Article written by Bonnie Culverhouse
Published in the online edition of the Forum News on Monday, February 13, 2017
Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce gets boost in membership
A membership drive in November turned into a catalyst that propelled the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce into 2017 on a high note.
“It was definitely not a regular day at the chamber,” Dr. Timothy Magner, chamber president, said, describing the event.
Using a program – Your Chamber Connection – that was new to Shreveport, more than 120 volunteers were able to add 300 companies to the chamber’s current membership, making it one of the largest drives of the year, as well as the largest in Louisiana.
“This program has been used in more than 750 chambers across the country over the last 20-plus years,” Magner said. “This is the first time we’ve done it in Shreveport.”
According to Magner, the program accomplished a couple of things.
“It created a lot of energy, engaging 120 of our members in something fun at the chamber,” he said. “It’s not your traditional ‘Dialing for Dollars’ membership drive.”
The program also educated members about the chamber of commerce.
“The consultant, Jimmy Cusano, has a really great script that describes what a chamber is,” Magner continued. “One of the most important things he says is that it’s a means to come together, growing and supporting our community. And he has a really fun way of making it enjoyable.”
Your Chamber Connection is a program that offers a unique, effective approach to improving membership, volunteerism and the bottom line. It was created on the premise that volunteers and members “hate membership drives.”
The Shreveport chamber joined the ranks of YCC’s 100K Club by bringing in $133,000 with the new memberships.
Harold Turner (see accompanying sidebar) is an officer with Red River Bank and chairman of the most successful of the fund-raising teams, garnering 85 of the 300 new members.
Led by the event’s eight chairmen – Turner, Brian Bond of AEP SWEPCO, John Coutret of BancorpSouth Bank, Robert Dean of Heard, McElroy and Vestal, Mark Evans of Regions Bank, Caddo Parish School Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree, Don Olson of Hunt, Guillot & Associates and Dr. Phillip Rozeman of Willis Knighton Cardiology – the event engaged existing members in a festive and productive outreach experience.
"The more voices we have, the more impact we can make as a group,” Magner said. “We have a role to play.”– Timothy Magner, president, Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce
Each chairman recruited captains who, in turn, recruited volunteers to make direct contact with prospective members during four three-hour shifts at the chamber’s downtown office.
“There was one Tuesday morning, Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning and Wednesday afternoon,” Magner said. “Each shift had a different number of volunteers and brought in a different number of members. It was great to see everybody building on each other’s work.”
Some membership drives may be considered dry, but Magner said the energy was indescribable.
“Every time someone brought in a new member, we were ringing cowbells,” he said. “They were high-fiving each other and really getting excited. It was a great amount of fun and definitely not business as usual.”
The momentum continued, Magner said, with more members “trickling in” after the end of the drive. Total membership is now at around 1,800, but the chamber will provide opportunities for membership throughout the year.
It’s been exciting for Magner, who came on board with the chamber in October.
A chamber of commerce is all about economic development, education and promoting the community, and Magner says its core is the strength of its members.
“We can’t be all things to all people, but we should be something to everybody from a business standpoint,” Magner said. “From your large employers all the way down to the folks just starting out or the guys with the taco trucks, it’s really about providing a range of opportunities.”
Representing 1,800 businesses and more than 90,000 employees gives the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce the ability to communicate with legislators and speak for the business community with a lot of credibility.
“I think it’s the chamber’s responsibility to do the things that politically and socially promote businesses in and around the state,” team chairman Harold Turner said. “In my opinion, the chamber has to show the new members, as well as the old members, that their money is doing something … bringing in new business, taking care of the political needs of the business community, working with the educational system, providing members of the community an education, so they can go to work and stay here.”
And the more, the merrier. “The more voices we have, the more impact we can make as a group,” Magner said. “We have a role to play.”
He said the chamber’s role in economic development is to help local businesses grow.
“We do that through a number of things, such as educational opportunities through the chamber, many of which are free or a low cost,” he said. “We have a government procurement center that can help a business apply for contracts.”
A group of retired businesspersons provides advice, while consulting and mentoring small or new businesses. And those are just a few of the resources the chamber boasts to support someone just starting a business.
Networking allows businesses to connect with each other.
“One of the great opportunities that the chamber provides is the events they put on that allow the members of the chambers to meet other members of the business community in the town,” Turner said. “Some small businesses only meet the people that come in their store. If the owner joins the chamber and goes to different chamber events, it allows him to meet people he may want to do business with.”
With education, the chamber knows a well-educated workforce is critical to business success in a community.
“We have a couple of organizations that are housed in the chamber,” Magner said. “One is the Shreveport-Bossier Business Alliance for Higher Education, where there is an advocate for all of the higher education institutions in our community.”
The other is the Alliance for Education that focuses on kindergarten through twelfth grade.
“It helps support Caddo and Bossier schools through a number of different programs,” he said. “The connection here is ‘from school to work.’ As a chamber, we have an important role to play in supporting schools.”
Being an advocate for the community is another important part of the chamber.
“It’s really about getting out there and sharing and shaping what the world sees about our community,” Magner said. “As a member, whether you participate in the different activities we offer or you just take advantage of the fact that we are helping the community grow, it’s an investment that will pay dividends.”