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Increasing Membership Through Service, NOT Metrics

Astoria, OR

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[Intro] Welcome to chats with chambers with your hosts Patrick Kirby and Sami Bedell-Mulhern. Each week we connect and learn from executives of chambers of commerce from across the country. These short episodes will share success stories, challenges, best practices, and tips and tricks to inspire you, and provide resources for hitting your organizational goals. From recruiting new and retaining current members to finding new and creative revenue sources. You’ll hear straight from those leading chambers and communities throughout the US. Chats with chambers is proudly brought to you by the Nonprofit bootcamp. Learn more and check out the show notes for episodes at 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining us with another chance for chambers. I’m Sami Bedell-=Mulhern your host for this episode and today we are joined by David Reid of the Astoria, Oregon Chamber of Commerce. David, thanks for joining us today.

[David Reid] Thanks, Sami. Nice to be here.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, so before we kind of jump into this episode, why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about Astoria. What makes you guys awesome. And a little bit about your chamber?

[David Reid] Sure. We are the Astoria Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce. And we’re located on the basically at the estuary of the Columbia River. So the farthest north and west you can get in Oregon without getting wet. And so we have a small town and a small town about 10,006 1000 respectively, for Astoria in Warrenton. So small communities in a small county of about 40,000 people and relatively geographically isolated from the rest of the state. So we are really kind of working in a in a small business, small town environment. We so we serve about 600 members in these two communities. And that represents just a little bit more than half of the licensed businesses here. So pound for pound, were one of the one of the larger chambers in the state despite being in one of the smaller communities.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] That’s a big win. Yes.

[David Reid] I have 100.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern]  Oh, go ahead.

[David Reid] It’s 149 years worth of worth of momentum. So we were founded in 1873.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] That’s incredible. Well, and my daughter who’s 13 Just watched The Goonies for the first time. So you have to I mean, I’m sure you get sick of talking about this. But we I mean, we have to mention this is the claim to fame, right?

[David Reid] It is a claim to fame. Absolutely. In fact, there are a number of movies that were made here. Yeah, Goonies Kindergarten Cop, short circuit, Free Willy. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, three, all the classics.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] I love I love it, you end with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That’s so cool. Um, so it sounds like you have a lot of amazing things going on for your chamber, what is one thing that you would say you’re most proud of, or something that you think has been a big win for your chamber?

[David Reid] That number of members that we have is a big win. And it’s a big win, because it becomes a big asset, when things go sideways. So when somebody has a problem, we had a bit of business here who had a real challenge last week, and still don’t know how they’re gonna get through it. But I know that there are 599 Other members who can do something, right, whether it’s to amplify their message, whether it’s provide them with resources, whether it’s helped them out in in any way, shape, or form. And because we are networked here, we have the we have the means to make that happen. So that that size by itself isn’t much, but the connections within it, are probably the biggest win.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] So how do you facilitate that communication between businesses to be able to support and lift each other up? And kind of how do you how would you attribute to the fact that for being a smaller community, you’ve been able to get such a large percentage of your businesses? Do they kind of go hand in hand?

[David Reid] Yes, they do. And I think it’s all about relationships. And it’s about trust. And one of the things that as a steward, when I came into this, this job, the chamber was 145 years old. And my first goal was not to run it into the ground, like not not to be the guy who was the last director. But it also creates some perspective in that we have occasions when we are at loggerheads with the city or the county or the state or, or maybe even another business, but we have we have those areas of conflict, but we have to be able to maintain the relationship so that the next time we’ve got something going on, we still have trust, we still have have positive communication. And so really, my job as the chamber director is to create those trusting relationships so that we can employ them when the time comes. Does that make sense?

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yep, yep. Ever since because you have the history, but that’s still repeated trust needs to keep going in order to keep growing and retaining those members. Right?

[David Reid] Exactly right, exactly right, and somebody’s gonna make mistakes, and he’s gonna do something really dumb. And you still gonna have to deal with each other, especially in a small town, right? It’s kind of like road rage around here. You can almost tell if somebody, if somebody’s got road rage around here, you can almost tell it, they’re from out of town. Because they because you get mad at somebody, you honk at them. And then the next thing you know, you’re standing in the grocery store next to them, you know, it’s just too small to get away with. And so it’s all it really is about keeping your eye on that long term, viability of the other relationships and the importance of the lifetime value of those relationships.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, because I think too, when you’re in such a historical area, and the Chamber has been around for so long, and you have so much success, it can be easy to kind of get, quote unquote, lazy, right? And just be like, well, we’re doing great, like we don’t need to continue to build. So how do you kind of stay in that mode of action, when you are seeing so much success, and you are being able to support your your businesses so well,

[David Reid] right? I was on the board here before I was the chamber director. And one of the things that kept coming up every year in our board goals was a membership number, like we’re at 550, we want to get to 575. Or we want to get to 600. And and I put a stop to that as soon as I got here. And let’s not do that anymore. Let’s not talk about the number of members. Let’s talk about serving the members that we’ve got. Because the numbers follow the service. If we’re doing a good job, people will join or it’ll be easier when we ask them to join for them to say yes. So let’s work on making sure that we’re we’re keeping those 600 Members, we’re doing everything we possibly can for them. And then the rest follows. So the numbers follow the service, not the other way around.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] I love that. And I agree with you 100%. So I’m so glad that you mentioned that that’s such a good frame of reference. But for all your successes, every chamber struggles with something. So what is something that has been kind of a thorn in your side? Or something that’s been kind of a pain point? And how are you kind of working through that to try to solve that problem?

[David Reid] Right? As a chamber as as our own nonprofit organization? We suffered greatly with COVID. Because we are we were our budget was largely based on events. And so when those events evaporated, including one that we’d already spent a ton of money on, and had they cancel at the last minute. cashflow was was was a thing. Right? So we went through that with with our members. But now that we’ve got our feet back under us, and for the rest of time, the the issues that we have in an organization are meaningless in the context of what our our members are facing. That makes sense. We’ve you know that that’s just dirty laundry, we don’t even talk about that. But the things that are vexing are the same things that our members are going through and the fact that we don’t have a speedy solution. Now we don’t have a magic solution. That would be childcare. That would be workforce, that would be housing. Yeah. Right. So those big three are really causing challenges to our our business’s ability to thrive. And therefore they’re they’re they’re the thorn in our side.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] So being able to provide resources to support your members in in face facing those challenges, as well as being able to find the right resources for your own teams to be able to grow what you need the chamber.

[David Reid] Exactly, exactly. And so I think we can fix that

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] on this podcast, we would be millionaires.

[David Reid] Exactly. Which is not to say we’re not doing work, which is not to say the course that we’re doing isn’t valuable and helpful. And that things would be worse if we weren’t doing what we do. But it would really be nice to wake up one morning with that magic solution. Like, here’s where your workforce went, and here’s how to get them back. And here’s, you know, here’s the childcare that everybody needs or whatever, you know, with all those all those things, it is it is disappointing not not to be able to solve a problem.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] But the beauty of a thriving Chamber of Commerce is that it’s a hub for conversation. So if you weren’t doing as well as you were, then you wouldn’t be a place where at least conversation can happen to where you understand the needs of what’s happening in the business community.

Now it just got weird. Um, but like in that area to be able to say like to be a conduit for those conversations. Like that’s an opportunity to at least try to present something to the government officials to say here’s some solutions that we as a community have come up with, like that’s our energy. Right?

[David Reid] Exactly. Right, exactly. Right. And also the slow down. When it comes to advocacy and work with governments. Sometimes it is just to slow them down because they come up with an idea and haven’t necessarily explored all the corners and who might be affected in which way. We had a situation here where there was a there was a hot button issue. We took a side because I had A strong opinion about it, and quickly found that with 600 members, it’s really hard to get union unanimity. And I realized, in hindsight that I, we should not have taken a position on that the position that we ended up with, through through evolution was, we wanted to have a larger conversation, we wanted to have more process that we want to have more voices in the conversation, so that we could, as a community come up with the answer that we were most comfortable with, rather than just saying, it must be this way, or it must be that way. Just so our advocacy in that case turned into what it should have been in the first place, which is, let’s make the process as as, as transparent, and and, and inclusive as possible.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern]  So what has it looked like for you, as you have navigated the, like, the last few years, going from? Well, we just need to figure out how to keep businesses open and alive to now we need to shift into these, like really strong issues that our community is facing, like how do you do that as an executive and kind of maneuver through that so that you, you are kind of really taking a look at the global or the needs of the global community.

[David Reid] I mean, that’s hard work. It’s hard work. And it is facilitated by having a great staff, who are the right people in the right positions. And then those positions are clearly defined. And that is something that we didn’t have, we had a lot of collaboration here on our seven person team. And that collaboration in the in the time of COVID, became a real hindrance, because we didn’t make decisions quickly. We all had to talk about we all had to weigh in, and we all did. And so now we really got, we’re really working very hard on making very distinct roles for people. No, no lone Wolf’s in this in this team, but people who know what they’re what they’re, they’re, they’re, they’re empowered to do. And all coming back to the mission, the vision and the purpose of the chamber. So those when you’ve got that in place, when you’ve got the right people in place, and it frees me up to do the things that only a director can do. It frees the membership person up to do the things that only a membership person could do. So we were better at that with with with a better organization structure.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern]  That’s amazing. And that’s a great tip in and of itself. But we always like to end these episodes with what’s one great tip that you would love to share with other executives, that has been really helpful to us to kind of what else would you share to other chamber leaders.

[David Reid] Not unlike a business owner, small business owner, I work a lot, right I can put in a 60 or 70 hour week I’m I’m on call all the time I’ve got you know, everybody really got me the mission of the chamber and then the vision of the chamber needs to be really closely aligned with my own. In fact, I rewrote our vision and mission and purpose here and got my my boards by and that I rewrote it from my perspective. Like, here’s what I want to see. And if if, if I’m going to do all that work, and I’m going to make all that effort, I need to have it aligned, you know, it needs to it needs to resonate with me. And so I will say that mission, vision and purpose sound very business school ish. And so we kind of have that in place. And, and we spend a lot of time getting it very pithy and very, you know, very formal sounding. But if it doesn’t resonate, if it doesn’t sing in your heart, then just gonna be you’re gonna resent that late night phone call, you’re gonna resent that long day. So that has to be that has to be really closely aligned with you and your team. And then you can you can make the work happen for your for your members. Does that make sense?

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, so would you say 100%? Would you say that even if you can’t get the board to come on with, like changing that feels to that even just creating within your team, a vision and mission statement that’s aligned with the Chamber’s vision and mission, at least can help everybody come to terms with that?

[David Reid] Yeah, and that’s a great word aligned. So it doesn’t have to be identical. But it does have to be in line. So we’re going in this in the same direction, the degree of separation between that alignment though, over time becomes becomes a problem. So as closely as you can get those things aligned, or correction that along the way is important because if you’re a degree or two off, that’s fine for six months, but six years and you start to you start to be diverging from from the from the organization.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, I don’t want to go too much down this rabbit hole. But it kind of goes back to what you said earlier, just with regards to like, making sure that everybody’s on the same page and making sure that like we could pivot quickly, like being in line with your mission and vision will allow you to make those decisions a lot faster when things come at us. We can’t anticipate.

[David Reid] Exactly. And it also allows us to filter out the things that are seemed like really good ideas.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, they’re probably a great idea. Yeah, not right now. Right?

[David Reid] Right. Yeah, just don’t have the capacity to do it. Or it would prevent us from doing other things that we’re supposed to be doing so, so that that has been really good for me is having a really strong focus mission statement allows me to say great idea, but not me. Not us. Right.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] That makes my heart so happy. Because I Yes, I think that is such a good life lesson for business owners and leaders. So many good things, David, that you shared in this episode. But if people are moving to the Historia area, or if they are already there, they’re not one of your 600 Amazing Chamber members. What do they want to know about being chamber member looks like? And how can they find out more?

[David Reid] Sure, they find out more at our website, which is old That is, I think that might be the original website ever made. So it’s old is our is our Tommy so happy. And what the what what chamber or potential Chamber members should know is that before we ever get to the transactional stuff of membership, where we ever before we had to get in networking, I started networking marketing, the SEO bump that you’re going to get from connecting to our to our website, before we ever get to any of those things. The the work that the Chamber does, supports the economy in which you do business. And so you want a strong chamber, and a chamber membership is not chamber customership. Right. We don’t have customers we have members, which means that they get to be part of the organization, they their input is important. They’re there they have agency within a chamber. So I want them to to use the chamber as the business tool that it is, but just know that the chamber is working for you. Even if you’re not checking into any of the so called benefits, it’s still is still very much to your advantage to have a strong chamber in your community.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Thanks for being a guest on today’s episode.

[David Reid] Thank you, Sami. It was a pleasure.

[Closing] Hey, thanks for listening to chats with chambers. For more information about the chamber featured in this episode or to check out show notes for links and resources. Visit nonprofitbootcamponline/podcast. Hey subscribe, give us a five star review if you liked what you heard and if you are a chamber would like to be a guest on this show. Hey, email us Or Links in the show notes


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Astoria is located at the estuary of the Columbia River in north west Oregon. It is a small community with a lot of small businesses. They have a lot of members and are one of the largest chambers in the state per capita. Several movies have been filmed here like the Goonies, Kindergarten Cop, Free Willy, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The membership base is a big win for them. They are all there to support each other when they need it. The connection the businesses make inside of the chamber helps to build the network with small businesses when they are facing challenges. They don’t have to face it alone. It’s a core priority to build trust and steward relationships between businesses and the community. They also stopped playing recruitment by the numbers. The membership number goal went out the window and instead they focused on providing service and adding value.

Cashflow and budgets were hit hard with COVID as events went away. They worked through that and now are running head on into supporting their members in the core areas that they’re struggling with. Those include daycare, housing and workforce.

Remember to build your vision and really hold true to that. David works a lot and in order to keep that passion and motivation going he rewrote the vision from his perspective and got the board and staff to align with it. That way they’re all working towards the same goal with purpose.


Questions We Asked

  • What is the Astoria Warrenton Area Chamber all about? [1:01]
  • What are some wins? [3:03]
  • What are challenges you face? [7:07]
  • What is your tip and trick to pass on to other chambers? [12:41]
  • How can you learn more about Astoria? [15:47]
Astoria, OR chamber logo

David Reid

Astoria Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce

We are proud to have the opportunity to serve our business community since 1873 and we look forward to many more years promoting and supporting our growing list of members. The Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce works to create a strong local economy, promote the community and represent the interests of business with government.

Our mission is “To drive prosperity by supporting our business community while celebrating our unique history and heritage.”

Our purpose is to provide an opportunity for businesses to work together to accomplish what no business can do by itself.

Our work is directed by 15 elected members and eight non-voting, advisory members on our Board of Directors and managed by Executive Director David Reid and his staff.

Learn more at: 

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