Albert Einstein remarked that insanity is doing the same things over and over again, and expecting different results. I am often asked by chamber of commerce and association executives to share the one thing they could do to foster the success of their organization, and the answer is simple: establish a true strategic planning process. It is a sad commentary, but based on my experience and observation, it appears that fewer than 15 percent of all chambers and associations throughout the United States have a true strategic plan, a plan that looks further out than a one year program of work.
There are far too many boards of directors that do not take the time to sit down once a year to talk about the relevance of the organization, much less plan for the future. These are the same organizations that simply take their current program of work, change the names, change the dates, and call it their “new” plan of action… and they wonder why they can’t recruit or retain members. Boards and CEOs must understand that the planning process is the most important responsibility of any board of directors.
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is quoted as saying, “if the rate of change outside of the organization is greater than the rate of change within the organization, the end is near.” The chamber of commerce brand has been around for hundreds of years and continues to be strong. However, without meaningful programming, your membership and budget numbers will continue to dwindle. You will find it harder and harder to attract sponsors, advertisers, and other sources of significant non-dues revenue.
A few years ago, I was facilitating a planning session for the Wake Forest (NC) Chamber of Commerce. At the beginning of the meeting, Jim Adamson, a former chairman of their board, stood up and said, “Chuck, we want you to know that we are already a successful chamber of commerce. What we want from the strategic planning process is to move from success to significance.” What a powerful statement! One that every chamber and association should subscribe to. Becoming significant to your members, your community, or interest group is what every chamber of commerce and association should strive for. There is power in planning. It is not rocket science, but it does take effort.