The word is out about my directorship of the Chamber of Commerce of Warren County. And to be completely frank, the reaction of those in the age range of 45 to 50-plus is one of informed congratulations; the reaction of many of my peers in the 35 and under crowd is also congratulatory, but followed by one very important question: What is a Chamber of Commerce?
To be completely honest, before researching and interviewing for this position, I didn't know the answer to that question either. The Chamber was that thing my dad is in; that thing when I was his guest for a Business After Hours that one time. Chambers of Commerce have existed in this country for more than two centuries, which is more than enough time for the definition to change and grow; it's also more than enough time for a long-standing institution to become antiquated and a community relic, a tradition that folks know about or participate in without really knowing what it means, investing more than their dues, or-for the general public-that it even exists at all.
Let's get to the bottom of this question.
Much of my information on chambers comes from the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, a national association that serves the management of chambers of commerce.
The ACCE first states that the definition of a chamber of commerce is hard to pin down because different chambers focus on different things depending on their community. This aspect of the definition is to be celebrated, in my opinion. We are a unique community, and while our needs and desires may be reflected in similar regions, they are still uniquely ours; our chamber should reflect that.
According to the ACCE, a chamber of commerce is a "business-led civic and economic advancement entity," a voluntarily formed "organization of businesses seeking to further their collective interests, while advancing their community." Businesses in a community are not required to join a chamber of commerce, and members are not bound to a set of formal operations as they are with a Better Business Bureau or a trade association.
My favorite part of the ACCE "living" definition of a chamber is an organization of people who "share a common ambition for the sustained prosperity of their community or region."
Typically, when a business or organization joins a chamber, it is the business that is a member and not an individual. Dues are usually based on a structure revolving around the size of the business (employee count or annual revenue). However, this structure is just a norm, and not the rule.
Chambers operate under the federal tax status of a nonprofit entity, but as 501(c)(6), which unlike 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofits, can represent their members in public policy debates.
The Chamber of Commerce of Warren County falls right in line with this aforementioned structure. And while all chambers have a board of directors and an executive director, the amount of support staff varies with the size of the budget. In Warren County, I am a part-time office of one for now, which I say to illustrate how a chamber is bound by its budgetary resources.
The Chamber of Commerce of Warren County welcomes all types of entities as members. A member does not strictly have to be part of the private sector, but can be a civic organization, an association, a church, a fire department, or even an individual. Basically, anyone who shares a "common ambition for the sustained prosperity" of Warren County.
Chamber Connections is a monthly column by The Chamber of Commerce of Warren County.