Chamber Fires Up 2011 Membership Drive

By Sarah Baker

The Greater Memphis Chamber could not exist without the support of its members. That is why every year the nonprofit economic development organization holds a membership campaign with the aid of its current investors to encourage new membership and spark growth.

The 2011 Fuel the Fire membership drive is a two-month initiative in which volunteers from the chamber base persuade others to join the organization and to get existing members to sponsor and buy advertising.

The drive kicked off with two training sessions in July. August and September are the main drive months, and a celebration party is Oct. 27.

John Duncan, vice president of member development for the chamber, said this year’s theme, “Fuel the Fire,” is a metaphor for the city’s recent successes. The nonprofit has brought in more than $300 million in economic development through its work with MemphisED, and with new members, those efforts will continue.

“There’s a lot of really positive things from a business perspective, as well as a community perspective, that are happening in this area right now that we’re proud of and excited about,” Duncan said. “Fuel the Fire is, ‘Be a part of this, join the chamber. Your dues, your sponsorships will help us continue the economic development activity.’”

Within the past year, Memphis has landed massive economic deals such as Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc., Electrolux, City Brewing and the new American Queen Steamboat, which are expected to add millions to the city’s tax base and create thousands of local jobs. Then there’s the Cargill Inc., Riviana Foods and Smith & Nephew’s new expansions.

But Duncan said small business – through new hires and launching new products – is the true catalyst to the region’s growth. About 80 percent of the Chamber’s membership is composed of small businesses, classified by firms that employ 100 or fewer.

“In most chambers, that’s the ratio,” he said. “Small business is the engine, not only for most regions and most cities, but for the country. Small business employs an incredible amount of people.”

Fuel the Fire has three primary components – new membership revenue, sponsorship revenue and advertising revenue. The most important of the three is new member dues, Duncan said, because after that’s in place, the other two follow.

“Here’s nirvana: Somebody signs up as a new member,” he said. “They also, because of that connection, want to sponsor something – a breakfast, a lunch, a dinner, a seminar, an event. And also they want to advertise their brand, promote their product through our website, our Crossroads Magazine or be a part of our eCrossroads electronic periodical.”

Goals for this year’s drive are 200 new members, bringing in $100,000 in dues, $40,000 in sponsorships and $10,000 in advertising.

With that anticipated added membership through the end of September, the chamber’s rolls would bump up to 2,500 business enterprises, civic organizations, educational institutions and individuals. Membership dues vary depending on company size, ranging from $350 to $1,000.

Duncan is confident the overall goal of $150,000 is realistic; though 2009 and 2010 were challenging years for most chambers nationwide, including Memphis’, 2011 has rekindled the flame.

“I think we’re coming out of those couple of years. We’re not out of it yet, but we’re trending in a positive direction,” he said. “And things like the membership drive will just help us continue that momentum going forward.”

New membership numbers are up 40 percent from January through June of this year compared to the same period last year. And member drops are down 35 percent for second quarter this year versus second quarter last year, a sign that organizations value retaining their membership.

This year’s short and sweet eight week drive is aimed to both attract and retain members, Duncan said.

“A lot of Chambers our size will have sixty to ninety day membership drives,” he said. “What I wanted to do this year was have a really tight, focused time framed membership drive because I felt like it would sort of create a sense of urgency, not only for my team but for the volunteers. We’ve got eight weeks to talk to people, promote and get the message out and to clients, customers, prospects, vendors, etc.”

Membership benefits include advertising credit toward any of the chamber’s resources, member-to-member discounts, networking events with Memphis’ top business and political leaders, and an array of member services and resources.

Susan Mealer, owner of local telephone answering service and call center Answering Advantage LLC, said her membership has allowed her to be involved in an organization that believes in the power of Memphis.

“Most of my business’ success has depended on the development of relationships with potential business partners in our community,” Mealer said. “My chamber membership has contributed greatly to this (success) and has, in fact, exceeded expectations. It has allowed me to develop beneficial business and personal relationships.”

Lee Stills, senior vice president of Trust One Bank, sees his involvement as a civic duty.

“I believe it is the responsibility of Memphis companies to invest back in the community, and the chamber is a great way to do this,” he said. “They provide education, networking, connections, problem-solving and marketing data, just for starters.”

To find out more on how to help fuel the fire, contact Duncan at or call 543-3502.