How to Communicate the Value Your Membership Provides


Patrick Kirby 0:02
Well, hey, gang, welcome to wait another guest expert training here at nonprofit boot camp. We’ve got a great one for you today. And it’s one of the questions that we have been trying to answer while putting this whole boot camp together, which is added value. That’s the general topic of conversation that we’re going to converse about today. And I couldn’t be more excited about our guest. Let’s give a warm internet welcome. Whether you’re live or you are watching this recording to Travis talebearer, he’s Executive Director of the Waverly Chamber of Commerce. Welcome to our guest expert training. Thanks for being a guest expert here at a nonprofit boot camp.

Travis Toliver 0:43
Patrick, thanks for having me really appreciate being on it’s so exciting to be on with you again, love this.

Patrick Kirby 0:48
This is this is very exciting for me. One of the things that, you know, we really thought about when, you know, creating dashboards or whatever I mean, the programs that we are rolling in here is the idea of adding value. And we’re gonna have a long conversation about this today. And if you hop in live and you’re asking some questions, we’ll try to answer them. But I think it’s going to be pretty interesting. Before we get started, though, I think the only right thing to do would be to have you give a 5000 foot view on who you are, what you do and why we’re chatting today. Oh, well,

Travis Toliver 1:24
thank you very much. So yeah, I’m the executive director for the Waverly Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Program. Waverly is a town of 10,000 people located in northeast Iowa. We have just over 300 businesses in our chamber. We also serve as the main street program for our community. So a lot of downtown revitalization focus in our organization as well. And then we also do tourism efforts on behalf of our city, we really is the home to Wartburg college. It’s a four year liberal arts college institute of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. We’re also the home to the Nestle manufacturing plant. So anything powder based that Nestle makes, it’s made right here in Waverly. So our town always smells like chocolate, or vanilla, or strawberry or whatever flavor it is, that day, I couldn’t be more excited about sharing that all the time. Because anytime anybody comes away, really, it always smells wonderful. It’s not like having a Purina plant in your backyard. It’s like having the Oompa Loompas over there creating all these wonderful smells for you to to intake every day here in our community. So but yeah, happy to be with you and happy to lend whatever I can information to you and your guests.

Patrick Kirby 2:28
I love that I am kind of upset that Waverly has an endorsed sort of like chocolate like saying and as as a as an actual signature of the town or like smell us here or whatever you want to go about that. I think that’s fine.

Travis Toliver 2:43
I’m not sure how that would go over. But, you know, possibility. The other possibility, too, is that we are the mythical home to the character, Hawkeye, of the Avengers, in the comic books that shares that he is from Waverly, Iowa. And so we have not yet capitalized on that little tidbit as well. So maybe something to look forward to. I don’t know.

Patrick Kirby 3:03
I like that. I also it should be noted that I went to school in a town in Iowa that was rivals, I think we would say from Wartburg as well. In fact, if we get into a an argument on who is better at wrestling, in the collegiate level, I think that’d be great. So Travis talked to me a little bit about as an executive director, and as, as you came in, to your role when you started, um, give us kind of the lay of the land, because I think a lot of executive directors or a lot of leadership, individuals, or businesses who are engaging in chamber activities, find themselves in any situation and just kind of looking at, hey, here’s the lay of the land on a chamber and business, X, Y, and Z. Where did you find the Waverly chamber when you got to your position?

Travis Toliver 3:58
That’s a great question. And so what I found when I came in, was that I didn’t know the community and I was brand new, I kind of just hopped in out of nowhere, the board, asked me to, to come on to this position, given the understanding that I was new to the community, I had no ties, I had no bad blood with anyone. And I could bring fresh perspective and some new ideas, which is what they were wanting. So that kind of told me something right there. My leadership style is very transparent. And so I took the first year, and just really hit the streets and talk to all my business members, and I walked into businesses, introduce myself, and just simply ask, how’s the business going? And just sat there and listened to what they had to say. And I always tell folks that I am either mentoring or bringing into the industry. Listen louder than you speak. Right. So you know, go and talk to your businesses, talk to your organization, ask a lot of questions. And that really helped me to get the lay of the land as to what the chamber was doing really well with, but the chamber had some chat I’ll just with and where the chamber was maybe like in between, like, nobody really knew if they did this or did that. So it really gave me a basis to be able to understand better what the what the pulse was of the business community, and what the needs were some of the challenges and really gave me a great launching point to start after a year. So seeing some small incremental changes, so that we could better our business community and address those needs. I feel like that immediately not only introduced myself to the community, but earned my members trust, but also to show that we could hear what they had to say, and follow through. Yeah, we could have taken a huge survey. And maybe if this was a larger community, we probably could have done that. But there’s just nothing more valuable than being able to walk into a business, shake hands, look people right in the eyes, and hear them out whether it’s good or bad, you just have to be part of the disposition, I believe, is being a sounding board and understanding and being empathetic to what businesses are going through. And so together as a community, we’ve gone through several community wide challenges over the last few years. But because there’s this trust, with our organization, with being able to share information and keep our businesses made aware of what’s going on, and some some things that we have brought to the community to help them preserve themselves during challenging times. It has paid off in the long run, no doubt,

Patrick Kirby 6:28
drives, I thought today, we come mainly from our vote, our value proposition and what the chamber provides to businesses in the community in general, on ways that other chambers who are listening are actually kind of saying, Okay, well, maybe we can add this or sprinkle this on top of what we’re already producing. But I thought we maybe start at it from let’s start from a business that comes into the community itself, who’s brand new, or a person that comes in the community brand new? How what’s the best practice that a chamber leader or a chamber itself can engage someone who is new into your community, and especially in small towns, because again, there’s a difference between like, Hey, you’re a number in a big town, but you are very, you’re very known as a commodity. When you get into a small rural flyover town, you’re new, everybody knows it. How do you make them feel welcome best practices as a chamber leader? And as the chamber as as a whole?

Travis Toliver 7:24
Yeah, absolutely. What a great question that is. And so you know, I actually just did this yesterday, with a new business in our downtown, you know, there’s just nothing better than to be able to call them up. Welcome to the community, first of all, in person, right, and ask if they’re going to be there at a certain time when you can come visit them. And then walking through the door. Yes, I walk through the door with a chamber pack membership packet, my hands, but the first thing I’m doing is reaching out to them, shaking their hands, welcoming them to the community, maybe bringing them a little gift we have, we have coffee mugs that we put a little Nestle hot chocolate in, you know, some some little flowers, whatever the case may be, it doesn’t have to be really expensive. It doesn’t have to be a big ordeal. But just a little something to say, welcome. We’re glad that you’re here. And by the way, here’s some membership information to know a little bit more about our organization and our community, and how you can get involved in the business community, and leave yourself open to questions and then simply walk away, it doesn’t have to be a real drawn out deal. But at the same time, that in person touchpoint. And the genuineness that you bring to that welcome, will travel a long

Patrick Kirby 8:29
ways. What I like the most about that, too, is that membership is secondary to your greeting. Absolutely. Because otherwise, like you know, if you have a value of a thing that is like, this is the membership fee, and you just lead with that. That’s kind of like nothing, everybody knows that you exists, they probably know that there’s a chamber somewhere. But if that’s all your intent is I think people can see right through it. The value add isn’t, I genuinely want you to be successful here in town, because if you leave, then there’s a vacant place blah, blah, blah. Right. But that that lead in is so unbelievably important that it’s not, I need to make my numbers.

Travis Toliver 9:11
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, it just goes back to the golden rule, right? So you know, treat others the way you want to be treated? And how would you like it if somebody came into your office and lead off with a sales pitch rather than wanting to get to know you build a relationship first. And that’s really what I think is the key to our success and at least in our community with our organization, is that we are about building relationships first we want to get to know you your business, and you know, offer and understand the resources that we have. So that when it does come time to consider being a member of the chamber, there’s no questions to be asked.

Patrick Kirby 9:43
Right. So value so they start off with membership and this is this is something I think a lot of chambers struggle with. They’ve got the basics of the basics, right? You’re gonna get added to a directory. We’re going to post on social media, etc. I think maybe I’d love to start With what are different ways of engagement that you would provide, or you created as a as a as a chamber different than when you walked in to say, Hey, listen, yeah, these are the basics. But in addition to, here’s kind of where we differentiate from any other group or, or what businesses have asked you to provide as value. I think that’s even the more interesting question, when you’re talking with them and saying, hey, you know, what I’d love to see is this.

Travis Toliver 10:31
Yeah, for sure. And I think that, you know, again, going back to asking questions, you know, what is it that we can be doing to help your business? What are the resources that you’re needing to help your business be more successful? I mean, I think you and I were just recently talking about just, you know, that touchpoint of communication each year to make sure that your businesses are feeling the value of your organization, feeling the benefits. And sometimes they need to be reminded, I’m really excited because at the end of October, we’re going to be starting a new program called chamber over coffee, in which basically what it is, it’s a, it’s a membership orientation, right. And so we hope to do this two years, or two times a year where we have we invite new members to come simply, in the morning over coffee, do a short presentation about membership to the chamber, their benefits, and then answer any questions they might have. And hopefully, this will not only spark people to understand the resources that are available to them through membership to the organization. But also, if existing members come to kind of remind them or refresh them, of what it is that we do and can do for their organization. You know, again, small town, we have a lot of small businesses, not a lot of them have dedicated marketing departments or promotion departments. And so that’s where we really come in pretty heavily in our community is being able to just get the word out about things going on with their business and help them promote and market those exciting events, or sales, or whatever the case may be. If they’re hiring, if they’re looking for a new location, wanting to expand those kinds of stuff, you know, we want to be able to be that bridge between our businesses and other businesses and other resources in the community.

Patrick Kirby 12:06
So it’s the same thing like in the nonprofit realm, right. And again, I really chambers in nonprofits, I get that. But like, if you asked somebody to be on your board, he’s like, Alright, thanks for being on our board. Here’s our first meeting. And then don’t give them any instructions on what their expectations are or what they expect of you. There’s no onboarding process, they’re immediately going to be disengaged completely. I love a onboarding process. That’s not just please read through this pamphlet, and brochure that’s a brilliant way of doing it, how’s the feedback then from that as a process?

Travis Toliver 12:42
Oh, it’s, it’s tremendous, you know, I think people really appreciate taking the time for us to take the time to review those benefits to them and review the value of the organization. And you’re right, I mean, just the same thing with with our board members, if I’m hoping chambers that are watching are doing board orientations are ready. But you know, that is so important. If you’re asking somebody to become basically a leader of your organization. And to help move the organization forward, they have to understand where it’s been, where it’s at, and your vision for it in the future. And so we definitely take the time, especially with our board members to sit down with them, go through the history of the organization, let them know where we’re at right now, where the vision is forward, looking at the strategic plan, or whatever you have in front of you, and making sure that this is a right fit for them. I mean, sometimes even at orientation, we want to make sure that being a board member being a leader in our organization, they have the understanding of what’s involved, but also to that it’s also being involved in leading the the community forward.

Patrick Kirby 13:38
Right, well, the other thing too, is that you have, you know, you can explain your their expectations of you. But then you get to actually be very honest about the expectations of the business as a member, right? You’re have to be an upstanding citizen here that reflects the chamber membership. And like this is what our values are, but what you should expect of us as leadership’s but what you have to do as an individual business in order to get the benefits, and I think a lot of the chambers don’t overly explain that. They just assume that you know, X, Y, and Z is a value, but to pause and have that particular cause for acquisition. That’s just a really good way of changing the narrative outset. This is just a bill you pay every year. And I got to update my you know, address if we move and that’s the basics of the basics that doesn’t, that doesn’t provide any need for me to join period.

Travis Toliver 14:35
Yeah. Oh, no, I totally agree. And you know, we look at membership in a few different ways. You know, when I have a new member come on board, the first thing I remind them is that you only get out of your membership what you put into it right. And so if there is no communicating on the members and to us about what’s going on with their business, we wouldn’t possibly know what’s what’s happening. Yes, we’re a small town we try to know everything that’s going on right, but Not everything gets translated to the chamber department. And sometimes the chamber is the last to know about anything. And so we want to make sure that we keep open lines of communication with with our members, but then also at the same time to when of the at the, you know, on the other side of the membership, and when there may be contemplating leaving the organization, they’re just not getting anything out of it, or, you know, they haven’t utilized it again, you know, you’re not, you’re not getting out of it, what you could be putting into it. And so that communication is so important. Also, at the same time, too, with, with with membership, I think it was Kyle Sexton, who is a great mentor and speaker on membership for membership driven organizations, talks about how that membership should just be looked at as a, as a as a lifelong commitment, as a lifelong agreement, you know, and so you’re not renewing your membership every year, you’re just paying that yearly do to be a member. And so when members leave, we like to just say, you know, of course, we’ll, we’ll place your membership on hold. And when you’re ready to come back, it’ll always be here for you because you’re a lifelong member of the chamber. And so, you know, you kind of kind of thinking in members membership in that way, or in different mindsets, I think can add some value to the organization as well.

Patrick Kirby 16:16
I sometimes think that when when individuals leave an organization and they leave a membership, the inquiries on why paint a really interesting picture on what you can do better as an organization, have you had an individual or a business leave? And then did you ask them why? What was the reason? And then what was kind of maybe a surprise reaction that you might have had, as you sort of like, Oh, I didn’t even contemplate that. Or maybe this wasn’t a good fit in the first place? What was like? How do you? How do you frame someone leaving? And what do you take from their explanations? And maybe you got an example or two, one on why they’re?

Travis Toliver 16:54
So and that’s a great question, Patrick. And I think step one is, no matter what the answer is, you have to respect the decision. And so you know, go walking into a meeting with a with a member that’s leaving with that mind frame, really kind of helps put things at ease. I did have a member one time. And they just chose not to renew their membership, for a number of reasons that just simply had either nothing to do with our organization, or we’re just not true. And I realized at that moment that this particular member just probably couldn’t afford it, and was trying to make up some excuses to justify their decision. And again, even when you know that, when even when it’s very clear, and it’s being made very clear to you that the reasonings are just not adding up, you still have to respect that decision. And I even say to folks, I respect your decision, I would just ask that, you know, in the future, you may be taking a look at your business needs at that time, and maybe we can be a further help to you. But in that particular instance, was just very clear that they couldn’t, they couldn’t afford it. And and that really sparked the idea in me is, why are we asking people upfront with the the entire amount, even though this was a small business, and they were at our base level membership, which at the time was $250? Why couldn’t we offer, you know, maybe a payment plan or a quarterly payment plan or a bi annual payment plan. And so we started doing that we also started ACH is with our members. And so with their membership renewal packet, they get a form that they can fill out. And we just automatically take the membership dues out the beginning of the year, and it’s done and done, they don’t have to worry about it and fill out all the paperwork and bring it back. And so it creates the benefit of them not having to worry about it. And at the same time it creates for us a win win when our members have to opt out versus opting in every year. So that’s that’s one thing we’re working towards is trying to get all of our members to go more automatic deposit with their with their membership dues.

Patrick Kirby 19:02
Well I like about a payment process too, is that it almost forces the Chamber’s hand to it puts the onus on you to provide that value consistently. And without without them relying on you to just magically come up with it. From from place to place. I think that’s a really, really interesting one, I think to go back to the to the cost piece, because I think this is you know, especially when you’re looking down the barrel of a recession, and you’ve got people who are just really they’re trying to count every penny when it comes to a business to keep it afloat. Um, what are some of the things that you can counter with as because there’s, you know, when you’re talking with chamber leaders and you’re having conversations with this, what are some of the ways that you have found beneficial to address the I don’t think I can afford it conversation or I don’t that the price is a little off for the month, the money part that’s always the most fun to have have when you’re talking about membership or scholarship or even sponsorship? Well, how do you counter some of those objections?

Travis Toliver 20:07
Again, you know, going in with a with an attitude of respect, you know, I completely understand and respect, you know, that you may not be in the financial place to be able to be a member of our organization right now. But, you know, looking at the benefits and seeing how these could apply and, and help or even enhance your business in the future, we hope that, you know, we can maybe follow back up with you in six months to a year and see if you’re in a better place. If I’m, if I’m talking to a member who is just wanting to, to look over their membership, for for financial reasons, the other thing I’ll take a look at is where they’re at, you know, where we have tiered dues, with our, with our membership, and so everything from $300 to $10,000. And where are they at, could they may be dropped down for a year or two and into a different membership level category and, and then be able to move back up at some time. And we’ve done that with with businesses, manufacturers that maybe hit a rough couple of years and knew that money was going to be tight, you know, but they still wanted to support our organization and found the value in what we do, you know, dropping down to a lower level, offering payment plans, and just in trying to do everything that you can to make it work for the member, hopefully, your members see the value and want to be still a part of the organization. But we always know that membership based organizations like ours, and others are usually the first things that that get cut. And so that’s why it’s so important to to communicate and translate the value of the organization so that when it does come time to look at that list, they’re gonna put the chamber at the bottom of it, because that’s the last thing that they really want to try to ask before anything else. And so we always try to, you know, I think every chamber director is trying to quantify the value of the organization, I know that we’re going through that right now, with our ceding leadership and trying to show through data and through numbers, the value of our organization, but there’s a huge component to what we do as chambers. That is qualitative. And so we’re enhancing the quality of life in our community, whether it’s business networking events, or community wide holiday celebrations, we’re in the business of uniting people together. And so to be able to translate that value, and that, that, that quality of life that you really can’t, you know, calculate an ROI for but if you can see, you know, steady population growth, you can see hotel, motel taxes increasing, you can see increased numbers that your your larger events that pull people in from outside your community, that you know, you’re doing a good job. And those are the ways that we try to translate to our members the value of the organization, and without their help, and without their support. It just simply doesn’t happen. And so who’s going to take on that responsibility? If the chamber was all of a sudden go away? You mister business owner or Mrs. Business Owner? In and of course, no, we don’t want to do that, right. And so, and that’s the whole purpose of a chamber, right? You look at the definition of a Chamber of Commerce. It is a nonprofit organization, built on the trust and understanding of businesses in a community to help promote that community. And so, I mean, that’s bare essence, what a Chamber of Commerce is supposed to be doing. And that just adds so much more value when you add on all the events, all the education programs, and just the networking and the connecting the resources. It’s all right here. And so hopefully, like arc in our community, the chamber is usually the last thing that they ever want to try to scratch off that that to do list, right?

Patrick Kirby 23:42
I’ve been trying to, yes,

Sami Bedell-Mulhern 23:46
sorry. I want to circle back on something you said, Travis, with regards to like, full our lifetime members of your organization, even if they come and go. And that conversation of how do you bring people back around to like, Okay, well, maybe you can’t do this amount right now. But how can we make, like you still care about what we’re doing? And all of that, and how can we still keep you around to support the organization? And I think that’s something that nonprofits are strategically terrible at. Like they get that No. And they’re just like, oh, well, they can’t give any more instead of like, really kind of reframing. I think it’s a really interesting reframe to just be like, no worries, we totally get it. How can we still keep you involved and engaged? And is there another way that we can keep you on as part of an organization like having those conversations about? Well, could you maybe volunteer, or where’s your level of interest? What programs do you like? Like really still having that conversation? I love that you said that. I just wanted to call it out that you know, you’re a lifetime member of this organization no matter what. And let’s just figure out how you can so whether that’s a donor relationship or a membership, I think that’s critical.

Travis Toliver 24:53
Yeah, and thanks for bringing that backups me. You know, I kind of look at as as our QuickBooks we use QuickBooks for our soft We’re in our database. And once we put a business in there, whether they’re active or inactive, they’re still in our system, anyone. So I kind of think of the chamber in that way too, that you know, once you’ve joined the organization, or once you even come into our community, you’re a part of our community, no matter if you’re paying member or not. And hopefully through some of the things that we are able to provide the community what regardless of membership, it will add value and, and help you with your sense of understanding the the importance of being a part of the organization. COVID was a prime example, at least of that for us in our community, where we were just being fed information like a firehose, every day, right, and different things that were going on with the business community. And we were shooting that out to businesses across the community, doesn’t matter if you’re a member or not, I told my board, this is more important than our organization, this is something bigger than us right now that we need to be able to be a source of information for all businesses in our community. And who knows, maybe afterwards, we’ll gain a couple businesses out of it. And certainly we did you know, when COVID started calming down, I’m not going to say that it’s over. But when it started fading away from the limelight, we found a lot of businesses that came in and lay down their checks and said, Thank you for helping out my business during that time. I wasn’t a member, I want to be a part of this organization. You do such great things for the community. Wow, great. It really paid off, you know. And that’s just I think the way to try to look at membership based organizations just in a different way. Yeah.

Patrick Kirby 26:29
So that actually leads into another string of questions for the membership add ons. So add on asks of sponsor this event, be an underwriter for this thing. We’re looking for partners on X, Y, and Z. As a business, here’s my chamber membership. And here’s what I expect. But there’s always that that need for additional support. So can you walk through because again, if there’s a new creative director here, who’s coming up against some maybe push back to, like, I already give already do with this kind of thing? Walk me through kind of your concept, or your sponsorship, additional support, sort of mindset as you approach businesses, or look to help underwrite events, and that kind of rounds? Like how do you where do you start mentally on saying we do a lot more, and you can be a part of this. And that lead into kind of this value adds about how do we make this even better for those who step up even more aggressively?

Travis Toliver 27:30
Sure, absolutely. Well, I first have to say that I have an amazing events director who does a lot of this for our organization, and does it really well. But when I’m out, soliciting memberships, I obviously talk about the benefits of the organization. But the add on is in going that extra step is, you know, a great way to start advertising your business in our community is through sponsoring different events. And people take notice of your name being attached to certain things that this community absolutely loves. And so I really tried to frame it in a sense that it’s just the frosting on the cake, right. And so you’ve got the you’ve got the cake, you’ve got the meat of the treat there. But guess what, there’s this added layer on top that is Oh, so sweet. And guess what it’s going to great give great exposure to your business or organization is really going to put you out there in the limelight. And guess what, we have all the connections we have that network already built in. We just plug your name and your logo right on the top of an event. And man, guess what everybody notices, especially in a small town. I get that. But it usually works in most communities no matter what the size.

Patrick Kirby 28:35
Yeah, what so when when you look at sponsors for particular events, because I think this is where a lot of nonprofits and chambers are like, they look at dollar signs, but not alignment, do you take into consideration? Listen, this is probably I know you’ve got the capacity to do this, this probably isn’t going to benefit you have that conversation? And how when you know that you could get money out of it. And that’s a heart of this as a nonprofit. And then organizations, that’s a hard thing to just not consider. But how do you mentally jump through the hoops that require you to think like that when money’s available, but might not be a good fit?

Travis Toliver 29:18
Sure. And you know, I think every chamber has a challenge with that, right? And so I mean, you take a look at your banks, they’re always willing to get right, they’ve got all the money, they help everybody Sure. But if you’ve got a an event that actually could speak to a certain demographic, and if you can line that up with a business or an organization in your community that aligns with that. I mean, that’s just all the sweeter of a sales pitch to that that organization or business. We had an opening for an event that typically draws in quite a few people in our community, but the majority of the demographic of that audience was older people. And so we had this opening. I really didn’t know where to go Go to and I started going through the list of members in our local funeral home, popped up on the list. And I thought, you know, I’m just going to I’m going to take a chance. And I walked over there, I talked to the funeral home director, I explained the the opportunity that came that was available that came came around. And and the moment I said the demographics for the event, it was a no brainer, it Yep, absolutely. That’s who he wanted to connect with. Absolutely. That’s his audience. That’s who they really communicate and cater to, for multiple reasons. But it was just such a great fit. And now they’re they’re just there every year, they’re like, sign me up again next year sounds like government. So we’re taking the time to really try to align the the the audience, demographic with the connection to a business or organization that aligns with their values or with their products, whatever the case may be. And even if they’re the smallest of members, they give the very lowest membership rate, it doesn’t matter, or the largest one, if you can connect that line between the event and the the exposure that they’re going to get to the audience into the business, man, there’s no turning back.

Patrick Kirby 31:16
Well, the other thing too, and I love when chambers, think about that, or think differently about the list of people that can get involved. Because if you’re a smaller business owner, you probably wouldn’t even be considered normally for an event X, Y and Z, right? This allows individual or unique groups that might not be top of mind, to now be part of the cool kids club are the ones who always get the promotions. And now you’re you’re elevating their business, that, you know, unless in our realm, it’s Sanford Health, right? That’s the big, big medical thing that they just pump out sponsorships for everything. If you’re a smaller, you know, health and wellness group that might get approached by a chamber to be the lead sponsor or a major sponsor, and you didn’t go to the big wigs first, what an honor, that is for you to consider, because you know them well enough that this might actually be a fit. And now the business owner is thinking, Oh, maybe I do, or I can think of a little bit above and beyond anything that I normally would have guessed that I would have been considered a qualified for. And that personalization, that approach, I think reverberates a lot more to someone who’s just trying to manage day to day, keep the doors open bit. And now you’ve you’ve elevated them to the point of like, we believe in you enough that you should be a part of this. Absolutely. Your value add

Travis Toliver 32:50
Yeah, oh, absolutely. And you’re talking about the business level, even works at the personal level as well. So if you’re trying to recruit a volunteer for an event, just like that, and you can align that event to that that business owner, and ask them to be a part of that just on a personal basis. You know, you don’t always have to have the CEOs and the mayors and you know, all these big wigs. But to say that Travis took the time to look at me, my business, my personality, and knew that I could be connected to this event in some way. You know, that really not really hits home with folks. And so then they become a volunteer, they become maybe a member of one of our committees. And then before you know it, they’re chairing the board, and they’re just enjoying being involved with the organization.

Patrick Kirby 33:32
Right? Well, I think there’s I think there’s a challenge, I think there’s a challenge for chambers. And I think there’s a tendency to, and I’m gonna say this with love and adoration to all my chamber friends, a bit of laziness that, you know, you could just make the handful of phone calls you do every single year and make those things happen. But that I think, develops a little bit of risk resentment in other groups that don’t get considered for panel discussions or speaking gigs, because it takes you a little bit of extra TLC to go and ask questions, or be curious about how they would benefit or feel or their perspective on the community. And when you see the same names over and over again, that are on every publication and every website and every sponsorship, it now becomes like, Well, I’m just a number, rather than an actual business. That means something in the first place. So there’s purposefulness to this other really appreciate your perspective on Yeah, absolutely. And

Travis Toliver 34:31
we’re in the same age right now of diversifying things and why not diversify that lineup of folks that volunteer or help out or lead panel discussions like you, you made an example of, it’s so important to make sure that everybody has a voice at the table. And so whenever we’re putting together a task force or a committee or something like that, we want to make sure we got a great cross section of the community. So we’ve got presidents of organizations versus, you know, mom and pop shop or are, you know, whatever the case may be, we want to make sure that our gender balances is correct. We have people from multiple cultures that are represented our community having a voice. I think it’s about being all inclusive. And actually, you and I were just talking about this morning, why not just include everybody, right? And so make sure that when we’re putting together those kinds of views of people, that it represents the the

Patrick Kirby 35:23
community very, one of the things we’ve been really stressing in the nonprofit realms specifically was, the tasks of an organization can be more than just cash. And time and talent is something that I think nonprofits do not ask enough of, because they don’t I don’t think they know how to position it. How does your chamber or how does your brain work when, you know, it might not be a cash gift? Or a cash relationship? That might be it? How do you go about considering that time and talent as part of a gift back to the community that you could be a facilitator for?

Travis Toliver 36:02
That’s a great question. And you know, we Okay, first of all, we try to weigh your from like trade outs or in kind, yeah, services for memberships. Right? But going, because that can that can get you in a lot of trouble. And we don’t want to go there. We really don’t want to go there. But I think chaos. Yeah, absolutely. And I think some chambers do it just out of the kindness of their heart, trying to help, but it ends up always backfiring on them. And so first and foremost, we tried to stay away from that. But at the same time to when we do have a business that that is a member or is trying or struggling trying to get more involved, more engaged. Offering out of the opportunity to serve on any of our committees, or even possibly being a member of our board really helps to give them the understanding that there’s more to this than just giving them my dues and you know, sponsoring an event and getting my name out there. Now, they’re actually asking me, for my opinion, for my expertise to be at the table and have these discussions and to be a little bit more in the know, of the organization and let alone the community. And so it can just added value to be able to understand people where they’re at. And so a great perspective, every year, we tried to bring in a panel of businesses that sit in front of our board and share their experience with us about the chamber, and what they’re what they’re getting out of it, what they’re not getting out of it areas that maybe they think we can improve upon. I think one of the hardest things we can do as a people as a culture as an organization, is to look in the mirror, right? We never want to do that. And so having those sometimes difficult conversations with some of our members to be able to better understand the perspective that they’re seeing, as far as the value to their membership can be very, very helpful. But you have to come into it with the mindset that this is going to be a helpful tool to my organization, it’s not, you know, we’re gonna get ated, or we’re going to fail or anything that night, take all that pressure out of it, just look for ways that you’re trying to improve. And that’s how I approach these businesses that we bring in front of our, our board, say, we’re just looking for feedback, we want, we want you to be honest with us, so that we can lead this organization to a place that’s going to be beneficial for you. And so if there’s things that we’re doing great, we want to hear that, but at the same time, if there’s things that we could be doing better, or do be doing more of, we need to hear that too, it may not happen right away, we may not have the time, or the resources or the manpower to be able to do it. But we heard you first of all right, we’re listening. But then secondly, you know, we try to engage those folks to help us come up with some solutions to find ways to make that possible. You know, it’s like that person that comes into the chamber offices is I got a great idea for an event, we should do this. And it’s great. How can you help lead that that we will support it, we will promote it? But what is it that you’re going to do to have some skin in the game, we can’t just take on everything in the world and do it all ourselves, we need your help to be able to do it. So your idea, your baby will help you do it. But you’ve got to get the ball rolling on it.

Patrick Kirby 39:13
How do you prioritize that, too? And there’s a combo question, which is, everybody’s going to come with you and it’s really good ideas. I’d love to do X, Y and Z or I’ve got some constructive criticism, I want you to do this. There’s a danger in just absorbing all sorts of information and then just sitting on it not doing it with it and then in a timely fashion at least respond or or create some sort of action plan or feedback or whatever that is what feedback loop Have you implemented from a best practices time? Is it a certain timeframe that you want to respond back to so that somebody who offers an opinion offers a thought maybe a connection doesn’t feel like they just wasted time and I’m not criticizing anybody who Does this because there’s gonna be overwhelmed with the amount of information but have you found a best practice or a process that works for quick feedback in order to benefit people to know that you’re at least being active with this new information that they’ve given you,

Travis Toliver 40:18
right? You know, one of the human truths is that we, as humans, we want to be heard. And so I think acknowledging that right away is so important. So for the example, the panel sitting in front of our board, giving feedback, I tried to reach back out to those folks before the weeks and to make sure that they know that we appreciated their time for coming in, appreciate it, hearing what they had to say, and, and then saying, you know, I took this away from what you told us, and these are some things that we’re going to try to align with our strategic plan, or the mission of our organization, whatever the case may be, and see how we can move this forward. And then always ask the question, Can I have your help in doing this? You know, and so being making sure that they feel like they’re still part of the process? It was their idea, they have some skin in the game, how can I help? I love ideas, a lot of people have great ideas, right. But if you’ve got the idea, then you probably also have an understanding in your head of how that’s going to work. So help us move that along. But you’re right, I think getting following up with that feedback is very important. I personally try to respond to emails, no later than 24 to 48 hours out, but sometimes it gets to be the end of the week. But I think as long as you reach back out to that person, and let them know that you appreciated them, you want to thank them, and you’re going to try to do some things, it’s gonna it’s gonna take you a long ways. I had a mentor one time very, very early on in my career, that told me if if you get a you get a phone call or an email from somebody, and it gets lost. And even if it’s weeks later that you find this person and you thought, oh, gosh, you know, I didn’t call them back, or I didn’t email them back. There’s always this debate in your head of, well, is it too late now to call them or email them or not? And it’s never too late. It’s never too late. Even if you have to get on the phone, or get on the email and apologize for the delay in your response. Make sure and they’ve probably moved on. But make sure that you you let them know that you remember them. Finally, you apologize. And that even though they might have moved on with whatever they needed, that you’re still here for them, and that that’s not your norm, and you’ll try to get back to them better next time. Well, I mean, it works every time. Right?

Patrick Kirby 42:42
Well, I also think that, again, I think through COVID, I think the amount of grace that we give people on timing, I know that I’m an obsessive, like I gotta get back to somebody right away. But then sometimes I forget that a text message exists. And then I don’t get a hold of something for three days. I don’t think that’s ever happened between us. But like, that seems to be like a thing that might happen in the future. And I just want to say presale, I’m sorry, but like, it’s one of those things where like, oh, yeah, I did ask about that. And you still can bridge that conversation still maintain that relationship. And it’s the dismissal completely about like, I’m never gonna call you back kind of bit, that I think people hold grudges on. If you could wave a magic wand and money was no option. What value add would you say, would be the best and most awesome thing that a chamber could give to a business and I the audacious of like, money’s no option, and everything else would be a thing. I always like to like what strive towards that, even if it does seem possible, but like, what is the one thing that if you could just do instantaneously? What would you give as a benefit or provide as a benefit to businesses?

Travis Toliver 43:57
That is a really great question. And the first thing that comes to my head, I think so many businesses struggle with it, both independently owned businesses, you know, single employee businesses, or even large businesses, is the ability to be able to offer health care to employees. And I know this is an emerging trend with some chambers partnering with, with health care providers to be able to provide maybe group discounts or benefits to their members through the chamber. But if I could wave a magic wand and have the chamber be able to offer, you know, extremely affordable health care benefits to all the business and employees that we represent, I think would go a long ways. Something else I think that you and I have talked about in recent times, too is transaction fees for for businesses, and how can we get those to be lowered through like a discount again, being able to offer those real tangible benefits to a business that could see the immediate value of have a membership to the organization, I think would just be astronomical. So as we emerge into those trends, because I know they’re out there, and I know that in some cases, probably some chambers are already doing them. I just I want to see more of that, for sure. And certainly, our organization would benefit from that. So if there’s any chambers out there that are already doing at least just those two things, or if you have other ideas on tangible benefits, please reach out to me, I would love to know more about them and how we can maybe try to implement them here. But yeah, and obviously, just for fair weather, markets, and good, good the economic forecast for the rest of our lifetime, right would be would be another wish that I would have. But just you know, being able to appreciate and understand what the chamber does for a community and in the businesses in that community. Yeah, that’s, that’s those will be some of my wishes.

Patrick Kirby 45:58
I think I what I love most about that answer to and I hope it inspires individuals who watch this, to ask your board and your leadership team, and even your tapping itself is like, Okay, what’s the biggest thing that we could possibly offer? As a value? And, and maybe like, how on earth do we figure out? What’s that moonshot? What’s that gigantic goal that you just never think you could accomplish? And then how do you figure that out? I think that’s part of the part of the board’s challenge is to take these, you know, unseemingly, solve unsolvable issues and come up with a solution like that. Because if you were a chamber that offered benefits, affordable benefits to your own staff through the chamber, you think you wouldn’t have an incredible value add to the community? Of course you would. So I just, I just love the way that you’ve worked through that, and would encourage anybody to take the time to dream about that, and then put into place like, hey, if we ever came into this, this is what we would ask for. This is how you would do that. Because? Because, again, you get to involve your members with dreaming on how you execute, how can you help us with that? Another great tip is, would you take the lead on that another great tip, all of these elements that you have discussed today could be formalized into one giant conversation that has that involves your active listening, your curiosity, your questions on whether you’re going to get, you know, find value here and here. That alone, if you do nothing else, those hot tips that you’ve been doling out, would really make a difference, I think in the value add of when the way that people think about chambers, and especially if you’re a small or rural or flyover country, organization, that’s what makes you invaluable. And that’s what makes you unbelievably special. Travelers a couple of things. Number one,

Travis Toliver 47:51
hang on, can I just can I just tap onto that real quick and put some frosting on the cake? Three things? Yeah, really listen louder than you speak. Be transparent. And as a very dear friend always tells me Stay curious. Those were her father’s dying, dying words to her. And I hold those really close to my heart. Stay curious. Keep asking questions. And I think a part of leadership, especially in this day, and age is to consistently always be asking questions. You know, going back to Simon Sinek, what is the why in this right? And so we have to ask questions, to better understand the situation so that we can lead you through that in a productive and positive way. And so the moment we stop asking questions, the moment we stop learning, is when we should be looking for another job, because we never know it all. We can never do it all. But if we constantly stay curious, and like you said, Keep dreaming those big dreams reach for the Taj Mahal. And if he comes short of that, hey, it’s still okay. You did a good job going there. Right? And so, yeah, always, always keep dreaming big and, and stay curious. I

Patrick Kirby 48:54
love that. All right. I know there’s gonna be some people who want to reach out to you and pick your brain even more and then just make a connection because you know, you’re doing amazing things. And your brain works in a really interesting way. And it’s just people are gonna want to hang out with you. Travis, how on earth do people get a hold of you? How do they Chow Waverly? How do they connect? Give them the details, please. Sure.

Travis Toliver 49:15
Absolutely. Well, multiple ways. Let’s talk about the organization. First, we want to know more about Waverly take a look at our website, Waverly It’s very informational about our organization gives you some understanding of our of our of what we do. To check out Waverly itself, we partnered with our city to produce a website called Waverly Welcome And that gives you an understanding of the quality of life that we enjoy here in Waverly, Iowa. To get a hold of me. My email is real simple. Travis at Waverly You can also find me on LinkedIn and we’d love to chat with anybody that’s got questions or looking forward to bounce ideas off of you know, I’ve gone through Institute through the US Chamber of Commerce, and I still Keep in touch with the cohort that I had from from from those years and we still either on our Facebook group or LinkedIn group that we’re in, still bounce ideas off of each other even though we’re many states away from from from everyone else. It’s so I believe no matter what works here in Northeast Iowa could work anywhere else in the country or the world. So let’s keep sharing ideas. Let’s keep ripping off stealing and duplicating and and make our communities a better place for it.

Patrick Kirby 50:29
One of the things that I love most about this boot camp is we get experts like Travis coming in and giving some super amazing advice. And again, it’s just these conversations to say that, Oh, we’re not the only ones who think about this. And oh, I can take an idea that it’s happening in Waverly, and I can put it here in Oregon or Wyoming or wherever you’re watching this from it is value first. People First staying curious, asking questions is just brilliant and beautiful. From both Sammy and I thank you so much for swinging by thanks to her so much and sharing your inspiration and your perspective. And your general awesomeness, my friend. And thanks for everybody who stopped on by thanks for everyone who’s listening in the replay. And we’ll see you next time when we do our guest expert training hearing nonprofit bootcamp.

Travis Toliver 51:17
Thanks, Patrick. Bye friends. Bye bye

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