Join the Club?

If you’re already a member of your Chamber of Commerce, you’ll probably hear from a representative before long. Is membership worthwhile for your company?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that it is the world’s largest business federation, representing more than three million businesses. Maybe your company is one of them, or maybe you are thinking of joining your local Chamber organization.

While membership has benefits, joining the Chamber isn’t always a given for a small business. A smart business person looks at membership the same as at any other marketing expense – and weighs the value.

What is a Chamber?

A local Chamber of Commerce will have members from a wide variety of businesses, all from a specific geographic area – sometimes a city, sometimes an entire county or multi-county area, depending on population density. Typically, local Chambers are affiliated with state and national organizations. Chambers organize social and business events throughout the year where members can develop relationships. Many host educational events for members and hold an annual business expo.

What do you get?

When you join, you become both the Chamber’s customer and its representative. You pay an annual membership fee, which varies and can depend on the size of your business. For that fee, you generally receive a nice member plaque to hang in the office and get a standing invitation to all Chamber events for a year. Some events are free to members, and some cost extra.

The main benefit to many businesses is that they are both listed in, and receive access to, a directory of Chamber members. Membership may also cause your e-mail and postal box to be a bit fuller. You’ll receive whatever publications the Chamber produces – newsletter, local business magazine, and promotional material for chapter events. Some Chambers offer other benefits as well, including discounts on products and services from specific providers through group purchasing agreements. For example, all Chamber members might get a 10 percent discount at a local office supply store. Some Chambers offer group insurance opportunities to members.

Another benefit can be free publicity for awards your business receives, or for other developments in your company. For example, some Chambers send “ambassadors” to do a ribbon cutting if a member opens a new location, then publish the photos in Chamber materials and send them to local media.

In addition to the opportunities to learn and network, you will be invited to give back to the community through Chamber involvement. Serving in a leadership role in the Chamber can benefit your company by raising visibility and credibility in the community.

How to decide?

To check out your local Chamber of Commerce, pay a visit to its headquarters and ask for membership information. You will probably get a heavy sales pitch, a heap of reading material, and a tour of the offices. You can usually attend a few events as a nonmember to get a feel for what it’s like. Also, ask for the names of members you can talk to about their experiences. Take your time and don’t feel pressured.

If your business covers a wide geographic territory, you might have a couple of local Chambers to consider. Some businesses see a benefit to joining more than one; others join the one located where they most want to build their business, or the one that simply seems to be more active or a better fit for them.

A few cautions

There are some possible drawbacks to consider before joining a Chamber. First, don’t just pay your membership fee and expect to have the entire membership lining up to do business with you. You’ve got to put in some time attending events and networking – joining just gets your foot in the door.

Chambers exist to stimulate and support the entire business community in the area, not to supply members with leads or business. You have to do the actual networking yourself, and that can eat up a lot of time.

Also, be aware that a Chamber is a lobbying organization that aims to persuade local, state and national officials to do what’s best for business. Their philosophy is not strictly Republican or Democrat, but pro-business.

So, what the Chamber believes is good for business might not jibe with your political philosophy. You may not always agree with a stand they take or a candidate they endorse. So if you can’t tolerate being a card-carrying member of an organization that takes an official stand in opposition to yours, membership may not be for you.

Also, while it can be advantageous to be listed in the membership directory, it also opens you up to a flood of solicitations by phone and e-mail. If you see the entire Chamber membership as potential customers, remember that’s how they also see you.

More options

If you think your business could benefit from more local networking, joining a Chamber of Commerce is one of many options. Cleaner is interested in how membership in local groups has benefited your business, and which organizations you feel have not been worth your time and money. To share your experiences, send a note to


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