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Organizational Management

How to Start a Chamber of Commerce in 7 Steps

Author: Tatiana Morand
January 22, 2021
🕑 7 min read

If you think a “chamber of commerce” sounds a little old-fashioned, even a little pretentious, you’re not the only one.

But the archaic-sounding name makes sense seeing as how the first chamber of commerce was founded in France in 1599, and the first one in the United States started in New York in 1768.

But, really, the modern chamber of commerce is simply a collection of local business owners who come together to improve their organizations and communities.

While some communities already have established chambers of commerce, not all do. If you’re a local business owner who wants to help foster community amongst your local businesses, and your community doesn’t have a chamber, starting one may be one of the best things you can do to help your members, your constituents, and your community.

Here are 7 steps you can take to start a chamber of commerce.

What is a Chamber of Commerce?

A chamber of commerce, sometimes called a “board of trade” or “business council”, is an organization of businesses that work together to further their mutual interests. Chambers exist on national, state, city, and town levels and are voluntary-led and paid (members voluntarily pay monthly or yearly dues).

It’s also important to note that, even though chambers can work closely with their local and federal governments by lobbying for causes they care about, chambers are not government entities.

Another interesting thing about chambers is that the work they do isn’t merely economic. Many chambers also pride themselves on their civic efforts. For example, a chamber may lobby for more streetlights on a commercial corridor of the city. Extra lights will help attract customers to businesses and also make areas safer for residents in the community.

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What Does a Chamber of Commerce Do?

A chamber of commerce does many things, but here’s a list of some of the most important things you’ll want to focus on:

  • It’s a voice for local businesses. Since a chamber is made by business owners for business owners, it truly is one of the best mouthpieces for economic and community concerns and triumphs to be heard and celebrated.
  •  It promotes its members and their organizations. After forming a board (we’ll talk a little more about that in a second), one of the first things a chamber does is to start setting up a directory of its members and local businesses, so they can find one another and form mutually beneficial partnerships.
  • It offers networking opportunities for its members and businesses. Chambers are known for regular meet-ups ranging from social events to speaker series to career fairs and related opportunities.
  • It supports members in their professional goals. Networking events are a popular way to support its members, but many chambers also put together mentorship programs and also offer discounts on local products and services to its members. This professional and financial support is especially appealing to nonprofits who don’t always have the staff and finances to accomplish their goals alone.

How to Get Your Chamber of Commerce Off the Ground

So now that you know a little more about chambers of commerce, you’re ready to move forward… or are you? Keep reading to learn what actually goes into starting a chamber of commerce.

Make sure there’s a need for it.

Even though several communities already have chambers of commerce, there are still cities, towns, and counties that would benefit from a chamber. If you want to be sure one doesn’t already exist in your region, a simple Google search should provide answers. Once you’ve determined if your community needs a chamber, you want to do a little research to ensure there are enough businesses who would want to participate. This can be done by looking up company directories, sending out surveys to leaders in your area, and meeting with other business owners to gauge their interest.

2. Connect with other people who are passionate about forming a chamber.

Partnering with like-minded business owners and community members is important for a lot of reasons, and one of the biggest reasons is so you can start forming your board. Your board will play an integral role in starting, growing, and maintaining the chamber.

3. Create bylaws, a mission statement, and a business plan.

One of the first items on your newly formed board’s to-do list will be to create your chamber’s mission statement, core values, bylaws, and business plan. All of these things will give shape to what makes your chamber unique, who your ideal members are, branding for your website, and ways to make money.

4. File for incorporation 501 (c)(6).

The 501(c)(6) designation includes membership-based organizations or clubs that promote the business interests of their members, such as trade associations and sports leagues. Achieving this status means your chamber will enjoy a federal tax exemption and other benefits.

To apply for 501(C)(6) status, you must fill out IRS Form 1024, and submit a user fee. You will need the following information:

  • Organizational activities
  • Present and future sources of funding
  • Names of officers and directors
  • Affiliations with other organizations
  • Financial information
  • Services that will be performed for members
  • Employer Identification Number

5. Decide on a dues structure.

Once your board gets your governance in order, it will most likely turn its attention to deciding what membership levels work best for your chamber (individual and corporate memberships are two of the most popular tiers), the dues schedule (do you want to collect monthly, yearly, or one-time?), what type of referral program you’d like to put in place, etc.

Start publicizing and marketing your chamber of commerce.

Is there any day more exciting for a business than launch day? We don’t think so!

And a big part of a successful launch is making sure you’re properly publicizing and marketing your chamber and you have a website where people can learn who you are, learn about your members, and, hopefully, join! There are a lot of options for marketing and building your website. Maybe you have members who’d be willing to volunteer their services. Maybe you’ll partner with a marketing agency. Maybe you can hire a couple of freelance web designers and writers to help with your marketing efforts. Whatever you decide, research all of your options to find the right tools and partners for your needs.

Read More: The Top 9 Chamber of Commerce Software Solutions in 2021

 7. Start hosting meetings!

As part of your chamber’s launch, it’s a good idea to plan a launch event and have a few other scheduled meetings to start promoting to the community right away. In addition to a fun launch party, you can start surveying members about what time, date, and locations work best for regular meetings and start thinking about events to host that could attract potential members. We know it’s hard to host meetings and events during a pandemic, but it can certainly be done, so don’t let that slow you down.

5 Great Chamber of Commerce Websites You Can Look at for Inspiration

Since we help organizations attract and engage their members with our platform, we’d be remiss if we didn’t offer examples of some of our favorite chamber websites.

1. The Brooks & District Chamber of Commerce

What we love: The Brooks & District Chamber of Commerce shows how simple and effective it can be to feature real members front-and-center on their website homepage and in other places on their site. It humanizes their chamber and allows potential visitors to envision themselves joining in on the fun.

The Brooks & District Chamber of Commerce

2. Irish Chamber of Commerce

What we love: The Irish Chamber of Commerce provides a clear and easy path to membership. With “Apply” as an option on their main navigation bar, potential members can discover the benefits of membership, learn which membership level is right for them, and sign up easily.

Irish Chamber of Commerce

3. Cohase Chamber of Commerce

What we love: The Cohase Chamber of Commerce has created a local business directory that is easy-to-navigate and well-branded. They include categories of businesses users can click on and be directed to the business they’re looking for as well as a search bar in case visitors know exactly who they’re looking for. They also feature business logos, which makes their directory visually appealing and promotes their members’ brands as well.

Cohase Chamber of Commerce

4. Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce

What we love: The Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce is a lesson in remaining agile and keeping their members’ biggest needs a priority by featuring a COVID-related section on their homepage dedicated to resources and support for its members.

Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce

5. Lindsay + District Chamber of Commerce

What we love: The Lindsay + District Chamber of Commerce provides a visually appealing list of all of the member discounts. Not only can users see the member discounts, but there are also options to filter the discounts by member levels.

Lindsay + District Chamber of Commerce

You don’t have to start your chamber of commerce alone! All of these chambers are using WildApricot to power their chamber membership and build their chamber websites. We’d love to help you in any way we can — and you can start your free 60-day trial today if you’d like to try out out software as well!

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