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Associations and Chambers:  Who Needs Them?

(the following guest column is included in place of my regular column because the writer does a better job than I could – Tom O’Rourke)
Association and chamber memberships in many parts of the country are dwindling. Many organizations have been forced to reorganize. Those in financial trouble may be forced to close or possibly combine with another chapter or group.

Years ago companies large and small joined these organizations for a wide range of reasons:

1. Participate in networking events and tradeshows.

2. Get or provide group health insurance for self and/or employees.

3. Access to business information and resources.

4. Increase visibility and sales.

A number of things have conspired to make the very existence of these organizations challenging:

1. More and more information is available on the internet.

2. The Affordable Healthcare Act has made healthcare easier to purchase and more affordable.

3. Small networking groups, that don’t require membership, are popping up all over the place.

4. Tradeshow attendance in many industries and markets is dwindling or attracting attendees that are not legitimate prospects.

So, why bother joining? Who really needs these organizations?

Who needs these organizations? You do! You need them if you are a business owner or senior level manager who wants to grow their company or if you are someone that wants to professionally improve and have a better quality of life. Associations and chambers can actually do that if, and only if, you are willing to put the time and effort into them. There is no question that the internet and social media can provide you with a treasure trove of information and a wide range of outlets to build and promote your organization and brand. There is huge value in face-to-face interaction with other business professionals and being in environments that bring together many segments of your industry. Associations and chambers are still two of the best ways to accomplish that. As times have changed, they have changed. More and more time and energy have been placed on value propositions and value added outcomes for members.

As a result, both chambers and associations have stepped up their game. Publications are delivering information in a condensed format. Newsletters are now much shorter with information that is easy to access. Websites are often updated with greater frequency to provide the information members are looking for. Events are continuously evolving to meet member needs, often focusing on education and current market trends. Although there is often a social component to these events, gone are the “tradeshows and business meetings” that were four days of golf followed by drinks, lavish dinners, and $50.00 cigars. Attendees demand that if they are going to spend time and money, there needs to be value and there is.

There are educational sessions being offered, in greater number, by industry experts who can speak on particular business topics and trends. Politicians and candidates are speaking at events and shedding light on regulations and economic challenges within their districts, as well as at the state and national level. Some of these events also provide an opportunity for community service learning and community projects that benefit the regions these groups serve.

Along with all of that, these groups give you access to mentors and some of the best minds in the industry. No matter the type of association or the size and location of the chamber, when you get involved, you become part of their “community.” These communities always have a diverse population with people bringing in experience from a wide range of business and cultures. For the individual that is willing to spend some time getting involved, they provide a plethora of knowledge. I can’t speak for others but my involvement in both associations and chambers has changed the way we operate our business. This involvement has profoundly changed me as a business owner, as well as a person. It has challenged me to think and act differently, giving me the tools which I have used to successfully grow my business.

Regardless of the association or chamber, one thing is for certain, they are of no value if you don’t actively participate. Many people send in their check and expect their phones to start ringing and their calendars to fill. How many of them, the day they joined, contacted other members of the organization to buy something from them? Not sell but buy. My guess is few, if any. Yet there is an expectation that once you become a member, everyone will suddenly rush in to buy your products and services. It’s an unreasonable expectation if you ask me. People do business with people they know. If you want this investment to pay off, then get involved and become an active participant. Let them know you, like you, and trust you.

Ken Abrahams is the VP of Client Relations for FUN Enterprises. Fun Enterprises is an interactive novelty entertainment company that delivers a memorable experience to your educational, corporate of private events. Ken and his family live in Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Board of Directors of The United Regional Chamber of Commerce and a long-time volunteer with NACA and the Greater Boston YMCA Camping Services Branch.