Joe Mabel / CC 3.0

Will Tech-Driven Millennials Leave Chambers of Commerce in the Dust?

March 7, 2017

Chambers of Commerce on the local, state, and regional levels act as the voice of business, as well as a common ground that unites professionals across diverse industry sectors. These nonprofits can be considered the community water cooler, where members gather to expand their network and skillset through attendance at various seminars and events. Engaging members and tapping into the volunteer spirit of local business folk has been the lifeline of chambers for decades. With millennials stepping up to the plate as the largest living generation, the question for chambers is: how will millennials respond to chambers once the torch is passed their way?

The love language of the millennial generation exists in the form of apps, social media updates, and a strong Wi-Fi connection. Will millennials value chamber membership? More importantly, do they understand the full function of chambers? Is networking at a traditional chamber luncheon simply a thing of the past?

This tech-driven wave of the present and future will pay attention to chambers - if they adapt, that is. The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) outlines the current problem and need for adaptation in their 2015 report, Horizon Initiatives: Chambers 2025: “Belonging and gathering are not the same thing, but throughout the history of chambers of commerce, the two have been difficult to separate.” Members may belong to a specific community based on region, but gathering online instead of gathering in a hotel conference center may be the change chambers need to realize and accept.  

In referencing seminars, the ACCE study states that “affordable, high-quality, two-way video and virtual meeting technology will be ubiquitous by 2025.” Adaptation is the key to relevance with the technology tides shifting from face-to-face to face-to-screen. This shift must encompass all digital platforms and must occur before 2025. Millennials spend over three hours a day on their phones, according to Connected Life’s annual study of consumer usage. Mobile-friendly websites, advanced apps with event calendars and registration information, as well as text message notifications should be included in the marketing plan for chambers going forward. A top notch web contract and communications team should be the priority for these tech-driven standards. Livestreaming and recording events can be implemented for members who cannot make a certain event, creating a virtual participation level. With enhanced digital platforms, it is possible that chambers will expand their membership levels as the accessibility will increase.

Chamber organizations also need to tap into the professional behavior of millennials, which includes changing jobs frequently. According to the Harvard Business Review article What Millennials Want from a New Job, approximately “six in 10 Millennials also say they are open to different job opportunities” and these jobs are outside of their current company. It would be in the best interest of chambers to take advantage of this trend by using technology to connect millennials to members of the business community. Millennials will undoubtedly find value in a chamber that can potentially lead to a new job opportunity, especially if it fits their preferred communication method of interacting online.

Adhering to the digital demand may not be a difficult undertaking when it comes to for-profit companies, but nonprofit organizations march to the beat of a different drum. On the municipal or local level, chambers are often comprised of dedicated volunteers who see the value in boosting the micro-economy. State and county chambers often have a small staff of professionals who wear many hats; from events to human resources to government affairs, chamber employees normally handle a slew of tasks on a given day. Utilizing the capabilities of their members can be helpful to bring current chamber employees up to speed on app and web development. More important than understanding the skill is grasping the significance of technology advances, as the consequence of not adjusting to the market is grave. Chamber executives who fail to acknowledge the need to adjust their sails will be left behind in an empty banquet hall, scattered with a few flip phone users.

Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu