Does your chamber of commerce have an ambassador program?
As I describe it when I’m at events talking about some of the ambassador programs we work with: “You know, a group of volunteers that help shepherd new members through the programs, services and opportunities the chamber offers?”
Many chambers of commerce around the world feature formal ambassador programs – and I would venture that the chambers that don’t have them wish they did.
As far as make-up goes, chamber of commerce ambassador programs take on many shapes and sizes, depending on history, capacity, membership, geography and other factors.
They are quite a bit of work to put together or sustain, but can be invaluable when it comes to engaging with members.
Let’s talk about why…
Why are Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Programs Important?
As we’ve discussed many times in this blog, chamber of commerce staff are some of the most well-meaning, customer service-minded people you’re going to meet.
But they are overworked, and almost always understaffed.
Yes, on the IT’S ALL ABOUT WHO YOU KNOW Podcast by Momentum, we hear from chamber execs who have nothing but praise for their staffs for their hard work, dedication and service to their members – and rightfully deserved.
But I’m certain every one of those chamber executives would advocate on the spot for resources to double the size of their staff.
Every member of a chamber of commerce believes that when they write their check, they’re going to get personalized value and return-on-investment.
And why not? You’re joining a membership organization, which implies that you’ll get certain benefits for being a part.
Something we talk about often – if you tell your chamber what it is you hope to get out of that membership, as long as it’s within their capacity, they will bend over backwards to try to deliver it to you.
But most companies don’t do that.
They don’t let the chamber know what they need, and many hardly engage with the chamber staff at all.
This isn’t necessarily on the staff, either.
If they could, they would most definitely sit down with every member.
But when you’ve got a staff of 15 (and that’s usually generous), with 1500 members to take care of, while beyond member services working on government advocacy, economic development, workforce, tourism, clean energy, and the multitude of other things chambers of commerce have their fingers in… Hunting down members for one-on-one time is difficult.
That’s where chamber ambassadors come in.
What is a Chamber of Commerce Ambassador?
Let’s start by talking about what chamber of commerce ambassador actually does.
Around the country, there are many models for ambassador programs, but typically they have a consistent role, which is to shepherd new members through their first year of membership, and ensure that they (1) understand the full scope of offerings a chamber provides and (2) they get identifiable value from their membership, so that they renew.
Think about why that’s valuable from the chamber’s perspective.
Like any business, for a business association, new customers are the hardest to keep.
They’re not committed yet to spending the money on an annual basis – and many join a chamber of commerce not necessarily knowing why.
They do it because they’re “supposed to.”
Many go through those twelve months of membership not really knowing what to do, or how to make the most out of the chamber.
They try some events – not necessarily the right ones.
They read the newsletters.
Plus, they’re busy on top of it, so their engagement with the chamber, without seeing that defined value almost immediately, goes to the bottom of the priority list.
Unfortunately, we hear from too many companies that they “didn’t get anything” out of their membership.
I say unfortunately, because it doesn’t have to be that way. Shouldn’t be that way.
Every chamber of commerce in the world provides value.
You just need to know how to get it.
Who can help? Ambassadors.
Ambassadors are chamber members who volunteer to help these new members navigate their first year of membership.
Some chambers – like the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce, who we work closely with – have other responsibilities for their ambassadors, such as helping out with chamber representation at ribbon cuttings and membership anniversary photo-ops, but for the most part, ambassadors are charged with shepherding new members into the fold.
It generally consists of an introductory call, perhaps a lunch or coffee meeting, and then staying in touch with the member throughout the year – tipping them off to upcoming events that might be of interest, making introductions for them or just checking in to say hello.
For a new member – many times a young company getting started with a million other things to be working on – this kind of outreach can make the chamber experience. Not just enhance it, but make it successful.
Well-trained ambassadors who understand the mission and the role can be an incredible asset to companies trying out the chamber to “see what it can do for them.”
Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors as Intel
Think of chamber of commerce ambassadors as an extension of the staff – an advance team, even.
That sample chamber I mentioned above, with 15 staff trying to take care of 1,500 members? Let’s add a committee of 15 ambassadors to the mix, and see how many more members the chamber can have personal contact with over the course of a year.
Do the ambassadors do everything the staff can do?
No, that’s not their job.
But they can certainly lay the groundwork, and take some of the work off of the staff’s plate.
Remember what I said above – if you give your chamber of commerce a membership fee, they want you to get value out of it.
Let me repeat that: if you give your chamber of commerce a membership fee, they want you to get value out of it.
Now, it may not feel like it every day – especially when you see a lot of the chamber’s public activity seem to be more aligned with the interests of companies larger than you.
But, at the basest level, think about it…
The happier you are with your membership experience, the less they need to prod you for a renewal check the following year.
Simply put, it’s in the chamber’s own best interest that you’re happy, and that you see your membership as money well spent.
That’s the easiest answer, of course, but chambers of commerce also tend to hire people who have a servant’s spirit.
They are connectors, and they are working hard every day to take care of every member they have.
At the personal level, the team at the chamber wants you to be happy, as well.
So, how can they find out as much about their members as possible, when they can’t possibly get out and sit down with all of them?
They assign a team of volunteer ambassadors to get the information.
In those early meetings and phone calls with new members, this is a key role for ambassadors, because the information gathered is invaluable to the chamber staff.
Once the organization knows what makes their members tick, they can not only fine-tune their individual experience, but the chamber’s programming, in general.
There are many facets to a chamber’s interaction with its member, ranging from programs to events to referrals to sponsorship marketing.
The staff gets paid to ensure those opportunities are being seen by members, and utilized if appropriate and beneficial.
Your ambassadors can help direct those more specific conversations between the chamber and its members when the timing is right.
Why Would Someone Be an Ambassador?
- Give back to your community by helping out a fellow business
- “Get more involved”
- Grow your network
For anyone who’s ever said they wanted to “get more involved” with their chamber of commerce, if your chamber has an ambassador program, it’s a great place to start.
In fact, we’d argue that it’s one of the best ways to grow your network that a chamber offers.
Wait one minute!!! This is a volunteer program, and it’s supposed to be about giving of your time and expertise, not looking to get something out of it.
On the contrary.
That sentiment right there is one of the foremost reasons that we believe chamber ambassador programs sometimes have trouble getting off the ground, or staying sustainable.
Of course, you’re giving of your time in an altruistic way, and that’s an important part of… well, society.
But, you should always be looking for value when you give time to your chamber of commerce and, no matter what activity you’re engaged in, if you’re not getting reciprocal value, then you’re doing it wrong.
No, one of the great returns on giving your time to an ambassador program are the contacts you’re going to make.
Think about it… Every company you talk with is new to the chamber.
They’re not the same folks you’ve been seeing at networking events for years… They are completely different people.
And those people bring with them their own networks.
What a huge opportunity to meet new people and businesses, just by offering some time to help out a company that’s new to the chamber.
That doesn’t mean you’re going in with a sales pitch, or that the company you’re shepherding would even be a viable prospect for you.
But relationships are the name of the game, and in exchange for your time, the chamber is giving you personal access to a brand new opportunity to meet people. All you have to do is show them value.
I’ll make this blanket statement – a chamber of commerce is at its best when its members are connecting, and mutual value is achieved.
As a chamber ambassador, you have a great opportunity to deliver value to a fellow member.
You can get a great deal of value out of the role, yourself.
Given that our business model is based on our clients joining and getting value from chambers of commerce, we have quite a bit of experience with ambassador programs.
We’ve seen very good ones, and we’ve seen ones that need help.
We’ve been told that an ambassador is reaching out, never to hear from them, and we’ve had ambassadors literally trying to sell us sponsorships on our initial call.
The concept is not an exact science, but there are certainly best practices around the country to follow.
From our point-of-view, if you are able to recruit well-meaning, empathetic people who understand how to deliver value, give them the right tools and encourage them to strive for mutual value, your program will be a success.
For newer chamber members, if your chamber has an ambassador program, take advantage of it.
No matter what your reason for joining the chamber was, an ambassador can help you make it a reality within your first twelve months.
Momentum – The Business Growth Agency helps companies develop, implement and optimize their chamber of commerce membership and sponsorship strategy. Want to learn how? Schedule a 15-minute Zoom call with us!