With the end of the year on the horizon, many organizations are starting their annual planning processes. Which is fairly common...but when’s the last time your association or chamber did the work to develop a long-term strategic plan? A plan for the next five, ten, even twenty years?In the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives’s November 14 webinar, “Strategic Planning: Building a Plan That Yields Results,” President and CEO Sheree Anne Kelly noted that there’s no formula or “silver bullet” solution for creating a long-term strategic plan. Instead, Kelly suggests looking to your organization’s past to help inform its future:
Gather and assess the data
When ACCE began to work on their recent five-year strategic plan, they did a LOT of research to uncover engagement trends and barriers. Internally, they conducted:
- CEO listening tour
- Member satisfaction survey using Net Promoter Score (NPS) as their benchmark
- Non-member and unengaged member outreach - according to Kelly, it’s “just as important to find out why people aren’t engaging with you.”
- Internal operational audit (budgeting, legal, IT, etc.)
- Interviews specifically with Millennial chamber professionals
And externally, they looked to the American Society of Association Executives for trends and benchmarking data, and also researched where there would be shifts in revenue trends five to ten years down the road.
After gathering all of this data, ACCE held retreats for their staff and board to assess what it all meant for the organization moving forward. Kelly noted that perhaps one of the hardest parts of these conversations was to ask the team, “what can we STOP doing?” and ensuring that all resources were aligning with their mission.
(Tip: Looking at all of the research ACCE conducted, how could you conduct similar research for your association or chamber?)
Keep your plan as succinct as possible
When it comes to writing your plan and then presenting it to the world, you want it to be clean and easy to understand. ACCE identified four core components to their plan, and two “lenses” through which they viewed each idea in each component to ensure they were being diverse and inclusive. They used a visual to communicate the approach externally, but maintained internal working documents so they could stay on track.
You have to determine your metrics for measuring success from the very start of your strategic plan - otherwise, how are you supposed to know if it’s succeeding??
Plus, those metrics will help all of your stakeholders understand how your plan is succeeding, too. “Don’t assume that people out (and even in) your organization understand your priorities,” said Kelly. Talk about those priorities, and take the time to celebrate successes along the way before moving on to the next big project.
Kelly was also joined by two chamber of commerce executives on the webinar who shared their experiences with long-term strategic planning:
Kate Bates, President and CEO of the Arlington (VA) Chamber of Commerce
Bates and her team started by doing research as well, specifically assessing each of their existing programs to ensure they were aligning with the big picture.
One thing that completely transformed for the good was the Chamber’s annual golf tournament. There was a “core contingency” who loved it, but it wasn’t meeting the Chamber’s networking goal for the event. (Participants golfed in groups of just four, and by the time dinner and awards show started that evening everyone was too tired to engage.)
Instead, the Chamber now hosts “Cards and Clubs” at TopGolf, an entertainment venue with golf games for all skill levels. This made the event more accessible to all members, attendees could network with everyone in between games, and it was much more appealing to their younger members. This transformation was extremely successful, growing from about 40 attendees to over 100.
Bates also agreed with Kelly, as far as the delivery of the strategic plan. They developed a document that was easy for members to understand and access as needed, and created an internal working document that was similar, but included more details and timelines.
David Brown, President and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce
The Greater Omaha Chamber has been creating and executing a long-term strategic plan every five years since the early 90s. But, as an organization that is also responsible for the area’s economic growth and infrastructure (both physical and when it comes to government policy), they realized it would take a longer, more bold strategic plan to truly affect change.
Brown and his team knew they’d still have to do some research, but - inspired by ACCE’s Chambers 2025 Report and the notion of catalytic leadership - they wanted to be forward thinking, too. In 2017 the Chamber partnered with the United Way of the Midlands and the Urban League of Nebraska to launch the Strategic 4Sight (S4S) initiative, and ultimately created Greater Omaha 2040, a strategic plan for how they want the community to develop over the next two decades.
Brown says the process has “moved them to the head of the spear,” driving the cultural diversity, increase in talent, accessibility, and entrepreneurship they want to grow within the Omaha community. The Chamber has even hired a Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Director of Transportation--two completely new positions--to help drive the initiative.
Looking for a way to manage all of YOUR chamber’s strategic initiatives? Consider how a membership management system can help with our guide, Chamber of Commerce Operations Made Simple!