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)
- 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?