Creating new connections is often why people join organizations like chambers of commerce. According to Edge Research, the top reason that people join associations and member organizations is for potential job opportunities. That’s why it’s crucial to offer members access to a community and/or plenty of chances to network with other professionals. But what events should you do? Virtual events? In person lunches? Golf tournaments?
And, on top of WHAT you do, HOW can you make it as easy as possible for your members to hobnob with others (while also making new connections for your organization)? And make it easy for your team to organize it — all at the same time? How can you take your chamber of commerce networking events to the next level?
Don’t fret — we’ve done the legwork for you! We’ve collected more than two dozen ideas for you to customize and use for your organization. Here, we’ll cover:
- Chamber of commerce networking FAQ
- 25 networking ideas for you to leverage right away
- How to create connections via these events
Chamber of Commerce Networking: Who and Why?
Before we dive into the details of our two dozen-plus chamber of commerce networking event ideas, let’s pause to answer some crucial questions. We’ve compiled a list of a few frequently asked questions around chamber of commerce networking and added our answers as guidance for your next event.
Who joins chambers of commerce?
A chamber of commerce is comprised of a variety of local businesses. As a united group, the chamber of commerce and members can lobby for the interests of the local business community as a whole. They can also work together to address shared challenges.
What’s the value of chamber networking?
Member-to-member networking offers a wealth of benefits, including:
- Increased visibility within your community
- Connecting with other business owners (in your industry and beyond)
- Boosting word-of-mouth referrals to other businesses
Plus, planning a chamber networking event can be fun and easy if you have the right tools.
How can chambers create more networking value for members?
Chambers of commerce can offer members more value via networking with a couple of approaches:
- Create more opportunities to network through additional events;
- And plan a variety of types of networking events for your chamber of commerce.
Give your members additional opportunities to mingle with one another. For example, you can set a goal to increase your number of networking events to one a quarter or one a month, depending on your bandwidth and resources.
You can also increase your participation numbers by adding different types of events to your organization’s calendar. If you’ve typically planned more formal events like sit-down dinners, then try hosting more casual get-togethers. Set up a networking mixer at a relaxed venue like a cafe or brewery. Different kinds of events can draw different kinds of crowds — and this gives both your organization and your members to expand their circle.
What types of events work well for chamber of commerce networking?
While some chambers of commerce have leaned more on traditional networking events like luncheons, speaker series, and business expos. However, chambers don’t need to box themselves in — organizations can leverage a variety of event types to give their members plenty of opportunities to mingle. See our list below to get inspired by all the event ideas to add to your calendar!
Our 25 Favorite Chamber of Commerce Networking Events Ideas
Now that you have a strong foundation in the basics of chamber of commerce networking, let’s explore some noteworthy ideas ranging from simple to complex and informal to more elegant affairs.
To help you narrow down the idea that will work best for your organization’s needs, we’ve broken down our list into categories, including:
- Easy and casual networking events
- Classic chamber of commerce events
- Virtual-friendly networking events
- Community-focused networking events
- Fundraising and networking events
Easy and Casual Chamber Networking Events
Create and promote casual networking events as a way for your members to hobnob with one another and other leaders in the business community. An open event encourages members and non-members alike to attend, which gives you the opportunity to make new connections for your organization. And a low-key virtual event or an in-person mixer in a casual venue like a coffee shop, local restaurant, or brewery facilitates spontaneous conversations.
1. Virtual meetings and discussions
With the right software, it’s simple to host a casual virtual meetup with members. You can plan your event around specific topics that resonate with member pain points, trends in your industry or community, or simply to forge new relationships. You can play trivia or icebreaker games, or create breakout rooms so that smaller clusters of members can chat more easily.
2. Breakfasts, lunches, and happy hours
One of the best ways to take your recruiting efforts on the road is with a networking mixer. Bring people together with free breakfast, lunch, or over a couple of drinks during a happy hour event.
3. Member appreciation events
Bring together your members simply to say thanks. Show your gratitude for your loyal members with a dedicated event. Offer lunch or finger foods, swag bags, and other tokens of appreciation your members would love. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that members are the lifeblood of your organization and offer a chance for them to connect with one another.
4. Young professional mentor programs
Go beyond basic networking opportunities with a mentorship program. Match established members who are seasoned in their careers with younger upstarts. This is a huge value-add for members who are just getting started.
5. DIY-style meetups
Keep it casual with a low-key affair at an informal venue. Ask members via email or on your member forum to meet up at a local coffee shop, brewery, or restaurant for some casual conversation after their regular workday.
Classic Chamber of Commerce Networking Events
These events are classic for a reason — these are tried-and-true gatherings have stood the test of time. If you want to gather your members for a more traditional type of event, you can lean on one of these ideas.
6. Business expos
To offer large-scale networking and to help teach current and prospective members new skills, try hosting a business expo. This could take the form of a single or multi-day event, with opportunities for networking, speaker panels, keynote speakers, and booths for vendors to show off their products and services.
7. Local leadership summits
People are more likely to attend one of your events if they’re enticed with the chance to network with industry influencers. One way to do this is to host an event with a prestigious speaker. Set up a lineup of local business leaders, politicians, and notable figures in your community to draw folks to your event.
8. Large public meetings
Your chamber can host a monthly, quarterly, or annual meeting where all your members come together to discuss issues in the business community and in your organization itself. While your primary purpose might be to vote on leadership changes or other issues, this is also a great opportunity for members to network.
9. Meet-the-local-candidate events
For candidates who are running for local offices, you can host an event to introduce them to your members. Candidates can share their ideas and platform, and members can connect with candidates and mingle with one another.
10. Local business award ceremonies
Consider hosting an awards ceremony honoring local businesses. Select superlatives that highlight local business’ and leaders’ accomplishments and contributions to your community.
Virtual-Friendly Chamber Networking Events
While COVID-19 restrictions are slowly lifting, the number of virtual events is only growing.
One recent report showed that 55% of organizers plan to invest even more in virtual events. Another survey shows that the virtual event market is expected to be worth $504.76 billion by 2028.
That’s at least partially due to the fact that virtual events are more inclusive, safe, and allow you to accommodate a wider audience. And here are a few virtual event ideas to inspire you.
11. Online speaker series
Line up a handful of local business leaders or industry experts for a virtual speaker series. You can either host a panel discussion with several speakers all at once, or plan several events where a single speakers discusses a predetermined topic and answers questions.
12. Virtual professional development classes
A recent survey showed the biggest reason younger members join an organization is ongoing education. You can provide extra value through ongoing education. Host informational webinars, online and in-person training, as well as certifications through online learning modules. That way, your members can stay current with their skills, learn new ones, and network with other members along the way.
13. “Shop local” online marketplaces
In the wake of the COVD-19 pandemic, online marketplaces have sprung up to serve as a way to get local businesses online and get their goods and services in front of new customers. These online marketplaces often host events, webinars, and workshops for local businesses (like Our Local Online in the UK). Partner up with an online marketplace to host a virtual networking event for vendors and local businesses.
14. Social media contests and challenges
Social media is where many of your members are likely already engaging — so, it makes sense to encourage engagement around your event via these online channels.
15. Member forums, job boards, and more
As part of your membership, you can offer access to an exclusive job board and member forum. Members can pay a small fee to post open roles on the job board where candidates in your industry can find these jobs all in one central place. You can also create an online forum where your members can post connect to discuss industry issues, challenges they’re facing, offer solutions, or just mingle digitally.
Community-Focused Networking Events
Community events bring out members as well as local friends and neighbors. With community events, you and members have the chance to engage with people outside your usual business circles — and that’s always refreshing.
16. Street fairs/markets
Fairs and markets are a great place to mingle with local craftspeople, food and beverage vendors, and micro-businesses (and get some great eats as well). Set yourself up as a vendor at your community’s next street fair or market so you (and your members) can network while perusing the delicious fare and artisanal wares available.
A love of music can bring a variety of different people together. But you don’t need to host a major rock star to gain traction with this tip. Partner up with a nearby music school for their annual recital, or co-host a community benefit concert with local musical talent.
18. Scavenger hunts
Get your members out of their offices and into the streets with a fun scavenger hunt. Create a list of local landmarks, businesses, or other points of interest that members have to find in order to complete the hunt.
19. Seasonal festivals
Your city or community likely already hosts a few seasonal events (think Pride parades, a Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring, etc.). Partner with organizers to co-host the festival, or become a vendor. Seeing your chamber’s presence at the event will encourage members to come out and engage with each other and the community.
20. Cook-offs and “Taste of” events
Food is an excellent way to bring people together — and that applies to your members as well. Join the next community cook-off or food-based event as a sponsor, vendor, and/or attendee to hobnob with local cooks, restaurateurs, and food lovers alike.
Fundraising and Networking Chamber Events
It’s often easier to bring people together for networking when you anchor the event in a good cause. Invite your members out to benefit a cause that’s relevant to your organization’s mission or that meets a crucial need in your area.
This final handful of ideas center around fundraising for charities or nonprofits in your community.
21. Silent and live auctions
Many of your members likely love an auction — especially if you offer some great potential prizes. You can host an auction event on behalf of a local charity and ask for local businesses to donate prizes to auction off.
22. Raffles and other contests
Plan an event around a raffle or giveaway. You can automatically enter anyone who registers for your event, or you can encourage ongoing engagement by entering anyone who asks a question during the Q&A at the end of your event. If a giveaway with your sponsors isn’t a good fit, you can also raffle off gift certificates to local businesses, cafes, or restaurants.
23. Galas and dinners
For a more formal affair, you can plan a gala or seated dinner that allows members to mingle and get to know one another. Again, you can anchor your gala around benefiting a charity in your community. Alternatively, you can take the opportunity to honor the achievements of local business leaders (see our entry above on business award ceremonies).
24. Walkathons and 5Ks
Get you and your members moving! Set up a 5K or walkathon to benefit a charity near and dear to you. This offers your members a chance to chat it up while they’re pounding the pavement for a good cause.
25. Golf or other tournaments
If your members are athletic in other ways, lean into it! Inspire a little healthy competition via a golf tournament. Invite your members to the local links, offer prizes to top performers, and offer some snacks to give everyone a chance to mingle. You don’t have to restrict this idea to just golf, either — you can substitute in sports like soccer or softball as well.
Making More Connections With Your Chamber Networking Events
With more than two dozen ideas now at your disposal for your chamber of commerce networking needs, you can move forward with planning and promoting your own event. But before you do, we have a few additional tips to help you host an effective event for your members:
- Mix and match ideas: Don’t put yourself in a box — take the ideas we outlined above and get creative! Customize one to meet your needs, or even take elements of one and add it to another. For example, you could host a cook-off at a seasonal festival in your city.
- Define your audiences: Whatever type of networking event you host, you’ll need to know exactly who you’re targeting. Before you start the planning process, record the types of people you want to attend your event — current members, prospective members, industry leaders, subject matter experts, etc. List demographic details or even create personas. Clearly defining your audience for different events will keep your efforts focused and valuable.
- Use the right tools: Make sure you’re using software purpose-built to help you plan and promote your event, then manage the memberships that come from said event.
- Focus on connections: While your event may bring people together to raise funds or entertain them, don’t lose sight of your ultimate goal: making connections. Keep your eye on helping your members start conversation with one another and forge new connections for your organization as well.
Get Started Connecting Your Members Today
Now, it’s time to start connecting your organization members with one another and forging new connections yourself.