Why Join a Chamber of Commerce?
The Value of Chambers of Commerce for Businesses
- A chamber of commerce is an organization of business owners and entrepreneurs who promote the interests of their local business community.
- Chambers of commerce provide access to valuable resources, discounts, and relationships that help businesses save money and market their products.
- Joining a chamber of commerce can boost sales and significantly improve a local business’ visibility and credibility.
This guide explores the business value and ROI of joining a chamber of commerce. Small business owners and entrepreneurs often overlook chambers of commerce because they are unfamiliar with them. However, this guide provides a useful introduction to the benefits of joining a chapter, the fees and choices available to business owners, and how to become a chamber member.
What is a Chamber of Commerce?
Chamber of commerce is a broad term referring to a business network. This network is made of individuals who invest their time and money into the organization, generally with the goal of advancing their community’s economic well-being. Often, a chamber of commerce is made up of local business owners and entrepreneurs in a designated geographical area who advocate for local business.
Each chamber of commerce is run as an individual organization, known as a chapter. A chapter represents a local, regional, state, or national interest. A chapter also represents many different initiatives and viewpoints within a specific community — typically with a pro-business and pro-free-enterprise viewpoint. While many people might associate the chamber of commerce with the government, it is not a government entity. A chamber will often lobby the government (whether local, state, or national) to ensure the chapter’s legislative agenda is represented. Chapters do not, however, receive any funding from the government.
The idea of a chamber of commerce has been around for hundreds of years. Today, you can find thousands of chapters across the country. For example, one of America’s largest chapters, the United States Chamber of Commerce, was founded in 1912. There are over 4,000 chapters in the U.S. advocating for a variety of issues, including tax policies, legal reform, and economic reform. While the guiding principles for each chapter are different, many of their goals center around economic development, prosperity, and employer community.
Benefits of Joining a Chamber of Commerce
Joining a chamber of commerce provides businesses with access to resources, discounts, and relationships that enable them to save money, market their products, and streamline their processes. Both employees internal to individual chapters and members of chapters bring their own benefits to the total body. Whether your business is looking for B2B partners and sales, help with customer acquisition, or guidance on HR processes, a chamber of commerce can help.
Chamber of Commerce Structure and Organization
Each chapter of a chamber is governed by a board of directors who advise the chapter on strategies and policies determined by the chapter’s mission. The board manages day-to-day affairs and updates the chapter policies. Board members, also referred to as an executive council, are elected within each chapter. Most chapters have an acting president and CEO, for example. Members of the board are elected based on their leadership experience, business background, and ability to execute chapter goals.
In addition to a governing board of directors, a chapter will have at least one employee. Some chapters may have more than one employee and be structured like a business. Employees work to market the chapter, in overseeing memberships, and in tracking the chapter’s finances.
In addition to the employees, a chapter has committees to focus on executing specific goals based on the chapter’s mission — such as education, environment, or healthcare. Members of the chapter can volunteer for these committees to get more involved.
How a Chamber of Commerce Functions
A chamber of commerce chapter is made up of a dues-based membership. Each chapter offers different levels of membership, along with unique volunteer opportunities and a dues structure.
Each chapter is designated as a 501(c)(6) corporation under the federal tax law. This means a chapter is a nonprofit entity with the authority to represent its membership in matters of policy and debate (unlike charitable organizations that do not act on behalf of members).
Dues are required by each member to contribute to the overall operating costs. In addition to dues, a chamber can raise money to cover additional operating costs by holding fundraising activities and charging fees to chamber events. These costs help the chapter stay operational since multiple businesses rely on their local chamber for networking and resources.
Different Types of Chambers of Commerce
A chapter can be found at the local, state, city, regional, or national level. Some chapters are even associated with specific neighborhoods within a community. Still others are formed to represent a group of specific business interests. Examples of this include female business owners chapters or the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
Since each chapter has its own mission focused on economic vitality throughout a designated area, each can support different industries or initiatives. For example, some focus on economic development while others connect a specific community to local businesses. While each chamber acts independently, multiple chambers can join together to form a larger, collective group serving a similar interest. For instance, several county chapters can join together to form a larger regional chapter to pool together resources.
The Local Impact of a Chamber of Commerce
Exact numbers on the impact a chamber has on the local economy are difficult to measure. However, a study conducted by the Shapiro Group out of Atlanta, GA, shows how a chamber membership directly impacts sales within the community, thus the local economy. For instance, people are 36% more likely to purchase insurance from a member of the chamber. Likewise, a shopper is 44% more likely to purchase from an automobile dealership that is a member of the chamber, according to the Shapiro Group study.
A local chapter of a chamber of commerce can impact a community through celebrations, gatherings, or event sponsorships. Additionally, a chapter can advocate on many local issues — from education to criminal justice — to impact communities. Many chapters work with other groups involved in the community, such as tourism groups and economic development teams, to bolster their initiatives. For instance, a chapter focusing on economic development could be solely responsible for bringing a new business to a community.
Impact on Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs
Many consider small businesses the heart of the chamber of commerce — with good reason. Small businesses can potentially see a boost to their own bottom line by aligning with a chapter. The Shapiro Group also found that consumers were 49% more likely to think favorably of a business if they are a member of the chamber of commerce. Additionally, 80% of the respondents in the survey were more likely to purchase goods or services from the company in the future.
Sam James, Owner and Funeral Director for James Funeral Services in Huntersville, NC offered a local business owner’s perspective on how being a member of a local chamber can benefit business. He said, “Our membership with the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce has been invaluable. The Chamber is a conduit that connects us not only to business leaders in our community, but to the general public. We enjoy numerous networking events each month as well as the educational programming.”
Joining a Chamber of Commerce
Joining a chapter is a straightforward process, starting with an application and dues payment. The real work is choosing which chapter is best suited to your needs and aligns with the economic policies you support.
Choosing Which Chamber to Join
Not every chamber of commerce chapter will fit your needs, and one might be a better fit than others. You can start by attending events open to nonmembers or by contacting current members. Each chapter will likely have a website with contact information and other information. You can use the following checklist to help you ask questions to determine which chapter is best for you:
Advocating for Your Business Within a Chamber of Commerce
No one understands your business better than you do, and a chamber of commerce is a great resource for your business’ success. For those unsure of where to start, the best place to determine how you might get involved is to attend a few chapter meetings. From there, you can ask other members (especially ones in the same industry as you) how they are involved and where the chamber needs the most help. As with many associations, you can start small and increase your contributions over time.
You can also take your membership a step further by getting involved in committee or subcommittee work. This may allow your business to sponsor activities with the chamber, especially ones which align to your business category. You can also look for speaking and writing opportunities within meetings and events, which further promotes your business and industry knowledge.
Small businesses face an enormous amount of challenges before plans come to fruition. In addition to the resources the chamber of commerce provides, here are additional resources you might find useful as a small business owner: