The Willmar Experience - Changing Chamber Culture by Changing Dues
The Willmar ExperienceChanging Chamber Culture byChanging Membership
About MeKen WarnerPresident, Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce• Long-time spent in industry• My chamber is a lot like many of yours• In early 2008 I became frustrated with… • Begging for memberships Willmar • Not being able to articulate value to members • Going back to the same people over and over again
background• Structure of membership dues based on number of employees, number of deposits, etc. has become antiquated and unrealistic• Businesses no longer join because it’s “the right thing to do”• Dues based on number of employees• The same benefits for all members regardless of their dues• Too expensive for member wannabes• It’s currently a difficult time to get members to renew their membership• Businesses invest because it benefits their bottom line – they expect value for their investment
Membership Obstacles• Flat• Increase in “slow pays”• More difficult to sell• Fewer volunteers asked to “sell membership”• More competition• Regional focus by companies• Acquisitions, mergers and bankruptcies• ROI demand or WIIFM
Volunteer/Tech Obstacles• Downsizing eliminates volunteers• More competition for volunteers• Dual income families = less time• Lack of orientation to volunteerism• Volunteers have less time and expect staff to do more• Chambers are behind–web, blogs, on-line services• Members want quick decisions• Customized communications• At least trying to keep up
! I had to change the dynamic-and by changingthe dynamic i was going tohave to in essence Go Big or Go Home
Process IDEALAUNCHING BRAINSTORM Changin g DuesIMPROVE to CONVINCE THE BOARD change culture TEST RESEARCH / WORK WITH CONSULTANT DEVELOPMENT
Idea• Had seen different models discussed in variousindustry publications• Tiered-like principles seemed to fit with what I wantedfor chamber culture• Knew this would be a long process – not a quick fix
Brainstorm• Began to look in earnest at other examplechambers using a similar program• Quickly realized that significant R&D neededto take place before attempting to create tiers
Why change?• Reward loyalty• Hold members accountable…what have you been to lately?• Being connected means to have a sense of belonging and to relate to other members in the organizations.• No more begging. If they can’t see value, we can’t make them.• Don’t over-promise and under-deliver.
Why change?• What makes us different from every other organization. Let’s make it emotional and with a real sense of belonging.• Don’t be all things to all people and don’t be afraid to say no once in a while.• Be proud and loud…be aggressive.• They are receiving information/leadership/networking, etc. that they cannot get anywhere else
The Board• Because of significant work involved, the board had to supportme throughout the process• Used board retreat to lay out ideas regarding chamber cultureand dues, and the direction I wanted to go – focus on strategy,not specifics• A Board survey was very telling • ex. “Agree or disagree – I can clearly communicate the value of belonging to chamber. (My board was a unanimous NO)
Research• Determined that heavy R&D lifting could not beaccomplished with busy chamber staff – engaged aconsultant to develop program together• Identified best practices of tiered programs on anational basis to compare with WLACC concepts
Research• Needed to garner input early in the process • Focus groups with existing members • Non-member conversations • Member survey• All assessing what people were looking for fromchamber, and what products and services had the mosttraction
CommitteeMembership Advisory Committee1) Determine Values2) Finalize Bundles3) Evaluate4) Monthly Feedback on Chamber Master Options5) Assist with Marketing Plan
DevelopmentProgram Evaluation • Needed to understand what programs were the most valuable • Do programs fit the mission of the chamber? • Does it bring us friends, fame, or fortune?
DevelopmentFinancial Analysis • Historical assessment of revenue, including dues and non-dues revenue • Needed to price individual products • What does it actual cost per member? How much will a member pay? • Set target prices for tiers based on natural breaks in current dues structure
TestTest Marketing • After board signed off on first draft of test “bundles”, took them into the field • Met with 20+ member businesses – wide range of sectors, sizes, etc.
ImproveReworking the Bundles • Took feedback from member visits and board input and tweaked bundles slightly
LaunchCommunication was incredibly important • Designed collateral materials and updated website • Slow roll-out process – it took over a year for all members to be converted • Spent LOTS of face time with members – this is a one-on-one sales process
Desired Outcomes• Tiered program is based on current Chamber programming, events and services• Tiers make it easier to explain what’s actually included in the investment• Stops the nickel & dime effect• Emphasizes the value of membership in a format all members can understand.• Eliminate the inequity of (un) “fair share” dues structure that we currently use.
Desired Outcomes• Create clear levels of investment and value.• Ties member investments to supporting our Mission, Objectives and Core Values.• Allow members to customize their membership by selecting their level of involvement and investment.• Make it easy to explain what members receive for their investment.• Each increase in level provides more benefits and is a better value that purchasing the same products and services separately.
Lessons• There are no short-cuts – re-engineering chamber takes lots of hard work, time, and flexibility• However – if you take the time to do it right, it will pay off.• In Willmar, we experienced a 23% increase in revenue, and our member retention is over 90%
Outcomes• The conversation surrounding membership changes – it is nowmuch easier to sell members based on a much better valueproposition• Member is treated more like a client than a member• Retention rates are high because of increased ROI