Greater Lawrence Chamber of Commerce: Cultivation in Progress
Since 1984, the Greater Lawrence Chamber of Commerce has grown significantly in size and in its scope of mission. The mission of the Chamber is to be a resource to businesses providing information, connections, advocacy, and opportunities. This non-profit organization provides services for its members not only to help businesses prosper but also to strengthen and support the Lawrence community. Although there have been some stagnant periods along the way, the chamber has taken root and is sprouting new life among the Lawrence business sector.
“We’re in a period of reestablishing and regrowing,” says Andrew Lee, the current President. “The way we’ve approached it is to go back to our roots and figure out who we are what we do and just try to better that and build our growth accordingly.” With the help of new board members, Lee and his team, aim to not only establish progression, but also add significance to what they do amid their mission.
Delineating and Preserving “The Feel” of the Chamber
Recently, I had the privilege of meeting with a few representatives of the Chamber’s board of directors. I found it refreshing to absorb the excitement and motivation in their presence and to grasp their intentions as they volunteer their time to make a positive difference.
Before becoming President of the Chamber, Lee worked in government for six years. He came to the U.S. in 1999 from Bristol, England. After earning his MBA, he started focusing on organizational development of non-profits. Incidentally, besides volunteering his time at the Chamber, Lee is also Executive Director of Art with a Heart—which promotes hands-on creative expression to help educate and inspire Indianapolis children who are at risk. (www.artwithaheart.us)
Lee and his team, reflect back on the rudimentary stages of their plans to improve the chamber. With his crisp British accent, Lee declares, “Every chamber is the same. And every chamber is different…Eighty percent of members in almost all chambers say that they’re for networking. But every chamber has a different feel to it. For us, the idea was to figure out what the members think the feel is…what do we need to do to keep that going? When people tell you that the feel of the chamber is small, that everyone knows everybody and there is a lot of comfort, our job is to focus on how to keep this same sense despite the fact that the chamber is on a growth path.”
Establishing Goals, Enveloping Member Value
“We want to add meaning so that it’s not just another breakfast, or just another lunch, or another networking event, but to make sure that what we’re offering is meaningful for our members,” says Jana Karrmann, First Vice President.
After many conversations about “member value,” the board has focused on making the chamber attractive to new members and increasing retention rates. One major priority has been to make sure the goals of the members align with the goals of the chamber board.
“We’ve created our goals based on the feedback of our members,” says Mike Peck, Marketing Committee Chair. “We conducted a survey and found that the members are finding value in the programming and services we provide. So, we’ve made steps in the right direction and continue to set goals that support what members value. Ultimately, what we want a chamber member to say is, ‘Connecting with community business leaders is an important part of what I do every day because it helps my business.’” The research from the survey also concluded that when members attend events, the chamber environment felt approachable, comfortable and welcoming.
In addition to serving as Vice President, Karrmann also chairs the membership committee, and elaborates, “When the renewal comes twelve months later and they’re looking at the cost, we want members to instinctively take out the checkbook and rewrite the check because there’s no question in their mind that it was money well spent and a good return on their investment.” Collectively, the board plans each event in the hopes that all members will leave with new ideas, connections, resources, concepts, and energy that germinates continuous inspiration.
Active Executive Committees: Engaging Members and Merit
Last March, the board hired a new executive director, Jessica Tower. Lee adds, “Since its relocation to Lawrence, the Monarch Beverage Company has played a pivotal role in the chamber. Their support has helped us land a first class Executive Director.”
Since Tower has come into light and sprinkled the seeds, a new full executive board of directors has emerged and begun to till the land of Lawrence into a fertile field of crops. As a result, this fervent team has implemented active committees that meet every month in order to build and enhance the chamber’s mission. These committees are as follows:
- Membership (Jana Karrmann) coordinating and enticing new members into the organization
- Finance (Jason Kieninger) overseeing all financial transactions
- Marketing (Mike Peck) managing marketing and communications
- Ambassadors (Scott Maskel) facilitating businesses to know how to engage their members beyond basic membership
- Young Professionals (Jake Rhodes) connecting with young people in organizations to help them realize the power of networking and value of connecting to the community
Living Our Brand Promise
So far, within the last year, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce must be doing something right. The membership enrollment has climbed steadily and keeps growing. Within a year of having the Executive Director (Jessica Tower) in control, the assets are up 30% for the organization. Lee asserts, “In seeing this increase in just nine months, we’re extremely optimistic about achieving that goal of great member value.”
Furthermore, with respect to the survey, the board learned a very promising detail—over 85% of members who have been active for six years or less said that they were finding value with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and they were getting the resources they need. Peck, who was instrumental in the conduction of this survey, affirms, “If our members are saying that their participation is of value, then we’re living our brand promise and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Amid the enthusiastic vibes in the air, Karrmann chimes in, “Everybody wants to be a part of something that’s growing…If a company’s doing well, people buy its stock. We may not have stock to offer but we do have many beneficial opportunities.”
The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce hosts many networking events such as the “Breakfast Before Hours” held on the first Thursday of the month and “Business After Hours” held on the third Thursday of each month.
Go to www.lawrencechamberofcommerce.org for more information and to view the calendar of upcoming events.