Tag Archives: Nonprofits

Right direction or wrong track?

There is one question political pollsters prefer over any other when trying to gauge voters’ feelings about a candidate:

“Is the country [state, city, school district, etc] headed in the right direction or on the wrong track?”

This is in part due to the vagueness of the question, and partially because people generally pick one or the other and there isn’t a middle choiImage result for political pollsce. Using a subjective numerical scale to determine how much a voter likes a candidate, or how likely a voter may or may not cast his or her vote for a particular candidate is much tougher. “On a scale of one to ten, would you say you are VERY likely, SORT OF likely, KIND OF likely, MOST likely to vote for…? I’ll pick 4, 5, 6 almost every time. Those answers don’t do squat for statisticians and pundits.

I’m pretty good about answering any polls or surveys when asked, because I used to do political polling and phone calls back in my early political days.  Any good college political science student raises his or her hand to help on local campaigns.  “Campaign Assistant” sounds so cool on a young, hungry poli-sci resume. That is until you realize the job is making blind calls from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm  for some schmucky dog catcher candidate you will never meet. No selfies in those days. You might get a button, a signed brochure, and a free meal on election night.

So let’s bring this thought to our business community in Williston and Western North Dakota, and ask again: From a business, economic and jobs standpoint; are we headed in the right direction, or are we on the wrong track? It might depend on which level of government to which you refer.

Image result for bureaucracyI’ve written before about how our federal rulemakers (not lawmakers) have been ‘helping’ small businesses the past few years; and how they’ve unleashed a series of administrative rules which if fully implemented, will stifle growth and cost the United States thousands of jobs. The “unelected government” comprised of appointed cabinet level officials, under deputy assistants to the secretary, and a plethora of bureaucratic spinsters spew out thousands of new administrative rules and interpretations of laws that not only hinder free markets, but clamp down on the American dream.

Pro-business lawmakers can only do so much during a term before it’s time for another election. Make no mistake, if the current federal regulatory environment continues, it won’t just be the price of a barrel of oil that muffles our economic growth potential in western North Dakota. It will be our own federal government. We need to recognize that the free enterprise system might not be perfect, but that same system also has built this country into a political and economic super power.

Good thing for businesses we have some choices in 2016. Let’s make the right ones.

Sidebar: Thanks to State Senator Brad Bekkedahl, North Dakota Public Service Commission Chair Julie Fedorchak, and North Dakota Department of Commerce Commissioner Al Anderson for making our first attempt at the “Eggs & Issues” policy forums a smashing success. We’ll be planning three more in the spring so watch for them. Maybe we’ll even have some eggs.

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The Race for Relevance

Last week we formally announced our 2016 Williston Area Business Directory project. The objective is to produce a directory of local businesses whether a Chamber Member or not; do some strategic advertising, and make it a relevant tool for the community. In the first four days of announcingDraft cover it, doing a little radio spot, and meeting with some businesses, our inboxes and phones have blown up! I think we might be on to something.

2015 Membership web badgeThe race for relevance is a phrase coined by nonprofit gurus and memorialized in print. That relevance is in the eye of the member. For some, Chamber membership is a stamp of loyalty and support of the business community – telling your customers and employees that you are here and part of the community. For other members it’s more of ‘what do I get for my investment’ mentality. Yet, for some they view their membership from a standpoint of ‘what can I accomplish by partnering with the Chamber, and how does that help my business.’ We’re looking to move our mindset more toward the latter.

The 2016 Business Directory is allowing us to partner with Chamber members by giving them exposure in a resource that everyone will want to have on their desk or in their truck. The project is also giving the Chamber exposure to non-Members (called future members) and demonstrating our relevance to the city and to the business community.

We’ve finally gotten on the road to relevance and are rapidly gaining ground; now we’re looking to win the race.

Today’s random pic comes from the 2015 Chokecherry Festival at Harmon Park last Friday.

North Dakota's own Tigirlily perform at Harmon Park for fans under a breezy Williston evening.

North Dakota’s own Tigirlily perform at Harmon Park for fans under a breezy Williston evening.


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With wind filling our sails, Chamber continues moving forward

Following our successful Rockin’ Ribfest community event, the Chamber has taken the past three weeks to reassess our program offerings for Members; both revenue generating events and educational programs that may or may not benefit the bottom line.

Successful event momentum is like a warm shower; it feels good for a while, but at some point you have to get dressed and get back to work. Eventually you have to decide to either cruise for a while in the humid summer breeze, or grab an oar and start rowing. For the Chamber, we’ve studied the charts and adjusted our heading a bit as we look to the last half of 2015.

Beginning in August the Chamber will begin to assemble the first ever (I’ve used that term a lot this year) Williston Area Business Directory. Using our staff, the Chamber’s position as a resource for businesses in the area, and our momentum we’ve built up the past seven months, we’ll be able to produce a community resource that’s sorely needed. While all Williston area businesses will be invited to be listed, the advertising spots and most visible placements will be offered to Chamber members first. I can’t wait to see how this turns out. Several local printers are bidding on the project, so I’m confident it will be a valuable local business guide. The goal is to expand the Chamber’s reach and visibility while providing a needed service and product for the business community in the area. Watch for more news and information about the directory in the next week.

Image result for business directory

In September, we are launching the Chamber’s Eggs & Issues policy forums. A common program offering by chambers around the country, our Chamber is just picking up the pace in the public advocacy arena. This members-only event will be held the morning after the Chamber Business After Hours – enticing some high level state officials to make a two day visit to Williston. We’ll run three of these in the fall and three next spring.

The LevelUP Leadership Series will kick off in November and feature the hottest topics from our LevelUP 2015 Business Conference last May. The three part lunch series will feature one of our presenters from the May conference, exploring in depth one of the session topics like sales and marketing, human resources issues, or personal growth and development. All of this leads up to the LevelUP 2016 Conference in May 2016, which is already shaping up nicely.

Our monthly Business After Hours events, which traditionally garner between 80-110 attendees, have continued to be quality opportunities for Chamber Members to network, learn, and market to grow their business. Many of the 2016 hosting slots are filling up already.

Please take 30 seconds to take our one minute issue survey this week. The Board of Directors and the Government Affairs Committee thanks you as we start to shape our advocacy action plan for 2016.

The 21st Century (now 15 years old) technology revolution driven by the “millennial” workforce has forced nonprofit organizations such as chambers Image result for millennials technologyof commerce, trade associations and professional societies to rethink their business model and strategic plans. No longer are they the sole source of information, networking, marketing, support and advocacy for their members. It’s crucial to review programs and services, communications and advocacy plans and to ask and listen to members’ issues and interests.

As we continue in our own ‘race for relevance’ with our Members, in the community and in our region, I marvel in the fact that it’s already (or only) been 17 months since I’ve taken the helm at the Williston Chamber. As we chart our course and continue to crew this Chamber ship through both calm and choppy waters, I hope the wind continues to fill our sails and push us forward.

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Summertime is about community

Some observers say Williston is seven months of winter and one month of summer sandwiched in the middle of four months of construction season. Be that as it may, there is a real possibility of snow in late April or early May, so many of the city’s summertime events and activities take a while to get going. I sort of feel like this guy in the Kingsford spot…

There isn’t enough space to list all the community events and activities, groups and organizations that make Williston a great city. For anyone to say ‘there’s nothing to do in Williston’ is just pure balderdash. But one day last week felt a little different to me. A feeling I hadn’t experienced since I landed sixteen months ago.

Ribfest and Summer Nights on Main kicked off July in a way that gave me a familiar sensation; even though it was technically a ‘new event’ and aRibfest departure from the previous two decades of summer celebrations in Williston. Maybe it was the weather, where it rose to 90, then downpoured for 15 minutes and then was 90 degrees again. Maybe it was the heritage downtown businesses who opened up their doors and held welcoming sidewalk sales to eager shoppers who dodged the construction cages (anyone heard of Maxwell Street Days?). Maybe it was the smells, the smiles, the families gathered around the picnic tables talking to each other without the distraction of XBox controllers. Maybe it was the band and the flowing beverages after the last ribs were scarfed down, I’m really not sure.

Looking over the parking lot scene of summer fun, watching the band unload gear, seeing the interaction between the rib teams, sponsors, volunteers and families, I got the sense that I don’t just work in Williston – I live in Williston.

It felt like a community ought to feel on a downtown July summer day. If felt like…home.

I’m not trying to be over dramatic, but there was a true sense of coming together that day between organizations, people, businesses and families. The best part is that there are more of these types of opportunities every weekend and even on weeknights to learn, grow, share, work and play in more ways that anyone thought would happen in Williston. All you have to do is ask, or look around.

The small agriculture hub of Western North Dakota is turning into a thriving economic engine of the energy industry. While those changes are sometimes difficult to swallow, there is no denying that we are in the front row to history. But it’s also nice to know that we can maintain that sense of small-town-ishness when friends and neighbors come together in the summertime.

Just like any hometown should.


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Ribfest is about more than ribs

It’s not quite as bad as Capt. Benjamin Franklin Pierce makes it out to be in the classic M*A*S*H* episode “Adam’s Ribs.” But we all look for ‘something else’ in one form or another.

This week you might find that ‘something else’ as we celebrate our Phillips & Jordan Rockin’ Ribfest and the Summer Nights on Main Concert Series kickoff in downtown Williston. The combination of food and bragging rights draws secret chefs to the smoker for a chance at fame. Professional culinary experts are quick to dismiss backyard barbecue brethren with a swift wave of the spatula. Someone at your family reunion throws down the oven mitt and proclaims she makes the best potato salad in the family, while the crazy uncle from Hurley says his rib sauce should be bottled and marketed. A co-worker brings in a dessert dish that brings grown roustabouts to their knees. There is something about food that brings out a little extra in all of us.

The Chamber’s Ribfest is about more than bragging rights. These community events help bring our business community, residents and organizations together to share, laugh, network, compete, shop and relax. The Chamber is very proud to work with the Downtowners Association and the Convention and Visitors Bureau to make Independence Day weekend a place for us to come together – as a community.

Enjoy the food, the fun, the music, family and friends this weekend and be smart and safe when celebrating America’s birthday.

Image result for independence day july 4th


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What did you do last weekend?

When I signed up for this tour of duty, I understood exactly what it meant. Dinner meetings, evening speaking engagements, late night business socials, official Chamber Business After Hours events, day long community activities, and working some weekend days. Running a Chamber of Commerce means you are never quite “off duty” in your community. I get that. And I love it.


This past weekend began on Thursday evening with our monthly Business After Hours, which was not a normal BAH event. The Chamber Member had a street closed, hired a motorcycle stunt team and had a major cookout. Networking, business cards exchanged, introductions of new members, handshaking, taking pictures and raffle drawings make a brief 2.5 hour after work event seem like a full day.


Saturday we kicked off Lemonade Day 2015, with the best tasting contest as part of the Miss North Dakota social event at the local art museum.  Blue sky June weather always makes a Chamber event better. The Miss ND contestants sampled and interacted with our young, budding business owners, and a great time was had by all. It was truly a treat to have the 2014 Miss ND Jacky Arness visit, along with her southern colleague, Miss South Dakota, Meredith Gould.


I did manage some ‘non-chamber’ time by helping a friend, Jeff, learn to fly cast. On the spur of the moment, he asked if I would like to go for a ride before the Miss North Dakota pageant. I said, “Sure, who will drive?” He replied, “No, not drive…a ride…in my plane.” So the newest licensed pilot in Williston, ND skillfully treated me a spectacular plane ride over Teddy Roosevelt National Park and part of the North Dakota badlands. My new Nikon D7000 got quite a workout at 3,500 feet above the Bakken. Congrats to Jeff on your accomplishment, and thanks for allowing me to tag along.

After a pinpoint landing in a cross-wind, I had a quick bite to eat, put on a jacket and slid into Row L, Seat 5 for the next 3 plus hours to take in the Miss North Dakota Pageant final evening of competition. I was a bit forlorn about missing Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals (those who have read me before, know I’m a hockey junkie) while sitting in the Williston High School auditorium on Saturday night. Last year, as a new Chamber President I attended the social, the breakfast for the contestants, and we hosted a VIP reception to help raise money for the scholarship organization when Miss ND 2014 Jacky Arness, spoke at our 2015 Annual Banquet in January. The Chamber’s ties to the organization are solid, but I still had not attended the actual pageant, so Saturday night was my first.

I left the auditorium around 10:40 pm very much inspired and encouraged, and convinced that of the 24 women who came to Williston to vie for the title of Miss North Dakota, there are future business and political leaders among them.  The evening was a very humbling and warming experience.

Sunday came sooner than I expected, but right on time by the clock. After five plus months of planning, we launched Williston Lemonade Day 2015. It was a  new program, with new volunteers, the first one in North Dakota, and major sponsors looking to us for their return on investment. The day went spectacular, with more than 150 youth entrepreneurs signed up, likely more than 50 lemonade stands in town, and yellow volunteer tee shirts everywhere. We called it a success after the awards ceremony and a great picnic cookout by the Williston Community Builders. Media, local officials and sponsors had big smiles as the lemonade stand owners came forward to get their certificates, or to be recognized with an achievement medal.


Newly crowned Miss North Dakota 2015 Delanie Weidrich, made her first official public appearance at the picnic and enjoyed the interaction with the young business owners and their families.

By 7:15 pm Sunday evening I think I had only driven about 6 miles all weekend (not counting those nautical knots in the air!) but I felt like I drove across the country. Wiped and sun beaten, I enjoyed a cold beverage at home. And while my weekend could have been considered ‘work’ by some, I view it as just doing our job. Being a volunteer or a staff member of a nonprofit organization like a Chamber of Commerce brings some extra commitments, and certainly can’t be viewed as a ‘normal’ job by any stretch.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Ctl-Alt-Del – Please Reboot 2015

I’m not sure what happened, but I came to the office and found that five months have somehow skirred through the calendar. However June 1 gives organizations and individuals a chance to restart fresh in case things haven’t gone as planned for 2015. In some ways the year so far has been a smashing success. In other areas, we need to hit ‘restart’ and refocus our energies a bit to hit the summer with momentum.

Our Chamber has made some incredible strides the past 12 months. We’ve hit high water marks for activity, attendance and momentum; the Annual2015 Membership web badge Banquet in January; our ‘Bus to Bismarck’ Lobby Day in February; the ShamRockin’ the Bakken Taste of Williston event in March; and the Level UP 2015 Business Conference in May were smash hits. Even our ‘normal’ Business After Hours events seemed to have taken on a flavor of energy, networking and even some fun. The theme for the year “Raising the Bar” has been our mantra, and we’ve lived up to that quite nicely. In most areas.

I would like to reboot our efforts concerning membership numbers, dues investment totals and member touches. It seems we’ve become extremely busy, with marginal results. There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Let’s hit the restart button on that.

Our online presence is nearly imperceptible. That was one of the first ‘to-dos’ I had last year, and it’s still not acceptable. Let’s restart on that as well.

But while I can nitpick, I also am aware of how far we’ve come in just 15 months. It’s sort of like a team that made the playoffs for the first time in a while, but lost in the first round. We’ll get there…

The title of this post wasn’t meant to be a downer, it was meant as a sort of a wake up call. That we’re still operating, but a bit sluggish and stuck once in a while. So by hitting Ctl-Alt-Del we save all the progress we’ve made so far in 2015, but clean out the bugs and get a fresh start.

And the personal resolutions from January are also getting a fresh reboot today. We’ll see how that goes.


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You mean I actually have to GO to the gym to get healthy? But I’m a member…

What do I get for my membership?

Wow, that seems like a big investment!

What have you done for me lately?

Chamber executives and staff continually commiserate together to come up with creative and value added answers for these common three questions. One of the first expenses scrutinized in a for profit business are subscriptions and memberships. They are voluntary, and when it comes to belt-tightening, it’s very easy to ‘non-renew.’ Let’s compare a Chamber membership (completely voluntary) to a gym membership (also completely voluntary). Just for fun.

Image result for membership

…but only if you use it.

Chamber memberships are paid annually and if not, you are dropped from the list, website, newsletter, etc. (don’t get benefits)
Gym memberships are paid annually and if not, access to the benefits (gym, classes, information) is denied.

Chambers offer various opportunities to network with leaders, become involved in community activities, work with other businesses on events and programs through committees and advocacy.
Gym memberships offers a chance to learn a healthy lifestyle by working with others who want the same goals.

Chambers offer specialized events and learning opportunities, not all of which apply to your particular business.
Gyms and fitness centers offer specialized classes and fitness opportunities, not all of which apply to your particular goals.

Most common reason given for not attending Chamber events (and taking advantage of your membership) – Too busy.
Most common reason for not attending gym (and taking advantage of your membership) – Too busy.

Chambers care if you start to miss events, or decide to let your membership lapse.
The gym doesn’t care if you don’t attend, and will survive without you.

You went into business because you either had a new product or service, or you could do something better that was already being done. That’s your core business. The Chamber’s core business is representing YOUR business, helping you grow, network, learn new things, contribute to the betterment of the community. The way a nonprofit does that is through members collaborating together and having professional staff work on your behalf. Staying up to date with your membership investment allows the Chamber to conduct core business activities, which in turn allows you to do your core business function. Yet we are all working together.

Image result for Chamber membership graphicI could change the oil in my car on my own, but I lack the tools, the time and the talent to do it efficiently. You could hire a lobbyist, event coordinator, community relations coordinator, meeting planner, education planner as well to help grow your business and watch out for your best interests. Wouldn’t it make more sense to be a part of something bigger? Something that has been around since 1907, and does these things as a core business? Of course it does.

But just like your gym membership…you have to use it to get the benefits.

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Polite police and business playoffs

I was officially welcomed to Williston recently; tagged by a delivery driver who was ‘not focused’ on both directions of traffic. Fergus was nicked up a bit, but he is fine. Fergus, by the way is the name of my 2013 Honda CRV. The naming of Fergus is another post.

I promptly called the Williston Police Department (it was about 9 pm on a Friday) and within about 4 minutes, we were

greeted by a strapping young patrol officer with creases in his uniform. He could have been a veteran officer in his early 20s, or a brand new addition to the force – it was hard to tell. I knew it was the Police Department by the license plate on the car that said “POLICE.” It makes it easier for everyone I guess. The process of giving statements and information was painless and delicious as I downed a Culver’s banana and strawberry sundae. And as anyone driving by would notice: things were less stressful since: a) we weren’t blocking Hwy 2/85 at 5pm; b) no one was injured; and c) everyone kept their heads. The citation ‘failure to yield’ went to the other driver, but it was the process itself that I appreciated.

We are quick to tweet a criticism, but slow to reach out a hand and say thanks. Thanks Williston Police Department for what you do for our City.

Playoff Mentality
The NBA and NHL are in the midst of buzzer beater three pointers and goal robbing, leather-flashing glove saves this month – the playoffs. I am a hockey guy by choice, and I was wondering something the other day as the Chicago Blackhawks were taking care of business over the Minnesota Wild.

You want to talk about playoffs?

You want to talk about playoffs?

What if you ran your business with a playoff mentality and what would it look like? Could you do it for seven days? Would you produce results or just exhaustion? Could you win four of seven days? What would that feel like or look like?

I think many people plan their weeks or work days like it’s game 76 of a 162 game regular season. Imagine if you came to work on Monday and found a note that said you only have seven days of work left, after which you will either be sent home (fired) or you get to stay and work another week. How would you react? What would you do?

The playoff season for professional sports is not just another game, despite what coaches and players tell the media. They require more focus, a better game plan, and precise execution of that plan by the entire team. Do you have cycles in your business life that require these traits? Has your supervisor said “this is it people; we either make this work, or we make some tough decisions.” It may not get that desperate, but it’s the mentality of that last game, that last quarter, that last minute that cause us to focus and execute.

If you are the leader, what do your actions say about your business season? Do you treat it like a pre-season, or an exhibition game where if you make a mistake it’s brushed off? When you are in a slow period, do you as the ‘captain’ of your team act like it’s just another inning (another day at work)?

Image result for stanley cup

When you are the captain, and it comes together, this can happen. In business and in life.

And when is it time for you as the captain of your team, to act like it’s THE last game, THE last half of an inning, or the final minute of the period when the opposing goalie has been pulled?

Our Chamber is entering game five of a best of seven series which is tied at two games each. The next 60 days until Rockin’ Ribfest is our playoff season. We’re focused, we have the right teammates in place. Now we must execute.

Whether you are a team of one or one hundred, focusing for short periods of time with a playoff mindset will make a difference in your bottom line.


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Toughest part of this job

Image result for leadership thinking

I’ve been a nonprofit executive for 14 years now, first as a government relations director for a state-wide trade association (electric industry), now as the head of our Chamber of Commerce. I am forever frustrated with one function of this position.

Without question the executive action that causes me the most grief is when we have to say “no.” But what leads a nonprofit executive to say no might surprise you. (Well of course it’s lack of staff, time and money).

It’s easy to say no to ideas which cannot be afforded due to investment of time and resources.

  • “We really don’t have enough staff to tackle that project”
  • “We didn’t budget for that piece of equipment this year”
  • “I doubt we could accomplish that event given the time allotted”

Those “no’s” are easy. The hardest “no’s” to administer are related to projects, ideas, and events that fall outside your organization’s mission, but still have merit. I worked in state government for a time, and it just pained me to hear a fellow worker say, “It’s not my job.” Bureaucratic babble. Human beings, people, can make individual split decisions and choices to help or hinder, to fix or forget.

In the organizational world however, saying yes to things outside your direct mission can be costly. We call that organizational mission creep.

The danger of organizational creep is it will sneak up like a stealth bomber. Innocent ideas, great projects, and awesome events sound great in a meeting or at the bar. But OMC (Organizational Mission Creep) can cause good staff to leave, budgets to burst and help executives to be “transitioned” (fired). The company may look really busy, but if what you’re doing doesn’t fall into your mission, does that make it right? It is the CEO’s job to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Here’s a good article from about.com looking at key ways to avoid mission creep. I have to keep reminding myself, my staffImage result for organizational mission and our volunteer leaders that just because it sounds great or it worked last time, doesn’t mean it’s part of our core mission. Frances Hesselbein, head of the Girl Scouts during its major growth period asks the best question, one that I ask daily.

If we do this, will it further the mission?

Good ideas, great projects, exciting new ventures, and important community contributions can get left in file folders and on Evernote screens because the idea may not fall into direct mission of your organization. For a growing Chamber in the fastest growing City in the US, that is gut-wrenching.

However, saying no to something that may cause mission creep, as tough as it is, might be the most important decision you make today.

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