There is strength in numbers.  

In chamber-world, we mean number of members.  Today, our membership comprises just under 30% of all local businesses.  We hope to grow that number.

This October, we are launching a focused membership drive.  “Membership Month” features special offers for businesses just joining us and a chance to win prizes for current members referring businesses to us.

Today, the Oak Park – River Forest Chamber of Commerce boasts 480 members, a twenty percent increase since we began strategically overhauling the organization back in 2013.  As part of that effort, we improved our membership benefits and programming, realigned staff and volunteer support and redefined what it means to be relevant to small business.  It seems to be working, and we are very proud of that.  

Membership numbers are important to us not only to measure progress and efficacy, but also because we are, by IRS definition, a business association membership organization.  We are not charitable, nor political nor a social-civic organization.  We are membership.

Everything we do is viewed through the lens of membership and member needs.  Are we creating community for our members?  Are we offering the professional development opportunities that resonate with our members?  Do our special events highlight our members?   Are we providing information and resources that our members need to grow their businesses?

Chamber membership is optional, and we need to prove and improve ourselves constantly if we are to be seen as a worthwhile investment to a small business.

We think we have a great product, but we recognize that we can do better – or do different.  On the one hand, we offer a suite of services that currently appeals to many small businesses in our community.  On the other hand, we are delighted to work with members new and old to redesign our programs and benefits to fit the ever-changing needs of small business, thus widening our appeal.  

Look for more information about “Membership Month” in the days ahead.  And please, recommend us!  The more inclusive we are and the more businesses we count as members, the better we are able serve the needs of our diverse small business community.  

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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...