Chamber programs impact community for good

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Meade

There is a constant challenge for Chambers of Commerce to communicate why Chamber membership matters, why businesses and organizations should join. That is an underlying challenge for every small business whom we serve. Why does the market need the product?

The most disheartening question to hear is “what is in it for me?” It is disheartening because there is so much “in it” for everyone. I could go into the advertising, events, networking opportunities and the discounts that come with a membership that starts at just $270 a year (half of the dues for most chambers our size) or the 140-plus events that we plant each year. Those are the very basic things members should expect. And, those who ask how they can benefit are usually asking with regard to those opportunities. The Greater Owensboro Chamber has offered those basic services to a level of excellence well before I was ever a part of the team.

But, there is something much more than the basic services that our Chamber contributes to this community. It is not intangible, but our role as facilitator can sometimes be unnoticed even when the results are obvious.

What is “in it” for members is the power of investing in the work of a Chamber that turns on the lights every day with our community in mind. We do not do a good job explaining the “big picture” things we work on daily for our region, from transportation and infrastructure, to extensive work on local, state and federal issues impacting our membership, to our work promoting a competitive business climate.

We do talk a lot about Leadership Owensboro as one of the talent programs we offer. But, I do not think we put the pieces together in a way that explains why this program is a big “what is in it for us — for Owensboro.” At our last session each year, we build the day’s curriculum around inspiring the class members to think “what’s next” for them as change makers in Owensboro.

Helen Mountjoy is the final speaker of the day, and, therefore, the year. I always make sure I sit in on her presentations because I learn something every time. She manages to demonstrate that each significant movement, project or initiative in this community was led by a person, a couple of people, or small groups. From the story of a small group of people who recruited Kentucky Wesleyan College moving here to Edith and Wendell Foster creating Wendell Foster, to the group of women from Junior League concerned about battered women who started OASIS, to the Riverpark Center, to the Downtown Placemaking which has now matched private to public dollars three to one. Our community is rich with change-making ideas, places and initiatives. Everything of significance started with someone asking, “why not?”

We spend nearly a year with these community-minded class members, expose them to key issues, decision makers and challenges. And that last class day, we want them to leave with a mindset determined to make their mark on our community. We graduate this distinguished class Thursday night, but they are just getting started. Like the 1,000-plus graduates before them, they will make their mark on Owensboro. That aspect of our Chamber is “what is in for us.”

By Candance Brake President and CEO, Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce