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- 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 out of unfamiliarity or a lack of understanding. However, this guide provides a useful introduction to the benefits of joining a chapter an organization, the fees and choices available to business owners, and how to become a chamber member.
What Is a Chamber of Commerce?
A chamber of commerce is an organization of businesses operating as a 501(c)6 organization. Chambers of commerce seek to further their collective business interests while advancing the economic well-being of their community, region, state, or nation.
While a chamber of commerce works with the government, it is not a government entity. A chamber will often lobby the government at the local, state, or national levels to ensure their legislative agenda gets represented. Chambers operate as individual organizations and do not receive any government funding.
Today, there are 4,000 chambers and volunteer organizations in the U.S. advocating for a variety of issues, including tax policies, legal reform, and economic reform. Minority chambers provide additional resources to Hispanic, Asian, and Black business owners. While the guiding principles for each chamber of commerce vary, many of their goals center around economic development, prosperity, and employer community.
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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.
The opportunity to network among local business owners, operators, and industry movers is one of the most appealing aspects of joining a chapter chamber of commerce. Examples of popular networking opportunities include:
Meet and greets, networking lunches, and mixers for company employees enable individuals to develop mutually beneficial marketing strategies and foster the discussion of business strategy. For instance, the Summit Chamber of Commercechapter hosts a weekly coffee meet-up for local entrepreneurs, business owners, and freelancers.
Chambers of commerce offer a variety of partnership opportunities. Ambassador programs, for example, consist of chamber employees who work to help new members actively use the organization's services. In turn, members learn to market their products collaboratively.
- Membership Perks
When your business joins a chamber of commerce, the membership typically allows for a certain number of employees to also join. This enables individuals within your company access to the same people and resources that benefit you and your business.
Membership in a chamber of commerce provides your business with opportunities for additional exposure.
- Marketing Outlets: Some chambers of commerce provide members with advertising opportunities on their websites. Chambers may also publish newsletters, maintain social media pages, and run publications.
- Sponsorships: Some organizations offer sponsorships or fundraisers for member businesses or the chamber itself. The Dallas Area Chamber of Commerce, for example, provides local sponsorship events and partnership opportunities for members.
- New Business Opportunities: Chambers provide business referrals, insights into new local businesses, and networking opportunities with industry leaders.
- Business Credibility: According to a survey conducted by The Schapiro Group, customers responded 63% more likely to use the goods of businesses that belong to a local chamber. Businesses may add further credibility by advertising themselves as chamber members on their storefronts or websites.
- Community Involvement: Many chambers of commerce partner with local organizations to help bring awareness to local needs. Being a part of the local chamber of commerce gives business owners several opportunities to get involved in the community.
Resources for Businesses
Business owners and entrepreneurs wear many different hats. Being a member of the chamber gives them access to resources they might not otherwise have:
- Directories: Access to the chamber's membership directory helps business owners locate other businesses that might work with them. Members can also get access to email lists to broaden their customer base, whether B2B or B2C.
- Discounts: Chambers may offer member discounts. These may include discounts for restaurants, tuition, insurance, bulk shipping, office supplies, electric or gas energy, accounting software, and industry literature.
- Facilities: For larger chambers, members often enjoy access to their facilities where they can hold events. For smaller or medium-sized companies, the use of facilities is paramount to community engagement.
- Financial Access: Chambers also provide streamlined access to business loans. By fostering relationships with banks, chambers can make recommendations to businesses for banks and help banks trust a business' ability to pay off a loan.
Services for Businesses
Chambers of commerce also offer many services that businesses rely on:
- HR Benefits: Chambers offer HR consulting regarding benefits, regulatory compliance, and training.
- Security: Today's businesses need to safeguard against both physical and cyberthreats. Many chambers offer consultation regarding the security of employees, products, and data.
- Accounting: Many chambers go beyond offering accounting consultation. Some also offer payroll services that help both small and large companies track their finances.
- Jobs: Chambers also provide immediate access to job listings and employee referrals, which proves useful to businesses that need to hire seasonal workers.
- Advocacy and Representation: Chambers often recommend PAC (political action committees) or political candidates that represent the organization's interests.
Education and Training
Many chambers of commerce offer seminars and workshops to help business owners sharpen their skills. Examples of education and training include:
These gatherings provide owners and employees with important, up-to-date, and credible information from subject matter experts.
Meetings on current business topics offer an in-depth analysis of both local and national business trends that help chamber members make strategic choices regarding their business' future.
Some chambers offer insight into legislative or community issues impacting businesses at the local, state, and national levels.
Chamber of Commerce Structure and Organization
A board of directors governs each chamber of commerce, overseeing the organization's strategies and policies. The board also manages daily affairs and updates the chamber's policies. Board members, also referred to as the executive council, are elected within each organization. Most chambers 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 the organization's goals.
In addition to a governing board of directors, a chamber has at least one employee. Chamber employees perform marketing tasks, oversee memberships, and track finances.
In addition to employees, a chamber has committees that execute the organization's goals, such as education, environment, or healthcare. Chamber members can volunteer to participate in these committees.
How a Chamber of Commerce Functions
A chamber of commerce maintains membership dues. Each organization offers different levels of membership and a fee-based structure.
Each chamber is designated as a 501(c)(6) organization under the federal tax law. This means an organization 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).
Each member must contribute dues to the chamber's overall operating costs. In addition to dues, a chamber can raise money to cover additional costs through fundraising activities and charging fees to chamber events.
Different Types of Chambers of Commerce
A chamber of commerce can function at the local, state, regional, or national levels. Some chambers are even associated with specific neighborhoods within a community. Other organizations are formed to represent specific business interests. Examples of this include female business owner organizations or the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
Each chamber's mission can support different industries or initiatives. For example, some focus on economic development while others promote collaboration between the community and local businesses. Multiple chambers can also join together to form a larger, collective group serving similar interests. For example, several organizations can join together to form a larger regional chamber.
The Local Impact of a Chamber of Commerce
A chamber's impact on the local economy can be difficult to measure. The Schapiro Group reports that once consumers know that a local business is a chamber member, they are more likely to patronize that business. For example, people were 49% more likely to buy insurance from an insurance company and 40% more likely to eat at a restaurant owned by chamber members.
A chamber of commerce can impact a local community through celebrations, gatherings, or event sponsorships. Additionally, a chamber can advocate for various local issues — from education to criminal justice — that can positively impact communities.
Many organizations work with other groups involved in the community, such as tourism groups and economic development teams, to bolster their initiatives. For instance, a chamber focusing on economic development could help bring new businesses to a community.
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Impact on Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs
Many consider small businesses the heart of a chamber of commerce — with good reason. Small businesses can potentially boost their own bottom line by aligning with a chapter chamber. A survey conducted by the Schapiro Group found that consumers were 49% more likely to think favorably of a business if they are a member of a chamber of commerce.
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: "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 educational programming."
Joining a Chamber of Commerce
Joining a chapter chamber of commerce is straightforward, starting with an application and dues payment. The real work is choosing which chapter organization best suits 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 organization 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 chamber is best for you:
- What does it cost?
- Look for information on the levels of membership, the benefits of each level, and the payment options. Each chamber usually contains multiple membership levels based on benefits or the number of employees. You can almost always deduct the dues as a business expense.
- Which industries and businesses does the chapter chamber represent?
- Determine if the chapter chamber is aligned with your own business values and initiatives. Not just any chapter will do. Be selective with regard to the most promising option(s).
- How many members are in the chapter chamber?
- Although bigger is not always better, It is important to choose a thriving chapter chamber with multiple opportunities for your business to get involved and network.
- Which local businesses are members?
- This will give you an idea of who you could potentially be working with should you choose to become a member. If you already have certain businesses in mind, consider an chapter organization whose members include those companies.
- How is this chapter chamber different compared to others?
- Note a given chapter's organization's mission statement, goals, and success stories. Chapters Consider chambers whose values align with your own.
- What are the main aspects of the chapter's chamber's agenda, mission, and priorities?
- Often this information is found directly on the chapter's organization's website. Knowing the chamber's main focus can help you determine how it can benefit your business.
One last critical aspect of choosing the right chapter chamber is to look at the board of directors or executive council. Get to know the members of a board if possible, or at least research their backgrounds. Each member has a unique contribution. Understanding the board is another way to get to know the organization.
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 first thing to do is attend a few meetings. From there, you can ask other members (especially ones in the same industry as you) how they are involved and what opportunities are available.
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 with your business category. You can also look for speaking and writing opportunities within meetings and events, which further promote your business and industry knowledge.
Frequently Asked Questions About Chamber of Commerce
Should you join a local chamber of commerce?
Joining your local chamber of commerce offers several business advantages. Some of these include networking events within your business community, marketing services, and educational opportunities.
Is there health insurance coverage through the chamber of commerce?
Depending on the chamber, there may be opportunities to obtain healthcare coverage through the organization. There are instances where local chambers, like the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, partner with other organizations to offer health coverage to small businesses.
Why do some chambers have 501(c)(3) foundations, and what are they?
Some chambers establish charitable foundations that fall under the 501(c)(3) federal tax law. These foundations are established to support local causes aligned with the chamber's mission.
Would joining multiple chambers that represent my business make sense?
It is possible to join more than one chamber. Each membership should reflect your business interests.
Do chambers of commerce have job boards for hiring local talent?
Many chambers of commerce feature local or regional job opportunities on their websites. These job boards may feature exclusive job postings listed by current members.
How can chamber membership lead to more web traffic to my business?
Web traffic could increase for your business since your business will be listed in a member directory. There are multiple opportunities to advertise and sponsor chamber activities. Many chambers also provide resources for growing your business, including increasing website traffic. Ultimately, increased exposure can boost your business' visibility.
How do chambers represent competing businesses in the same market?
Chambers do allow competing businesses to join, so this is a common occurrence. Regardless of their industry, all members work toward common goals like growing their businesses and local communities.
Each chamber regulates its speakers, sponsorships, contributors, and coordinators. It would be up to each chamber to make sure competing businesses are not overlapping one another in these areas.
In addition to the resources the chamber of commerce provides, here are some resources you might find useful as a small business owner:
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