This weekend I had the unenviable job of sending out collection notices to members for outstanding dues.  I never know whether I am nagging a small business that is just barely hanging on or possibly wasting a stamp on someone who long ago decided to part ways without mentioning it to us.

Most often, the issue is simply prioritization.  For many small businesses, cash flow is a struggle, and we are the last bill paid.  And membership is optional.

Still, the Chamber is a small business too, and we need to raise our own revenue.  Like most tiny nonprofits, we have a small budget and skeleton staff.  In addition to the traditional “executive director” duties, I am the billing manager and collections clerk.  I am not complaining – I love my job and love working with and for small businesses in our area.  But I thought it worthwhile to take a minute and discuss how chambers across the country are funded.  Too often I encounter the perception that chambers are well-funded political machines or even an arm of local government.  Not true.

As independent membership organizations, chambers depend on member dues.  We also raise money through events and fundraising, such as our economic luncheon and golf outing.  Other income comes from small service fees or revenue-sharing in directories like our Answer Book.  Some chambers put on festivals or sell tourism maps.  Others sell gift cards or even vacations.

Chambers typically do not receive government funding for their operations expenses, except for specific projects grants, such as community marketing, economic development or a tourism bureau.  In Oak Park, other organizations (OPEDC and Visit Oak Park) are responsible for these functions. 

Our Chamber of Commerce is funded solely by membership, member activities and fundraisers.  We do not receive government funding for our core member business – and that is a good thing.  We work hard to earn the trust and support of small businesses and strive to provide an important service in return.

We work for the greater good of our overall community, but we are especially grateful to individual members supporting our efforts financially.

Join the discussion on social media!

Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...