the mayor for coffee to discuss the business community, that's advocacy. Have you ever hosted a Third-House Session? Yes, that's advocacy too.
Taking larger steps into the advocacy arena leads to greater respect and relevance for the future of your organization. You don't have to carry the flag on issues to be effective (although your members expect the Chamber to do this). You don't have to endorse candidates (although many successful Chambers do.) To step into this arena, simple successes come by sharing resources about business related issues. Poll your business members to identify key issues or trust the appointment of a governmental affairs task force to help the Board identify the key issues. This will move your Chamber up to the next level of relevancy. Start local by hosting a State of the City or County. Host candidate forums for key elections. Arrange appointments to share dialogue with key elected officials. Be the convener for community leaders to come together for problem solving. For the state and federal level issues, tap into the resources available through our friends at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber to share hot button information on key issues through your newsletter or social media. These resources will help your Chamber to look like a superstar in providing professional resources to your local business leaders.
It's sometimes hard to lead a hesitant board into the advocacy arena but the results will be overwhelmingly positive for your Chamber once you take this step. And that's why you get paid the big bucks . . .to lead the Chamber in reaching successes that the Board cannot yet envision. Do you have suggestions on helping peers grow in this area? Post a comment below. Are you still thinking that Chamber's should not engage in advocacy? I'd love that feedback also and a chance to grab a cup of coffee to listen to your why on hesitating in this area.
Let's make great things happen in 2019. Identify the issues and position the Chamber to play a key role in problem solving. You will quickly find relevance and purpose for your business leaders to see value in the Chamber as you move toward greater successes in this area. If you need help with getting started, I'm only a phone call away.
Here is a question to think about . . . Executive Director vs. President/CEO for the staff leader of your Chamber? If you have been in this business long enough, you have heard that 'board members need to bring their business minds to the Chamber's board table' and that 'not for profit is the tax status, not the business plan, for the Chamber.' So why are so many chamber board leaders still operating the Chamber as just another community not for profit?
According to Wikipedia, nonprofit senior managers are called executive directors instead of chief executive officers “to avoid the business connotation which the latter name evokes.” A Chamber staff leader represents the diversity of businesses as members and that is what makes the Chamber stand out among the non profit network in a community. We represent business leaders and they will better relate to the title of President or CEO. Regardless of the size of your Chamber, it's time we walk the walk for the members that we represent. This may be a sticky change for a staff leader to persuade a Board to make. ICEA is only a phone call away for confidential assistance with guiding your Board. Give the ICEA Office a call at 812-871-3000 anytime you need help consider directing your Board volunteers to the Board Resources section of this website.
posted by Shelli Williams, IOM, ICEA President - January 8, 2019
Here is a clear road map for dodging possible future management issues with volunteer leaders. Your chamber should have policy stating that the executive board evaluates the chamber's chief paid staff member on a regular basis. It is also recommended that a consistent evaluation form and process are part of the policy. Many boards also like to include merits for achieving performance pay bonus for the chief paid staff member as part of this policy. Here is where to avoid conflict. Evaluating performance of all other staff members on the chamber team falls to the responsibility of the chief paid staff member and not the board. When the need to hire/fire other staff members arises, that also falls to the responsibility of the chief paid staff member, and not the board. When Board members move from the visionary leaders of the chamber and try to manage the daily operations, problems will arise. Avoid that at all costs by crafting proper policy now to keep things consistent as you acclimate new board members each year.
submitted by Shelli Williams, IOM, ICEA President
I have spent a great deal of time during the last quarter of this year reviewing chamber by-laws. Many are in much need of an update, as some Chamber leadership teams continue to operate on antiquated documents. It surprises me how many organizations do not include term limits for board positions. The ICEA leadership is often asked if Board term limits are a good idea, and the resounding answer is always yes. Chambers need new talent as part of the rotational process of moving the organization forward. A standard process is no more than two consecutive 3-year terms before a board leader must rotate off for at least one year. I recently had a discussion with an executive director that wanted to change her by-laws the opposite way, allowing for leaders in the talent pipeline to hold executive offices for two-year terms throughout ascending the ladder. That would mean that once elected to the executive board, a volunteer would be locked in to service for at least eight additional years before rotating off of the Board. As I shared with this professional, you will always have effective board members that make it hard to lose talent from your team, however if you are in this profession long enough, execs will deal with some lackluster board leaders that you look forward to transitioning from the leadership. Establishing Board term limits before a situation arises could save future leaders from entering a dangerous zone of staff - Board conflict.