Small Business Season Spotlight:
Delaware Small Business Chamber (DSBC), Bob Older

In this spotlight series we are highlighting the successful efforts of chambers around the country that expanded their focus on serving small business throughout Small Business Season and beyond. In each installment the Chamber Pro shares a little bit about their chamber, their practices and programs, and offers some advice to replicate their success.

Chamber Facts

Years of Operation: 13
Members: 200
Service area: statewide throughout Delaware but it has members in the surrounding tri-state area as well
Staff size: two person staff

DSBC was the brainchild of Bob Older, a small business owner. He wanted a chamber that understood small business needs, that supported them. In the nine chambers in Delaware, he couldn’t quite find what he needed so he took the best ideas from each of them and created an entity that put small businesses first, advocating for their needs and helping them to achieve their desired outcomes.

The pandemic hurt the organization a little bit because small businesses are always the first to feel the hit of a down-turned economy. Bob points out that DSBC is different from most chambers because it is “one of the only chambers out there that actually turns down members because we are focused solely on small business. Delaware is a small state, and this is a statewide chamber. We will accept larger businesses (as members) if those businesses are supportive of small local businesses.”


DSBC does between 70 and 100 events a year that are free to members. These events occur in different parts of the state to accommodate small businesspeople throughout the state. DSBC also hosts between 20-24 mixers a year. All but two are free to members.

Even during COVID, DSBC continued to host events. The organization was still doing about 70 events a year—approximately 30 in-person and 40 virtual events. Bob received permission from the State to do so. Occasionally, he had to change the date of the event but because of DSBC's efforts their Annual Awards Brunch and Fun Fest continued even during the pandemic.

Another event they're planning is an All in Paddle Auction. Every participating small business must provide a basket for the auction. In return they receive promotion and marketing. The public event costs $45 per paddle and the income generated from it goes to the DSBC Grant Fund, which supports aspiring entrepreneurs filling empty storefronts in Delaware. Vacant storefronts are not only eyesores, but they can cause investors and residents to lose confidence in the local economy. This grant helps anyone considering opening a small business because it reduces one of the heaviest startup costs in obtaining a brick-and-mortar store front.

DSBC also promotes what small business is doing. It has an event calendar for members where DSBC encourages them to post their promotions and events throughout the year.


Bob created a tiered dues structure based on "value, not size of business." As a small business owner, he had experienced “ask fatigue.” He was familiar with the common complaint from business owners that “Chambers are always asking for money for this or that.” He wanted to balance the fiscal needs of the chamber with the desires of the businesses. A chamber ask could easily become tiresome and cause people to avoid calls from the chamber or lose interest in attending events. No one wants to hear yet another request for money.

Built into DSBC’s dues is based on Chamber Dollars. These dollars can be used for anything from advertising to sponsorships to event tickets. For instance, when a member signed up for DSBC’s $500 Executive Tier, they receive 250 Chamber Dollars that can be used for a chamber service or ticket.  That way, a member designs their membership based on their individual needs and the chamber isn't always looking for sponsorships. (Each level above Executive provides additional Chamber Dollars for even greater benefit.)

Another thing Bob considered when he was designing the tiered membership was that he didn't want to penalize his members for growing. Since his focus was on small business, he shied away from basing the cost of membership on how many employees they have. DSBC provides a tiered membership system based on value/benefits, not employee head count.


DSBC focuses on helping small business owners with their needs whether they are a member or not. The chamber takes a “long game” or future approach. The businesses that need help may not be current members but may consider it in the future based on the chamber’s assistance. DSBC gives now knowing they may collect later.

In years past, it held small business convoys to support the small business initiative. Members decorated their vehicles with signs supporting small business and drove down the highway honking their horns and getting attention for local business in a fun, grass roots way.

DSBC is not a political chamber, but it does advocate for small businesses. Because of this, it has a unique approach to Small Business Season because every season is Small Business Season for DSBC.

Small Business Season

During the 2023 holiday season DSBC added a little merriment to their programming by introducing a scavenger hunt/business passport program with 22 participating small businesses throughout the state. Participants received a stamp from the participating business if they spent at least $10 with them. DSBC promoted the program on social media. DSBC also ensured its holiday shopping card was inclusive with all winter holidays represented.

DSBC launched a campaign entitled, “Buying small is really big” and educated the communities it serves on the importance of supporting small business. In December, it hosted a community fair where the organization invited nonmember and member crafters to participate. It was a great event that drew business for the crafters and the nearby businesses. In 2024, DSBC plans to make it bigger and begin advertising earlier.

Challenges & Advice

Bob shared that one of the biggest difficulties chambers have these days is “holding on to an ineffective paradigm” and “doing what they've always done.” Change is needed in the industry. He encourages chamber pros to listen so they can understand their members. He suggested, “Ask members what they want. Consider what can be done differently to benefit members and the community you serve.”The Website Header Video

He also encourages chamber pros to think about how we can change or influence the perception of the chamber in general. “As we become a more inclusive organization, we need to think about how marketing applies to people who are moving here from other countries. Their experiences may differ vastly from our own. They may not know what a chamber is, or they may have different views of what a chamber can do for their business. There may be biases or a lack of education on the subject. As chamber pros, we need to educate them on how we can help. We need to listen to them to find out what shape that help should take. This is an evolving task and something we should be working on consistently.”


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