There are an estimated 4,000 chambers of commerce across the country that have at least one staff person, according to the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. There are many thousands more that are run as volunteer organizations.
Membership can include one-person enterprises, very small “mom-and-pop” stores, small firms, local manufacturers, all kinds of companies that deliver all kinds of goods and services to the community.
In Allen, Texas, members include a nonprofit community band, a kids’ cooking school, a state representative, lots of attorneys, local outlets of national firms, popular restaurants, credit unions and hundreds more. In Monmouth County, N.J., you can find members such as the Count Basie Theatre, a nonprofit conservation group, several local governments and Monmouth Park, the local racetrack. Spokane Valley, Wash., counts a Harley-Davidson dealer, a Holiday Inn Express, several health care providers and two churches.
Why should a nonprofit organization consider joining the local chamber? Here are a few ideas about how chamber of commerce membership might benefit your nonprofit organization:
Everybody talks about networking as one of the building blocks of development. “Being part of a local chamber of commerce can be one of the best ways to tap into the community’s interconnectedness and web of relationships and affiliations,” said Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Those relationships frequently lead to somebody who knows somebody on the board or staff of area foundations.”
Being in a chamber of commerce means having the opportunity to tell “your” story — the situation, circumstances, issues and challenges your nonprofit is addressing. The work you do is a part of the fabric of daily life in your town and this is an effective way to talk about it with people who can help.
Many chambers take on important community projects. Some create their own foundations to raise money and fund local initiatives. Better a local nonprofit be a part of the philanthropic process than be apart from it. Most nonprofit people don’t get to experience the grants process from the “other side” of the transaction. It’s illuminating.
Like almost every other institution in society, chambers of commerce are evolving. They were created to promote the interests of “tradesmen,” and they are opening their lenses to include the interests of the broader community. There’s opportunity for nonprofits to benefit from being a part of that picture.
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