As an organization our role is to help people connect, keep them informed about government issues, provide advertising opportunities, educate them on business topics and work with local governments to attract and retain businesses. 
 
Simply put we inform, advertise, educate and grow business in a local area.
 
We have become comfortable with the nature of chambers of commerce. For centuries, the local chamber was the only place to make connections. Prior to last few decades, it was often the only economic development entity and frequently the one-stop location for a business license.
 
So, why do we have to be called a chamber of commerce to perform those functions? If the words no longer describe us or have lost their meaning, it may be time to change.
 
Just for fun, try brainstorming a list of other names that describe the type of organization which provides opportunities for belonging and gathering. Keep in mind that some generations are more included to belong and others may infrequently gather but not “join”.
 
There are a number of organizations studying the future of chambers of commerce, including the Association of Chamber Executives. They have a great video series for board members and chamber staff to begin thinking about our organization’s future. The Nature of Belonging and Gathering is here.
 
While I find this interesting, I will turn to you–our members–and future members to ask the question, “If you could have anything, what do you expect from us in the future?”
 
The words gathering and joining are being thrown around and discussed at length as ways of differentiating the intentions of our members. 
 
Gathering is a collection of people and encompasses the words meeting, event and assemblage. Some are more comfortable dropping in with little or no commitment. Others may want the stability of having a place, seat or space that is secure. 
 
Joining implies a commitment. We all know if you choose to never use the Chamber’s services, the only commitment required is to pay your dues. The chamber then pools all member dues and funds raises to collectively help the local business community grow and expand. However, if you show-up and get involved (aka gather), you might make some new contacts which can lead to new business, referrals and in some cases long-term revenue.
 
Shifting how we connect can be unsettling for people. The telephone, car, airplane, pager, facsimile machine and cell phones also cause quite an uproar in their own time. 
 
Just this year we eliminated our fax machines. What? No way! Well, after taking our membership system online and using PDFs sent via email, there’s no need for people to fax things to us. We scan and email docs, send a download link, share via social media and more. 
 
I’m not suggesting we only connect digitally or through social media, but after meeting in person (aka gathering), it can help to expand and retain our business relationships. Plus, it’s fun to see a person in another setting–on a travel excursion, at a company team-building event and the like.
 
Simon Sinek, the famous marketing speaker and author says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
 
If he’s correct, and I believe he is, then meeting in real time should build a lasting impression for your new contacts at a gathering of (the organization formerly known as) the chamber of commerce. 
 
If we think of the role technology has played in changing how people communicate, then it stands to reason that a chamber could easily transition to a gathering and belonging organization and completely shed the word “chamber”. 
 
I’m interested if you brainstormed our new name and what you expect from us in the future. Please email me at scott@fountainhillschamber.com and send me your thoughts.