Volunteers = A Chamber Secret Weapon


Jason E. Ebey, IOM

One of the fundamental differences between a Total Resource Campaign (TRC) and a staff-driven sponsorship drive is the use of volunteers in a TRC.

Through the years, we have experienced an assortment of reactions when chamber professionals are told how many volunteers they will need to successfully enact a TRC. We’ve seen the eye rolls and heard the deep sighs. Many chamber staff members have visibly seemed deflated when volunteers are mentioned.

Chamber professionals are always surrounded with more than their fair share of volunteers. Most chambers have Ambassadors, committees, and a board. The thought of dealing with more volunteers can be overwhelming and unsettling. But what if your volunteers made your chamber life easier? What if they made a difference in increasing your revenue development?

An Added Multiplier

The key to volunteer success (and by extension your chamber success) is ‘reach,’ or how broad your circles of influence are. Regardless of the size of your chamber and staff, your staff can only reach a small percentage of your members. There just aren’t enough hours for the staff to create meaningful connections with everyone.

A Total Resource Campaign really embraces the ‘total’ component as it encompasses more than just increasing non-dues revenue. So many times, chambers secure their sponsorship dollars from the same pool of investors/members. We tend to overcharge our engaged members and give everything else away. A TRC engages more members and encourages them to financially invest up and beyond their membership investment levels.

It would take untold staff resources to reach hundreds of your members and to financially engage them. But what cannot be accomplished by staff alone can easily be accomplished by using targeted, trained volunteers. TRC volunteers bring their own sphere of influence and client contacts, and with that, they are able to reach into the business community in ways staff alone cannot.

Enhancing Your Volunteer Base

Once you have your TRC volunteers on board, it’s vital that you train them properly. To increase non-dues revenue, you must take volunteers and turn them into brand messengers for the chamber. For that to happen, volunteers need to know and embrace the chamber’s mission.

In order to find volunteers who can become brand messengers, you need to be able to articulate how your chamber vision/mission and the value for the volunteer align. Can you tell a volunteer why their time with the chamber will be important for their own business development? Will their business actually benefit from serving as a volunteer? If not, you need to work through this and develop these answers. An engaged volunteer who is personally benefitting from their work with the chamber will quickly become an engaged brand messenger.

Chambers should be the dot connectors in the community, not only person to person or business to business but also people to benefits. Searching out volunteers who understand this value to the chamber, the business community (and their clients), and the individual volunteer is vital. A volunteer who is a strong chamber brand messenger should experience significant positive change in their own business/business development due to their chamber involvement.

Keep It Fresh

Once a chamber embraces the idea of entrusting volunteers with the work of a TRC – or other vital chamber volunteer responsibilities – the danger is in becoming complacent with your current group of volunteers. You will absolutely have some volunteers who become integral to your chamber work, but you will also need to add new volunteers each year – especially for your TRC – in order to continue enlarging that sphere of influence to additional business members that new volunteers can reach.

Your membership is fluid and ever-evolving, as are the employees of your members. A business professional who was in an entry-level job four or five years ago may be in a new position and might have a new business base as a result.

As chambers continue to do legacy work, your membership will continue to grow, and you will need new volunteers to engage with additional business members.

The Legacy

When chamber professionals see TRCs as legacy work, they are able to recruit and train qualified volunteers who will see the chamber and the TRC as mutually beneficial. When that happens, volunteers become a vital component in chamber’s TRC success.

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