Monthly Archives: March 2015

No ‘Easy Button’ for Chamber programs and events

Private nonprofit organizations like professional societies, trade associations and chambers of commerce depend on several resources to produce events like we did on St. Patrick’s Day – our “ShamRockin the Bakken Taste of Williston.”

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Bill Falcon and the Good Medicine Band entertain Williston’s ShamRockin’ the Bakken on St. Patrick’s Day.

Some organizations are large enough to have an events planning staff. One or more paid staff members to plan, budget and execute community and organizational events.An event that requires three to six months worth of planning doesn’t happen just because it worked last year. It is not uncommon to find a professional meeting planner in one of these staff positions, one who holds the credentials of “CMP” or Certified Meeting Planner.

Another option is to partner with an events planning professional or company. There are companies and individuals whose sole business mission is to plan, organize and execute events. This option takes resources (read: money), but does free up staff to conduct other business to meet the organization’s missions. Managing the planning and execution of an event, while working with an event planner, can yield benefits for both the group hosting the event, and the contracted event planner.

Whether there is a full time staff charged with events, or a contracted events planner, a nonprofit organization still relies on two major things: both of which are required for successful community activities and events – volunteers and sponsors. Both of these critical components to a successful event have something in common.

Accept the fact that we have to treat almost anybody as a volunteer.
– Peter Drucker

Why doesn’t your church committee or school play have more volunteers? There are lots of great companies in this town who should be sponsoring or helping with our event, why is it so difficult? The answer is the same…

It’s all about the fit.

Is time precious for everyone today? Yes. Are companies and corporations financially stretched? Yes. However, nonprofits and organizations for centuries have been missing the point in looking for quality, committed volunteers and sponsors. They mistakenly send out blanket news releases and emails and posts that sound like: ‘Looking for committee members;’ or ‘Sponsorships available.’ What are those messages missing? SPECIFICS!

What’s the difference in these two approaches?

Q:  Would you like to serve on the events committee?
Q:   I need your skills for six months to help make our annual meeting a success, and this is why. Can I count on you?
The key to the second question is you gave the volunteer a definitive timeline and explained why you need their skills. The same goes for a sponsorship request.

Q:   Would you like to sponsor our meeting again?
Q:   Mr. Smith, I know you like the downtown businesses, and your company sells to many of them. Our monthly lunch meeting has an opening for a sponsor at $250. We’d love to partner with you on this event.
Again, the difference is specifics and best fit.


Speaking of good fits, I have to give a shout out to the Chamber’s Staff and our volunteers who made the ShamRockin’ the Bakken Taste of Williston a fantastic success on St. Patrick’s day. Our major sponsors came through in the clutch and helped the community be Irish at least for a day! We’re testing out a new online project management system called “Basecamp.com.” So far, everyone seems to enjoy using it to keep in touch with our event planning.

One happy Leprechaun!

One happy Leprechaun!

A quick ‘by the numbers’ summary of the event: We had 17 food vendors, more than 350 people through the door, a couple of Leprechaun-sponsors (Pat and Jackie!), and one shaved head (thanks Ken and the donation to St. Baldrick’s charity!).

A big Chamber of Commerce thank you goes out to:
Murphy Motors, The Grand Williston Hotel & Conference Center, American Petroleum Institute-Williston Chapter, Williston Convention & Visitors Bureau, KUMV-TV, Cherry Creek Radio, American State Bank & Trust (for the Dublin Boys Choir) and Mail Box Solutions Plus.

The next time your group, organization is looking for volunteers or sponsors, the more specific you can be with your request, the better chance you may have with landing that next superstar volunteer or title sponsor for your event.

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The Internet will never catch on

I read a post recently about a Newsweek article that appeared in February 1995, just 20 years ago.  Clifford Stoll proclaimed the ‘world wide web won’t be nirvana.’ The ad next to the text was from Newsweek, enticing readers to purchase a subscription in print and digital version. How ironic. Somewhere in one of my online profiles I proclaimed, “The Internet is just a fad.” Of course, I was quite kidding. But how can today’s technology help a Chamber, and can it actually harm a nonprofit?

The Chief Information Officer of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) used a phrase, which I cannot get out of my head:

Today’s nonprofits and chambers must be available for their members – at their point of need.

–Reggie Henry, CIO, ASAE

This concept is key for volunteer, member-driven nonprofit organizations. Continuing to spoon feed standard programs and services, networking and education events because that’s the way it’s always been done; doesn’t make the grade anymore. Volunteer committee members and chamber members are pressed for time and resources; and many times will only make an effort if it fits their own schedules, and they see some direct benefit. Chambers and nonprofits must continually demonstrate value for membership dues, and return on investment for sponsorship dollars.

Savvy chambers will have many different ways to connect with Members including:

  • In-person networking events (Business After Hours)Image result for social media icons
  • Larger events such as community celebrations and business conferences/expos
  • Regular newsletters which cross market other community events and Member activities
  • Quality website with “members only” section
  • Mobile apps so Members can receive text alerts about events, sponsorship opportunities or committee meetings
  • Social media including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others (like this blog platform)
  • Printed media, articles in the local newspaper and business journals
  • Electronic media including radio and television.

The point is that we reach our membership and future members (there are no “non-members” only future members) in many different ways. And we need to reach our members, customers and clients the way THEY want to be reached, and not the way the organization assumes is best. But does too much reliance on electronic communications, email and social media actually harm a chamber or nonprofit?

Does calling and making an appointment to meet face to face put an organization at a disadvantage? That answer might be different for each type of business. I would argue that in the member-centric, nonprofit world, that face to face communication is more effective in reaching and solidifying your membership base. Bluejeans.com blog claims that more than 90 percent of the message in communicating is non-verbal and body language. It’s hard to look surprised in an email. (Use of emoji is not allowed in business communications). Maybe actually getting up from behind the desk, putting the mouse away for a while and picking up the phone might have some longer term benefits?

As new members walk into our Chamber office, the personal connection we have with that new business owner is solidified by eye contact, a smile and a handshake. We could just blast email every new business in town. However, we’ve seen a marked increase in event sponsorships and attendance due to the personal touch we’ve given our Members- even when we’re calling for membership investments (dues). It helps to be human.

There’s probably a happy medium between meeting your members individually face to face every month to share with them everything going on in the Chamber, and only using electronic tools of the technology world to connect. The challenge is finding the right mix. How do you do that?

Just listen…

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