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What is a Chamber of Commerce Anyway?

The following is an article from the BC Chamber of Commerce.

Most communities in Canada have a Chamber of Commerce, and those who belong take great pride in their membership. They put stickers on their cars, certificates on their walls and pins on their lapels. They advertise their involvement for all to see. But those who do not belong often ask why. The answer is because they are proud of being part of an organization that plays such a key role in the community.

That begs the question – what is that role? The official description is: “A Chamber of Commerce is a voluntary organization established to promote civic, commercial, industrial and agricultural progress of the community and district which it serves and to work for sound legislation and efficient administration at the community and all levels of government.” (yawn…)

The simple version says so much more. The Chamber exists to make any community a better place to live. Period. A Chamber of Commerce provides an avenue for the business people in a community to create a positive business environment. It also provides the local business community with a vehicle to promote their region to the outside world – either for tourism or business investment. It then serves to help people find their way when they arrive.

The Chamber provides an opportunity for those people who create local jobs and drive the local economy to work with government and the public to build a better community. The community Chamber works closely with the municipal and regional governments. The provincial Chamber acts as an umbrella organization to lobby the provincial government on issues of mutual concern to all chambers, and the Canadian Chamber serves a similar role at a national level. The chamber speaks for the business community at public hearings, to the media and behind closed doors. They are the voice of business.

When a business joins the Chamber they can learn about rising government issues that affect business, and add their voice to the chambers’ efforts to address them. Equally important is that the Chamber can then support them on the issues that concern their business. When a business joins the Chamber, they help make their community – and their business – healthy and prosperous.

Because Chambers are business organizations there are less altruistic benefits to membership. There are excellent networking opportunities at monthly luncheons and other special events. A Chamber provides businesspeople the opportunity to get to know their peers in the local community. They can interact with them, make contacts, and give their business greater exposure to those who are its likely clientele.

Chamber newsletters keep businesses up to date on what is happening. Not just on the government issues but on community events and chamber activities. They also provide an excellent avenue for advertising directly to the most influential businesses in the community.

Because the Chambers are business organizations they provide a number of benefits strictly geared to the business community. One of the key services is training. They can provide learning opportunities and seminars that help small business to operate more efficiently. Whether its computers or accounting (or both) the chamber can, at the very least, point a business in the right direction to get the information they need.

The collective nature of a Chamber allows access to tangible financial benefits as well. Group insurance programs are an excellent example. A group of businesses accessing insurance for such things as medical, dental and disability can access much better rates than an individual business. The greater the number of participants, the more stable the risk for the insurer – and hence the better the rates.

Group buying power also provides access to better long distance telephone rates. The Chambertel program in British Columbia provides such good rates that, for some businesses, it alone will cover the cost of membership.  The same holds true for preferred merchant rates on major credit cards. A business saves a great deal of money over the course of a year when it gets a rate of return on credit cards that is .2% better than if it did not belong to the Chamber.

These are not the only benefits. Chambers also feature deals on hotels, on rental cars, and on couriers – and this list is growing. Chambers are service organizations so they are always looking for ways to better serve their membership.

This brings us back to our original question. Why join the Chamber? It seems clear now that there are far more reasons to join a chamber than there are not to. In the long run however, whether you join to have an impact in your community, or to gain more direct benefits, it seems that belonging to your chamber is simply good business.