While the chamber is a not-for-profit corporation, it is not a charitable entity as defined through the IRS. All nonprofits share one thing in common — a need and a dependence on volunteers.
At our monthly Know Your Chamber events, I stress to new members coming on board that without our volunteers, the chamber would have closed its doors many years ago, rather than thrive for more than 67 years. In fact, the chamber depends so heavily on our volunteers that we have more than 250 individuals who choose to give their work and wisdom to our orgwanization on an annual basis.
I have the finest staff in the chamber business, a fact I tout at every possible opportunity. Seven individuals work with me toward the common goal of fulfilling our mission: Building a vibrant and prosperous community through business leadership. They are team motivated, proactive, hard-working and smart, all attributes that make any organization stronger. But they are also over-stretched and under-compensated, making the need for volunteers all the more crucial.
When I speak of volunteerism at the chamber, I speak of personal and professional passion. As wonderful as our work may be, we are not curing cancer. We are not saving children from illness or abuse. At least not directly. Our volunteerism is about enlightened self-interest. It is based on the desire to participate, with participation being one of the keys to building a business. It is also based on the concept that, as technological as we have become, we want to do business with people we know and people we respect.
Volunteerism at the chamber gets people known in a context that has little or nothing to do with selling a good or a service, but I believe that people choose to do business with those for whom they have respect. An Ambassador at the chamber represents the organization in the community, but also represents themselves. A member of a hard-working public policy committee allows individuals to share their perspectives on important issues locally or statewide and, in so doing, creates a new context for others in the room.
Being a volunteer at the chamber has also served to create leaders outside the chamber. Once individuals volunteer in support of their own business growth, they get hooked on helping. Countless people, many of whom began volunteer work with the chamber, now populate boards and committees of other nonprofits that exist to change people’s lives. Busy people like to stay busy, and, in my experience, busy people give back more.
We honor our volunteers annually, but in truth in our hearts we honor them daily. As we continue to fulfill our mission to build a vibrant and prosperous community, we will also continue to provide opportunities for business people to lead and grow as a result.
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