While we could write a book about this subject alone, there are a few basic tenets you want to use when trying to create an incredible chamber board. A board can be one of your greatest assets as a chamber pro and one of your greatest frustrations.
Unless you were a charter member of your chamber, you are likely walking into an existing board dynamic. This can be a difficult undertaking, like a director who takes over a movie without having chosen the cast. You may have a prima donna, a rogue actor, or even a no-show and it’s up to you to figure out how you will mold them into a functioning whole that will guide the chamber and the community.
The board plays a pivotal role in the success and vibrancy of your organization. A dynamic and engaged board not only provides strategic direction but also serves as a valuable resource in driving the chamber's mission forward.
So, let’s explore essential best practices and tips to help you foster an active and engaged board, ensuring long-term success for your chamber of commerce.
Establish clear communication channels and expectations for board members. Clearly articulate the chamber's mission, goals, and the specific roles and responsibilities of each board member. Regularly update them on key initiatives, successes, and challenges to maintain transparency and keep everyone informed.
The Denison Area Chamber of Commerce lists its board expectations and duties on its website so people who may be considering applying for a position know what the position entails.
Even if every board member is a long-standing one, it’s important to ensure they know what’s expected and what they’re responsible for. Many people don’t understand the fiduciary responsibility they have as a board member. One of your first acts (in the first six months) as a new chamber pro, should be hosting a chamber board basics class. While they may think they know everything there is to being a board member, what they don’t know could impact both of you.
While you’re ensuring your board knows the basics of what’s expected of them, you also want to spend some time getting to know them, their personalities, their job history, skills, and talents. Asking them about their goals and passions can help you understand ways in which their talents might be better used. “Knowing” who you’ve inherited can give you an advantage when it comes to motivation as well.
While you’re walking into a board already set, at some point you will have the ability to add members. When you do, you want to be strategic about recruitment.
Building an effective board starts with strategic recruitment. Identify individuals who bring diverse skills, experiences, and perspectives to the table. Look for members with a passion for the community and a commitment to the chamber's mission. Janet Steele from the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce also suggested looking for someone who is “…respected in the community as a positive decision maker.”
A well-rounded board with varied expertise can better navigate the complex challenges your organization may face. Plus, you can counterbalance some of the board personalities that are already there.
This is also the time you can give some thought to what kind of board you want. Do you want a board of CEOs and leaders from top employers to serve as advisors? Maybe your chamber would benefit more from a hands-on, engaged in the grassroots efforts of the chamber board volunteer? There are chambers that are successful who use each of those types. Whatever you decide, be sure that they understand the expectations of the role.
Bonus tip: you may find that you have too many board members. You chamber may have been one of those chambers that used board positions as rewards. If that is the case, there may be too many cooks in the kitchen, and it may be difficult to get anything done. If that is the case, you can simply decide not to fill the position as your current board members term out.
Once new board members are identified, invest time in a thorough orientation and onboarding process. Provide comprehensive training on the chamber's history, current initiatives, and strategic plan. This not only helps new members understand their roles but also fosters a sense of connection and commitment to the organization. Some chambers require their board members sign a document of agreement that enumerates the expectations of the position as part of orientation.
Bonus Tip: Handing someone a board packet is not an orientation or onboarding program. Put together a session (or better yet a half-day retreat) that not only educates but engages and brings them together.
Schedule regular board meetings with an agenda and purpose. Ensure that discussions are focused, and decisions are made efficiently. Encourage open dialogue and active participation. Watch to make sure everyone is included and engaged. Don’t allow a big personality to “run the show.” Consider incorporating guest speakers or training sessions to enhance board members' knowledge of the chamber, relevant industry trends, and/or best practices.
Distribute responsibilities and encourage board members to actively participate in committees that align with their skills and interests. Committees offer a platform for focused work on specific projects and provide opportunities for members to contribute meaningfully to the chamber's goals.
Acknowledge and celebrate the efforts of your board members. Regularly recognize their achievements and milestones, as board members and business/community leaders. Feeling valued and appreciated contributes to a positive board culture and encourages continued engagement.
Conduct regular board assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of your board. Solicit feedback from members on their experience and use this information to make informed adjustments. Adapt your strategies based on the evolving needs of your chamber and the community it serves. Just as you rework your strategic plan every couple of years, you want to assess your board needs as well and make sure they are aligned.
Provide ongoing opportunities for professional development. Encourage board members to attend leadership training (if you have a leadership program), conferences, workshops, and training sessions to enhance their leadership skills and stay updated on industry trends. Bring in speakers as part of your board meetings. Investing in their growth benefits the individual board member and the chamber as a whole.
Bonus Tip: If you have created a board of top CEOs, professional development may not be a motivator. Instead, learn what it is that they want (such as more access to one another or elected officials) and help facilitate that.
Building and sustaining an active and engaged board is an ongoing process that requires dedication and strategic planning. By fostering clear communication, strategic recruitment, and a culture of appreciation, you can cultivate a board that not only guides your chamber but actively contributes to its success. A committed and empowered board is the cornerstone of a thriving chamber of commerce. Just as the old saying goes “You have to spend money to make money,” when it comes to your board, the more you invest in it from a resource perspective, the more your chamber will accomplish.
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