With a significant turnover in chamber and association staff leadership in Maryland during the past year, it is important for business leaders, and particularly chamber and association board members, to understand what opportunities exist for new staff executives to learn industry best practices from their peers and from industry experts.

Encouraging new and continuing executives to participate in such education is the difference between organizations that adopt cutting-edge programs for their members and those that continue to do what they’ve always done — which is of the greatest benefit to the membership?

Many opportunities exist for new, and even long-time, chamber and association executives to learn about industry best practices and how to apply them in their own organizations. Among the best is the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Institute for Organization Management, a four-year, one-week-per-year program covering a defined 96-hour curriculum. Topics covered include board development and governance practices, financial management, membership development, event planning, personnel management and advocacy.

But as important as the in-class education is the opportunity to network with industry peers. Most participants end up sharing ideas and issues under the Institute umbrella, not only between annual programs, but well past their graduation. While the cost of this program is $1,795 per year (plus travel expenses), partial scholarships are almost always available for those in their first year of the program, and the Maryland Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (MACCE) offers scholarships for future years.

What’s more, most participants find they leave each year with ideas that more than pay for their attendance.

Opportunity Plus

The national associations for chambers and associations — respectively, the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) and American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) — also offer significant professional development opportunities. Both hold annual conferences packed with quality speakers and cutting-edge information; in addition, they offer online resources, webinars and focused professional development opportunities.

For professionals in Maryland, the D.C. locations of these organizations also mean many programs are offered within easy driving distance, thus reducing the cost of participating.

A number of certifications help business leaders identify chamber and association executives who have made the effort to become knowledgeable in their fields. Those who complete four years at the institute earn the Institute for Organization Management (or IOM) certification.

This can be used as a building block for ACCE’s Certified Chamber Executive (CCE) or ASAE’s Certified Association Executive (CAE). Each require a certain number of professional development hours, as well as a certain number of years in the industry, to be eligible. The CAE then requires applicants to successfully pass a four-hour exam, while the CCE requires applicants to submit a comprehensive analysis of their organization, several essays and to sit for oral and written exams.

Organizationally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also offers the U.S. Chamber Accreditation Program, which involves submitting a self-assessment of your organization, based on industry best practices, which is then evaluated by a third-party accreditation consultant.

While smaller organizations often find this program too expensive and time-consuming, those who have completed it generally report it has made them much better chambers and improved their value to the business community.

Act Locally

For those not ready or able to participate in national programs, the Maryland Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (MACCE) offers quarterly professional development opportunities for chamber staff and board members. (Unfortunately, the association counterpart of MACCE is no longer active in the state.)

MACCE programs include a January legislative update, April board leadership meeting, September Best Practices session and November meeting reserved for only chamber CEOs and executive directors, to allow a free flow of ideas and concerns. Meeting costs are minimal (generally $65), and membership is also affordable. at $150 per year.

Chamber and association management is a profession, just as engineering, banking and accounting are professions. Would you entrust your building structure or financial accounts to those who haven’t learned the defined body of knowledge common to their industry or haven’t pursued continuing education to understand how that knowledge has changed with new discoveries?
If so, then why wouldn’t you expect, and encourage, those who run your industry/community organizations to do the same?

Claire Louder, former CEO of the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, has been a chamber and association leader for 28 years. She now offers consulting for chambers and associations through her new company, Louder NonProfit Strategies. She can be contacted at claire@loudernonprofitstrategies.com.

Chamber Resources

For more information about the programs mentioned, contact the following.
• Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE)
www.acce.org (for CCE, visit www.acce.org/cce); 703-998-0072
• American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)
www.asaecenter.org (for CAE, visit www.asaecenter.org/programs/cae-certification);
202-371-0940
• Maryland Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (MACCE)
www.mdchamberexecutives.org; 410-271-8503
• U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management
www.institute.uschamber.com (for accreditation, visit www.uschamber.com/
members/chambers/accreditation); 202-463-5570