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10 Steps to Start a Chamber of Commerce 

Andrea Amorosi June 7, 2024
Table of Contents
11 min read

Running a business comes with its fair share of challenges, and local enterprises often need additional support to thrive. This is where formal organizations like Chambers of Commerce play a pivotal role.

If you are interested in how to start a Chamber of Commerce, we will walk you through the 10 important steps you need to know. From understanding the purpose and benefits to creating a supportive network that fosters economic growth and community development, you’ll find everything you need to get started. Plus, discover how MemberClicks Trade can simplify the process.

What is a Chamber of Commerce?

Many people mistakenly believe that a Chamber of Commerce is a public entity run by the local government. They’re actually member-run organizations that allow local businesses to work together to advance their mutual interests.

A Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit founded and run by members of a local business community. It provides a forum where local business owners can network with one another and promote their enterprises to the community at large. The chamber can also be a tool for businesses to bring their concerns to local government and foster a business-friendly environment.

What Does a Chamber of Commerce Do?

A Chamber of Commerce does a lot of things to help local businesses and the community. Some of a chamber’s most important functions and benefits include:

  • Serving as a voice for local businesses. Business owners can work together to have their concerns heard by local government.
  • Offering networking opportunities. Members can find vendors and partners, and learn from other members at events like speaker series.
  • Promoting members and their businesses. A listing in the member directory can get members exposure and new business.

Many chambers use a combination of meet-ups, online groups, speaker events, and lobbying to attain their goals.

What Are the Objectives of a Chamber?

A chamber’s objectives are to promote the collective goals of businesses in the area. The private sector works differently than government sectors, and needs structures like chambers to advance its interests.

Objectives can include education, representation, and promotion and support of local businesses.

Who Are Chamber Members?

Anyone who operates, works for, or is passionate about the interests of local businesses can join. Your members can include:

  • Small business owners.
  • Representatives from larger corporations who want to maintain a local presence.
  • Local individuals.
  • Representatives from non-profit entities.

Reach out to anyone who you feel could benefit from a local chamber and anyone who you feel can make a contribution.

Who Leads a Chamber?

Chambers typically are run by a board of directors who work together. At the head will be a leader elected by local chamber members. The title can vary based on the preferences of the group. Director, President, or Chief are all common.

Types of Chambers of Commerce

There are four types of Chambers of Commerce, each with their own role to play. These organizations work together and with their communities to promote the interests of businesses.

Regional, City, and Community Chambers

It all starts with your local chamber. At the town or city level, you will find business owners and other participants who have a deep understanding of your area’s specific characteristics and needs.

Regional chambers work together with local chambers to address issues that cross city and county lines. When you are getting a local or city chamber off the ground, reach out to your regional Chamber of Commerce. It is likely they have resources and volunteers available who can help you with any questions.

State Chambers

As the founder of a local or regional Chamber of Commerce, you’ll work with your state-level chamber. This group works to attract new businesses to your state and to influence policy at a state level.

At the time of this writing, every state but Rhode Island and Massachusetts has a state-level Chamber of Commerce. Even the above two states have organizations at the regional and local level. Network with chambers at each level to combine your voice and to access development and educational opportunities for your members.

National or International Chambers

At the next level, you have your national chamber of commerce. In the US, this is the US Chamber of Commerce. Other countries have their own national organizations. While most function as private entities that individuals and businesses can choose to join, a few countries require Chamber of Commerce membership in order to do business.

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) represents over 45 million members in more than 100 countries. The ICC offers professional development, dispute resolution, and helps businesses work together in a digital and connected landscape.

10 Steps to Start Your Chamber of Commerce

Chambers of Commerce have a long, rich history you can draw on when starting your own local or regional chapter. The first chamber of commerce was founded in 1599 to serve business interests in France. Chamber of Commerce activity on American soil predates the establishment of the US, with the first chamber established in New York in 1768.

Because of this, there are many organizations whose experience you can use. We’ve distilled instructions into 10 simple steps you can follow to get your chamber up and running.

1. Make Sure There’s a Need for It

Start by making sure your area doesn’t already have a chamber. The US Chamber of Commerce maintains a list of local, regional, and state Chambers. You can also do a local search to see if there is one in your area that hasn’t made it onto the national list.

If one doesn’t exist or your local chamber has gone inactive, you have an opportunity to create one for your community. Start talking to other business owners. If enough people are interested, your area could benefit from a Chamber of Commerce.

Not sure where to start? Meet up with other business owners at networking events and ask their opinions. You can also chat in locally-focused groups on social media. And don’t underestimate the value of in-person contacts. Go to local businesses and talk to owners about their interests and what they feel a local chamber could do for them.

It might take some time to get the word out and get people interested in forming a chamber. Be persistent and continue to do outreach until you’ve established an active group of concerned and interested individuals.

2. Connect with other people who are passionate about the local business community.

Business owners and community members can work together to start forming a board for your proposed Chamber of Commerce. Once you’ve determined there is enough interest to get started, start collecting contacts.

You probably already know people who can help you start a Chamber of Commerce in your community. Business to business clients, your vendors, and people who you have met at networking events may all be interested.

Interested individuals and business owners can meet informally while you are in the organizing phase. Regular meet-ups can keep up the momentum. Once you have identified people willing to contribute to the project, you can meet more formally to start putting all the pieces into place.

Don’t just focus on small businesses. Many larger corporations participate in the Chamber of Commerce in cities where they have offices. These large corporate members have resources that smaller businesses do not. They, in turn, benefit from the intimate knowledge smaller business owners have of a local environment. Together, these characteristics make them excellent allies.

This is also a chance to start scouting people for leadership roles. In addition to the director, you will also need board members and other officials. Joining the boat of a chamber is a great way for local entrepreneurs and business owners to give back. Plus, you get the recognition that comes from having an important role in a local organization. This can be a big benefit when building a reputation in your local business world, and beyond.

3. Create a Mission Statement

You have a lot of leeway when it comes to your mission statement. Sarasota County’s Chamber of Commerce sums theirs up in a single phrase: To promote and encourage business prosperity and to enhance economic development through advocacy, engagement and cooperation.

Other chambers incorporate sections outlining their vision and their core values.

What do you want to accomplish? Articulate your goals in a mission statement to keep your vision for your chamber clear.

The mission statement is a guide you can return to when deciding what activities to pursue and focusing on those that advance the chamber’s mission.

It is okay to revisit, update, and expand your mission statement as you continue to build your organization.

4. Create Bylaws

Your bylaws are an agreement between members on how the Chamber will function and what the roles and responsibilities of members will be. Your bylaws should lay out the purpose of the chamber, its goals, eligibility for membership, and expected behavior. The US Chamber of Commerce has sample bylaws you can use as a reference when drafting rules for your local organization.

The bylaws are also a place to clearly set policies. For instance, how long a grace period do you want to give members who are behind on their dues? How do you want to handle voting on issues that affect the chamber? What is your orientation process, and how often should it be available?

Your bylaws can answer all these questions and provide guidelines for ongoing operation of your local chamber.

5. Create a Business Plan

Even though a chamber is not a business per se, you still need a business plan. This plan should include your expected costs, activities, and your potential sources of revenue.

For instance, most chambers will need to rent space for their operations and pay utilities. Your sources of revenue can include member dues, merchandise, and fees for events and classes.

The business plan allows you to ensure you understand the resources you have at your disposal and what you’ll need to keep your chamber active and vibrant.

6. Handle the Chamber’s Finances

How you set up your finances at the start will play a strong role in your chamber’s ongoing success.

Start by identifying revenue sources and deciding how these funds will be spent. As mentioned before, you’ll typically need to pay for a space to operate and utilities. If you anticipate having full-time administrative staff, their salaries will need to be paid out of income, as well. Other potential costs include insurance, travel expenses, and office supplies.

By deciding how finances will be handled and who is responsible, you can keep everything clean and simple and avoid potential issues.

Experts recommend revisiting your finances at least once a year. You can see what is working and what needs to be revamped. You can also take these opportunities to expand your capabilities. For instance, if you have been cobbling together payments through email, phone conversations, and checks delivered by postal mail, you can use an organization management tool to bring your payment structure online.

7. File for incorporation 501 (c)(6).

This is a step you should not skip. This nonprofit status offers federal tax exemption and other benefits for your organization.

To file for 501(c)(6) status, you’ll need to complete IRS Form 1024 and submit it with the relevant fees. You’ll need an Employer Identification Number (EIN), as well as documentation on your officers, your organization’s activities, financial information, and information about your affiliations with other organizations.

8. Decide on a Membership Fee Structure

How much will you charge for admission to the chamber? Will you offer different membership levels? Many chambers opt to offer individual, small business and corporate member levels. Some have regular dues while others charge a one-time fee for basic membership and additional fees for add-ons.

You’ll also need to decide how often membership fees are collected. Some groups do annual dues, others collect monthly or quarterly.

Set up methods for paying dues so that everyone can participate. The easier it is for people to pay their dues, the more likely it is that people will continue to keep up their memberships. A good member management program can handle digital payment options for you. This way, people can pay their dues online at their convenience.

9. Integrate Robust Membership Management Software to Streamline Operations

You can run a Chamber of Commerce using paper records, spreadsheets, email and other scattered options. But, your administrative and organizational tasks will be a lot easier to manage with the right membership management suite.

MemberClicks Trade offers a one-stop solution for chambers of commerce and other trade organizations. This software allows you to streamline your onboarding process, manage membership dues, and handle chamber member communications with ease.

If you are interested in launching a Chamber of Commerce, it is likely you already have pressing business concerns and responsibilities to handle. Make starting and operating your chamber as easy as possible by handling duties through quality membership software. This means less time spent on administrative duties and more to dedicate to the actions that will benefit your membership the most.

10. Start Publicizing and Marketing your Chamber of Commerce

The more people know about your chamber, the more robust and engaged your members will be. This starts with a website where people can learn about the chamber and start their own membership.

Social media pages can help get the word out about the chamber itself and your organization’s activities. Don’t spread yourself too thin by joining every single platform. Focus on a couple, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, so you can pay enough attention to your presence there.

Reach out to the press. Create press releases about your launch, your members, and any events you are hosting.

Begin hosting events as early as possible. At the beginning, these can start with informal lunches or coffee meet-ups for interested individuals. Meet regularly to begin building relationships. Over time, your chamber can host bigger, more elaborate events. These can offer great educational and networking opportunities while also serving to promote your chamber.

Marketing and promotion require regular communication. Create a calendar and update everyone regularly to help spread the word about the great things your chamber is doing in your community.

Quality member management software can give you the ability to send out emails to your membership with the click of a button. Your members and interested parties can keep up to date on your chamber’s activities to better understand how their chamber is serving them.

Summing Up

Creating an organization from the ground up is a huge undertaking. Draw on the experience of other chambers and the talents of your community to make it all come together. Break the work down into simple, discrete steps and work over time to establish your local chamber.

Once you have formally created your organization, you can focus on the events, activities and networking relationships that will make your Chamber of Commerce a success.

MemberClicks Trade Makes It Easy

You don’t have to go it alone. MemberClicks Trade is a game changer for Chambers of Commerce and other trade organizations. MC Trade allows you to automate tasks and organize data to save you and your board time.

Ready to see how our software can help you get your Chamber of Commerce established and running smoothly? Book a free demo today. We can show you the transformative power MemberClicks Trade brings to organizations like yours.

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