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Listening, Being Genuine and a Great Resource Make Your Members Want to Come Back and Invest in Your Chamber

Holdrege, NE


[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 

[Patrick Kirby] Everybody, welcome to a chats with chambers, a podcast really to sort of talk to the leaders of chambers of commerce across the country giving tips and tricks and ideas on what’s working, what might not be working, and really sort of inspiring you to try something different or some try something that’s going to be working and other elements. It’s going to be super fun. I could not be more excited, by the way for our guests. Today. For Larson. She is with us as a guest here on chats with Chambers from the Holdrege chamber in Nebraska. Lori, welcome to

[Lori Larson] equally excited to be part of this podcast and the fun and the information.

[Patrick Kirby] I look forward to it. Okay, so I think it’s only fair that if somebody’s listening to the way I don’t know where where you are, or what you do, so I would love you to kind of give a who’s who tell us about the region tell us about the area that you serve at the chamber.

[Lori Larson] We are in South Central Nebraska. If you take a 15 minute drive south of Interstate 80, you’ll run into us Holdrege was originally started by some Swedish people. So in our chamber life, which I’m sure anybody who has been involved as a volunteer or employee of a chamber understands we are in the midst of our town festival. So we’re doing the party planning right now. We call it Swedish days. And this year’s theme is under the sea, which is not so Swedish, because we’re going to have Swedish Fish, the candy everywhere, but holders is really known for its amazing agriculture. I am born a city girl. So I didn’t really get the scope of this. But the amount of industry and technology and frankly, money that’s involved in agriculture is is astounding. I kind of just pictured farmers with, you know, a piece of hay sticking out of their teeth, driving a tractor, you know, is much bigger than that. And when you start to really look at everything that’s involved in that it’s a massive industry. That’s frankly, fascinating. We’re also our other industry in town is manufacturing. We make most of the diabetic needles here in town, and then Allman Brothers was started in Holdridge and they if you’re driving anywhere at night, and there is work going on, there’s a giant generator light tower. So they’re made here. So, of course, we’re in the Midwest. So real strong community values, hardworking people, and really genuine. If you come to Holdridge, you will see beautiful parks, and you’ll see amazing schools that people really support their education here. I’m Dana Wooldridge. I just moved here less than a year ago, and I lived in other towns around the world very well traveled. I really like it here. So I invite anybody to come to Baldrige. One thing we have are, we have a strong bronze sculpture society. And we have about 20 Various significantly sized bronze sculptures around the town. So not just corn.

[Patrick Kirby] Now, not just corn art, and I love that about the Midwest, where I think the general thinking is, well, I mean, it’s clearly just fields. And that’s about it. And that’s what I love about this podcast. And I love about the Chamber of Commerce too, is that you get to explore some of the amazing things that are behind the scenes of what you think it’s going to be. By the way side note, under the sea theme, in a place which is furthest from the sea isn’t a dangerous thing that I love more than anything, and I am rooting for you. Way more than most people. As a chamber leader. Things are tough sometimes, right? We’ve got a lot of success stories that we can lean on, that we remember why we do the things that we do. Is there a success story that your chamber has seen recently that you think back to and in tough times are tough decisions or whatever it is your it reminds you like, this is why I get up every morning to do the things that I do.

[Lori Larson] Yeah, I get with Trouble stories. One of my favorites is we have a woman in town who has beehives. And they also have a local brewery. She wanted to harvest honey got together with the brewery and they have created a recipe for this honey mustard. That’s phenomenal. And Betty took me out to her beehives, Betty, I hope she’s not listening, because I’m not sure how old she is, I’m going to, you’re close to 80. So she got her bathing suit on and smoke some days out and had a great day. And I love that you can be entrepreneurial in a small town, you don’t have to be, you know, New York City to start a business, you can do that here. So that’s just, you know, a picture of everyday life as success story, she’s doing really well, but does it all, like hired a marketing company and, you know, it looks, it looks very professional, not just Eddie’s backyard with hobbies, right? One of the things I’m really proud of is, we are taking this opportunity to slow down to take a look at our effectiveness and rebuild relationships.

So one of my one of my themes, as the new executive director here is to just make sure people remember that the chamber is not some entity in the background, and that the businesses are not also just these buildings, but rather its people. It’s people like Betty. And it’s people like Roger, who sold the Allman Brothers company, and now does nonprofit work to keep continuing to build his community and, and we’re all just people. So I want to my goals in this is probably my reporting background, Patrick, but one of my goals is just to keep telling people stories, because we do love each other in our community and just trying to like rebuild as a better version of the chamber. Recently, a few months ago, we got our leaders together. And by leaders, I do mean the elected officials. But I also mean those people who just have an idea and see it through and it makes your community stronger. We got a group of people together, really thinking we were going to do strategic planning and wanted to hear what they thought hold grudges and what it could be and just have that conversation. So we can build something that looks like the identity that people see it as. And what turned out was something completely different. That left everybody a little sucker words. So we have identified like I’m sure most people have that we have this big Boomer generation that’s going through and not enough people to follow it. And so we are we’ve turned up the heat turning on the gas to try to get 18 to 34 year olds in town. By doing that we’ve had we’ve started to really listen.

So we’re listening to young people, we had a panel of people 25 to 35. And they were like, I thought they would say we need more stuff to do and what they said whether they were married with kids single and or the single like, Hey, do you know anybody? Like they literally said that as part of the panel discussion? We are putting a day right. But all of them said the number one priority is daycare. And I was like, Okay, well let’s work on that. And so being able to actually stop and listen, I think the greatest thing the chamber can do is be sort of this unbiased convener. So it is easy for us to pull the city council together and that big business together and economic development together. It’s Okay guys, let’s, let’s work on this. Why do we need to investigate her. So that’s, that’s been a real pleasure. And from those meetings, we have got to work with different entities in our state university system or working with the State Department of Economic Development, who is working with the University of Nebraska, Lincoln’s journalism class doing research that they then came and reported here to us, and it’s just been this like, huge statewide collaboration project.

So we’re trying to involve some younger people, we’re giving people opportunities, we’re showing people our town because again, like, you’re not gonna see it driving off the interstate, you gotta, you gotta need to come here. So we’re bringing people in and building relationships. I feel like we’re building hope. It’s, it’s very exciting. And I think if you come back and talk to me in three years, I’m just going to be able to tick off a giant list of things that have happened in our community sense. And, you know, after we after we sat down at that initial meeting, and said, there’s this big pile of money out there, but everybody’s gonna go for it. And if you don’t go for it, it’s gonna be gone and you have less than three years to do it. I for the people watching everybody around the room was just like, you know, they didn’t have anything to say, and now they’re like, We gotta do we gotta go for it and a lot of energy has come from that. I think that’s a really great, quiet thing that I change. or can do is just start to make a difference by not actually doing the project, or getting the right people in the room to get the project done.

[Patrick Kirby] I love I love what you how you have set this up. Because I think there is for those who aren’t in the chamber, right, so those who are who think of the chamber as this faceless, nameless entity that, that helps other businesses that that aren’t part of the cool kids club, right. And what I love most about what you said, Laurie was that you’re humanizing the business, the chamber is humanizing the business. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fortune 5000 company, or a mom and pop shop, or your Betty’s backyard bees, which by the way, if you don’t give her that as a marketing plan, I don’t know, your that’s the value right there for membership, you just gave it to her right there. But you’re putting a face and a person to the business. And that is something that I think only the chamber has the capacity to do. And you’ve just eloquently put that into words that I think that it’s going to resonate with a lot of other people who are listening to this podcast were like, Okay, are we doing enough? To do that. And again, I realized that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and puppy dogs and ice cream, I get that. Which leads me to my next question is what is currently holders of chamber? What’s the main sort of issue or challenge that you are facing currently? And how are you trying to overcome them?

[Lori Larson] You don’t have enough money. So we, you know, I think chambers and I hope COVID, disrupted this. And I think COVID was, is still ongoing a tragedy for our nation in our communities, and had a lot of, there’s a lot of fallout from it. But I I noticed that some of that Fallout will help you reflect. So I think chambers have been like the business after hours forever and ever and ever. And don’t know what kind of I mean, honestly, I feel like all the chamber, people are going to just bug me with some negativity here. But I just don’t understand why chambers have to do that. I would much rather sit down face to face or bring six people in a room and talk about an issue. So we we are seeing that, with that lack of money. A couple of things happen. So one, we are really trying to educate our community that the chamber is a nonprofit, but we’re a nonprofit business. So we have to do things in order to bring money in to pay for it. With our festival. I, you know, I just spoke at the Lions Club the other day, which by the way, if you’ve never been to a Lions Club, you have to go because when they vote on things, it’s either no or roar, they wore their yeses. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. But I was speaking at the Lions Club, and I let them know that the the town festival that we put on is not free, it’s just free to them, we have to pay about $100,000 in bills. So you know, and I think people hear that they’re like, oh, and then they start to see why you’re asking for sponsorships and why you’re charging money at the door and trying to make it all work out. So we’re trying to be a little bit more transparent. There’s two of us in the office, we have an executive director and assistant director, I love if other chambers are hearing. I love that we have two executives in the office who can make decisions rather than an executive and an assistant. We can just the quality of work that we can get done cost a little bit more, but I feel like we’re getting three times the quality of work out of that.

We used to have an assistant who didn’t have like she didn’t have access to do the bills. So now we have a nice checks and balances, but we both can get onto our accounting software, that sort of thing. So that’s that’s a recommendation I have. But we’re really analyzing how we spend our time because in the in the chamber office and for the board of directors that time is money, they’re paying salaries. So what should What do they want to pay for, you know, and and so we have really started to prioritize what should we keep on doing and what shouldn’t we do? And so we did get rid of business after hours and we got rid of the coffee, we call them coffee connections. We invite other businesses to do them still. We’ll put them on our community calendar, but we’re no longer hosting those. We’re only focusing on ribbon cuttings because we’re trying to talk about that new and welcome people in and give people a good foundation for the beginning of your business.

[Patrick Kirby] And I’d love I love I love a refill. cuz, you know, and I think I think the bane of organizational existence is, well, it’s the way we’ve always done it. So we have to continue doing it in perpetuity because someone said that 12 years ago, therefore, we can’t ever change it. I love that, because it’s not changed to blow up everything. It’s purposeful and meaningful adjustments in what you do, which you again, stated so eloquently about, listen, it’s about ribbon cutting, because we’re gonna focus on business development, not necessarily facilitating something that every individual should be able to do with just pick up a phone and call and use the chamber membership as your entry point into conversation, because that’s what one of the benefits are. So I think that’s really brilliant. And I think what I would love to also hear from you too, because you’re kind of given some really good stuff and advice here. But I’m going to formally ask you in a form of a question, which is, as other people are listening to this podcast, and other organizations from across the country are listening to this, they’re always looking for a piece of advice that’s going to help them their members, their membership, their executive team, etc. So Lori, I’m gonna put you on the spot, would you give a tip or a trick that you have learned, whether it’s recruitment or retention events, or anything in between what has worked well for you that you think might work well, for someone across the nation in that role?

[Lori Larson] It’s, it’s not a super sexy answer. It is, Listen, you got it, you got to make a point to go listen to people talking to a very wealthy company yesterday. And their needs are much different than the company that’s struggling to get by because of some social media issues. And you got to listen. And then you got to try to connect and be a resource for people. It’s time consuming. If you’re not good at it, you got to practice, you have ADHD, you really got to practice. You know, we’re in a very distracted society point in our lives. But when you actually listen, and then you help people solve some problems, you’re now a really genuine resource. And people tend to trust you, and they’re going to come to you for more ideas, and they’re going to be willing to invest in you. You know, I, I heard this the other day, man, Laurie, I really liked what you’re doing and click sponsorship did wasn’t wasn’t a painful ask like it usually is. So that’s my thing. And then I pay attention. You know, whenever I go anywhere else, I take pictures of what’s going well, and I bring those ideas back to our place. And we check them out. So just I guess, paying attention everywhere, paying attention with your ears, paying attention with your eyes, paying attention with your heart, just just pay attention.

[Patrick Kirby] And as a sexy answer, probably not as a great answer. Most definitely, yes. And I think people think about listening as well, that’s easy. No, it’s not. If you’re gonna dedicate your time to being actively listening. And you’re sort of, you’re not thinking about other things in your being you’re sort of in the moment, that is an exhausting amount of work. Because you’re making eye contact, you’re listening, you’re you’re sort of zoning out everything else that is exhausting stuff, but the benefits that you’ve been listing off and that you know, now what their pain points are, and you as a chamber can solve them through membership or connection, or are connecting the dots, when they haven’t thought of it or your perspective, as somebody who’s listening to other organizations or businesses, etc. That is the true manner of a value add that I don’t think is beatable by any other organization that a business can apply for or be a part of. So I so appreciate that as an answer, and in fact, I’m gonna give you let’s let’s just say for a moment, we’re gonna get this out here. All right. I just moved here, because I was, uh, wooed by all the amazing things that you discussed in your town of Holdridge, right. I’m intrigued about it. I’m going to bring my business to Holdridge, Nebraska and I get I would get approached by somebody like you, and you say, I think you should join the chamber. Laurie, I’m gonna give you a 32nd spot to give me an elevator pitch on why I should join the Holdridge chamber.

[Lori Larson] Yeah, you’re not gonna get an elevator pitch, because I’m just going to ask you a question back. And I’m going to ask you what your business is what you hope to have. And then I’m going to start to talk, we’re shifting to a tiered membership benefits. So really, we kind of talked about how we can provide resources, how we can provide consultation, and how we can provide visibility. It really depends on the size of your business. But I think, and I didn’t make this one up, I am borrowing this one but I think one of the greatest things we don’t talk about as a chamber is how you as your one business It becomes part of a louder voice for Holdridge for South Central Nebraska, for the state of Nebraska, for the United States, when we join together, we actually have a lot more power. So it’s not just you starting your own business, but rather you become part of this group of people who are trying to support each other and as the chamber or going to try to individualize and differentiate that as much as you need to. We got someone who’s having a tough time with it right now. We stopped them weekly, we got other people who have all the staff to take care of their marketing and leadership development, they don’t really need much from us, except for visibility. So when we have someone who has an idea, we try to partner a lot. It’s not always with the chamber. So we ask questions, we listen. And what you get from the folder is chamber is you get an individualized product based on what you need.

[Patrick Kirby] I love it. Listen, when my paperwork goes through to be an official member of the town, you can find me signing right up, Laurie, a lot of people get Yeah, done? Or how do people get ahold of you? How do people get a hold of the holder chamber? So they can learn a little bit about more of the amazing things that you’re doing? And maybe have some questions. They want to connect with you across the country? On all the amazing things that you do? How do we get a hold of you?

[Lori Larson] Yeah, we’re actually doing a ton more than that. And I think a lot of partnerships with people who do the work, and we just get to be a part of it. So I invite anyone to call and hear more about those things. Hold your h is h o l v r E, G e to Moltres get you to our webpage, and our phone number is on there. And if I’m not here, I will call you back. I don’t I don’t care what time of day it is we’ll have a conversation because we’re all better together. And if you’re doing well,

[Lori Larson] I love it. We’ll put all those links in the show notes as well. Lori, thanks so much for your what you do. Thanks so much for your perspective. I hope everybody gets to click on your links. And while you’re at it, why don’t you subscribe to this podcast? Because you know, you want to get more tips and tricks from amazing people across the country. Exactly like Lori. Thanks so much for being a guest on chat to chambers. You’ve been wonderful. Thanks for what you do to the chamber community. And we’re excited to have you on the podcast today. Oh, that was awesome.

[Lori Larson]
Thank you so much. It was it was pleasure on this entry.

[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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Building relationships between businesses that are members is every day life in Holdrege. Telling stories of those businesses and sharing the entrepreneurial stories is making an impact! There is also an effort to reach out to 18-35 year olds to build more engagement in the community. This is to help build in new generation of members that can continue to sustain the community and the chamber.

Funding is always something that Chambers are grappling with. Part of that comes from education that the Chamber is a nonprofit and that the expense of putting on events is huge. Lori finds being transparent and sharing that with members and other community members helps to bring people along so they understand why they’re being asked for sponsorship.

Listening is also a big part of their success. Just listening to what they need and then helping them problem solve and connect them makes a big difference. 

Questions We Asked

  • What is the Holdrege Area Chamber all about? [1:40]
  • What is a success story you can share? [4:47]
  • What are challenges you face? [11:22]
  • What is your tip and trick to pass on to other chambers? [15:53]
  • How can you learn more about Holdrege? [19:00]
Lori Larson headshot

Lori Larson

Holdrege Area Chamber of Commerce

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