2019/2020 Strategic Plan
Mission: Established in 1888, the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce is the voice of business and the heart of 14 communities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. We create and foster a prosperous business environment and support the growth and profitability of our members. We provide the resources, advocacy, information, networking and marketing opportunities for our members’ success.
In 2018, the Greater Haverhill Chamber Board of Directors took steps to reframe the Chamber and bring its mission and work to more closely resemble current trends in business support and economic growth. Its hiring a president whose past work has included neither time in Haverhill nor chamber of commerce experience represents a paradigm shift in the organization’s history of hiring leadership from within the existing Chamber community. This move suggests a governing body seeking a break from the norms of past Chamber business, choosing instead to embrace experimentation and a higher tolerance for risk taking.
Expectations, while not entirely defined, are high. There’s an assumption by those within the organization and from those paying attention from outside that the Chamber’s new leadership will lead to improved services and programs for its membership. It also assumes that the Chamber will be a leading organization for Haverhill in its ability to attract new businesses.
The high expectations are properly placed, but the work to reshape the Chamber into a more remarkable organization will take time. Much of the existing programming is steeped in tradition and it’s important that trust in the community be maintained. There are other, more practical reasons why some change will need to occur gradually. Approximately half of the Chamber’s revenues are derived from events and community programming. Eliminating large swaths of existing content without known replacements is too risky. A president, new to the business of a Chamber, who needs time to build trust within the community, will need to learn quickly but act carefully in order to deliver purpose, inspire people and build a platform for exceptional results.
The Haverhill Chamber is at an exciting moment. Nearly one year after the hiring of new Chamber leadership, the work to make a remarkable Chamber is under way. The Chamber president, with members of the Board, its staff, and community stakeholders, has taken initial steps to better re-establish the organization from a “why,” perspective. In other words, to put new definition around the purpose of the Haverhill Chamber.
Starting with “why” is important because if the Chamber doesn’t have a strong and compelling purpose or why statement then it has no anchor as an organization for what it is doing. This creates potential for scope creep and for others to define the Chamber’s work in their terms. This can’t happen. It needs to look at new approaches to complex problems so that people can take advantage and leverage the opportunities that come available.
Beginning with Why
Here’s what the Chamber believes:
Inclusive economic development is key to 21st century city growth.
Haverhill has all of the resources necessary for it to compete at a national level.
More about this:
- Small businesses are the life blood of community in small post-industrial American cities
- Our city’s diversity needs to be seen as a great strength.The Chamber needs to be a voice for understanding the critical importance of inclusivity and equity
- We need to be informed about why so many of our citizens are unemployed or underemployed
- All parts of the city must be interconnected, recognizing our downtown and waterfront as the heart of the city. Density is key. A city with disparate parts will never compete
We have an opportunity at the local level, in a city of manageable size, to do things that other places cannot do as easily because of their size. And like most larger cities, Haverhill has resources and opportunities tethered to complex problems and challenges. Our size should mean we can move faster.
Living, working, playing and learning in dense urban settings is the trend, has been the trend for years, and there’s no end in sight. Post-industrial cities, particularly those bordering expensive coastal markets are particularly well positioned.
The younger generations entering the workforce demand a walkable, safe, interesting city with a vibrant downtown. It has to be a place worth discovering. A place that will impress their friends. They see it as a reflection of themselves and their values.
These same generations will not tolerate a city that fails to act compassionately and care for all its citizens. That doesn’t just mean safety-net benefits. It requires understanding the causality of societal problems and working in earnest to help those in need gain the footing to support themselves and gain wealth.
Business growth follows talent. Employers will only come and stay if we have useful talent. Strong cities are finding ways of attracting newcomers who are ready to work. They also have a plan for their local community, too.
If we do this, other cities will take notice. But we need to act with a sense of urgency. Consider ourselves in a race. We can be a model for the resurgence of old mill cities that occurs when smart people work hard together.
How will the Chamber do this?
Chambers of commerce are designed to bring people together, to represent the interests of its membership, and to advocate on their behalf as a single body. This is as true today as it was when the Haverhill Chamber was founded. However, Chambers – cities more broadly, in fact – are faced with having to find new ways of surviving. The pace of change is too fast for any organization to stand still. Smart cities are taking stock of their resources and making every effort to support new business growth and to attract top talent. They are finding creative solutions to their problems and imagining new ways to capitalize on their assets.
In the next 12 to 24 months, the Chamber will work to reposition itself as a leading institution in the Greater Haverhill area that represents 21st century thinking about strong local governance, small business support, talent attraction and workforce-development. It will also campaign the city’s public, private and civic leaders to explore best-practices and macro-trends across, as well as beyond the Merrimack Valley.
The Chamber’s focus areas will include:
The Chamber has heart and has a loyal local following. But it does not have a real brand. The brand has been created by random actions and the perceptions of the community versus a brand that puts the Chamber in the driver’s seat about how it wants people to perceive it through active management.
The risk of not having a well-defined or managed brand is that the Chamber is “labelled” with a brand by people from the outside—this typically means that it is one that is not what it entirely wants. It needs a cohesive and consistent image of the organization, that answers what it is it does, offers and stands for.
Initially, it will change the way its stakeholders talk about themselves. This might mean that the Chamber begins to de-emphasize the tangible benefits that members receive through the Chamber and instead start to focus on its vision for Haverhill and why member support is key to its – and their – success. Overtime, the Chamber will back up its talk with substance in terms of offerings and experiences. There will also be new forward-thinking events and programs focused on creativity and innovation. Inevitably the Chamber will also need to abandon some of its long-standing events or initiatives.
The Chamber’s governance structure also needs to evolve. This Chamber’s board of directors is made up of great people; there’s been support to the staff from everyone on the board without the slightest bit of micromanagement. In fact, it’s difficult to measure the impact the board has had on the success of the Chamber. What is clear however is that along with the staff empowerment and program participation, this Chamber’s board has been incredibly generous financially. A significant portion of the Chamber’s total revenues comes directly from board member-led businesses. We simply couldn’t operate in our current model without the support from our board.
Despite all this, this Chamber’s goal should be to make the board truly high-performing. The board of the future will need to more directly oversee the performance of today to ensure that the organization is on track to be doing even better tomorrow.
In the next 12-24 months, this Chamber will prioritize redeveloping the governance structure in the following ways:
Focus: on the future, long-term outcomes, strategy, governance and fiduciary responsibility
Form: of people and skills based on needs and culture, diversity, size and terms, and committee structure
Frame: of effective and efficient governing policies and procedures and streamlined meeting agendas.
Value Proposition and Business Model
There’s no question this Chamber has a loyal fanbase. It sees volunteerism and event participation from all corners of the community. The enthusiasm and positive support speaks to the authentic and earnest approach the Chamber takes in everything it does.
However, in a Chamber with 400ish paying members, it appears that only a minority take advantage of its programs, events or other services. Why is that? Why do some members continue to renew their membership despite their otherwise apparent absence from participation?
In the next 12 to 24 months, this Chamber will work to better understand and establish its value proposition. This will be an iterative, ongoing process, which over time should lead to a much deeper understanding of its customers.
This work will require a certain level of humility. What will this Chamber learn when it asks its members: Do members feel that their membership with the Greater Haverhill Chamber helps make their business more successful? Yes or No?
As the Chamber collects better data about its customers, it will be easier to spot gaps between their needs and Chamber offerings. This should allow the Chamber to become leaner and more focused over time. To achieve this, the Chamber will need to ask itself some important questions: Is our target market too broad? Are we trying to be everything to everyone? Are we being effective in our communication? Are there unmet needs that we can address better than anyone else?
Also, we need to ask ourselves: What needs to go? “Purposeful abandonment”, the notion that trimming offerings is often critical to future growth, is an important concept for this chamber and one that will likely stir the pot more than others. If done right – with diplomacy and respect for tradition – then conflict and debate should be welcomed. They will in fact be important ingredients in making a more remarkable organization.
Overtime, improving focus on certain customer markets and refining offerings will lead to new structure in Chamber revenue streams. Events versus membership revenues, dues-based models versus non-dues based models…tiered dues? How about free membership? It’s important for this Chamber to embrace experimentation while also gaining a better understanding of trends effecting membership models around the world.
What will the Chamber do?
Over the next 12 to 24 months, the Chamber will develop and carry out initiatives in the following four areas:
Strategic Focus Area # 1 – Communication and Telling Our Story
As part of its rebranding efforts, the Chamber will work toward developing a “voice” that’s more purpose driven and more memorable – that connects more deeply with our target audiences. On the surface, a new logo, new website and new membership messaging will be developed. At a deeper level, the connections we make with people should be more impactful. By starting with a clear sense of our “why”, creating the platform and tools to communicate will become increasingly cohesive.
The Chamber will hire a brand consultant to assist with the strategic exercises around reshaping the Chamber’s way of thinking about itself.
The net result should allow us to reframe stakeholder mindsets from branding as a look, to branding as promise and reputation. Truly believing in this organization and understanding why it’s so important is way more valuable than a new logo.
There will also be a new logo.
Strategic Focus Area # 2 – Culture of Experimentation and Increased Risk Tolerance
The Chamber’s new direction should not only support the increased willingness of its staff to experiment with new offerings, but it should also strive to be a model for the city as a whole, including City Hall. It’s important that Haverhill develop a more agile approach toward recognizing new trends and for seizing opportunities that will reflect positively to outsiders. The Chamber has an eclectic Board construct, which collectively is uniquely positioned to support innovative thinking that’s balanced with the wisdom of tradition and experience.
As a first step, it’s important that the Chamber determine methods for collecting key data for improved understanding of membership needs. From there, the possibilities for new programs and services are expansive, and include:
- Experimenting with new offerings while trimming back outdated programming or programming no longer within refined target markets
- Explore possibilities for intracity and external partnerships and collaborations (e.g. Haverhill.biz and Venture Café)
- Staff development: research and engage with other chambers and member-based organizations to learn best practices
- Visit other cities to learn macro-trends around smart city placemaking and local governance (interplay between private, public and civic)
- Revisit the organizational structure of Chamber governance, from Board process to member committees
- Get a little crazy, Haverhill!Hot tug anyone?
Strategic Focus Area # 3 – Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity
Haverhill’s diversity is similar to many small, post-industrial cities. However, the cities that are excelling are those who recognize the value of its diversity and have found novel ways of becoming more inclusive. Haverhill as a whole appears to be underperforming compared to other Gateway cities. The Chamber, as a private institution with a Board constituting leadership across the city, it’s uniquely positioned to become a leader and a model within the Greater Haverhill area for its belief that economic development can be best achieved by embracing inclusivity as a guiding principal.
Local observations and national trends that support the move toward increased diversity, equity and inclusivity within the Chamber:
- Pro inclusivity values are consistent with talent and businesses in high growth markets, namely technology and advanced manufacturing
- The Chamber’s influence on these issues will resonate across the city.Board members, events, membership – it should be a priority that the people involved in the Chamber are representative of the overall community.
- Membership should grow as the Chamber better reflects all parts of the city
Measures the Chamber will need to take include:
- Research best practices in board governance and operational oversight and recommend enhancements
- Become part of the workforce development conversation in Haverhill, looking to partner and support the myriad community initiatives involved in developing the local population, particularly those unemployed or underemployed
- Understand how Haverhill’s service to their indigent population can play to its strengths for attracting outside talent
Strategic Focus Area # 4 – Financial Sustainability
The Chamber has improved its financial footing in recent years and is currently experiencing cash flows slightly better than forecasted. But with less than $500,000 in annual revenues, its limited in its overall scope for what it can do.
Improved financial sustainability will likely follow any improvements the Chamber makes in its understanding its target customers and their needs. From there, enhancing existing offerings and identifying new ones will create new opportunities for added revenue.
Priorities will include:
- Continued streamline membership enrollment and payment processes
- Transition to web-based and digital enrollment processes
- Migrate members to auto-payment system (pull versus push) to reduce extensive and unpredictable accounts receivables
- Develop compensation offerings consistent with competitive markets for top talent
This updated Plan will provide strategic guidance and direction for the future of the organization for the coming 12 to 24 months. It is recommended that this Plan be used as a working document by the Board of Directors and management, and that the Plan be monitored for progress on a regular basis. With changes occurring quickly in the marketplace, the Board and management should be prepared to adapt and make changes as necessary in order to achieve the objectives set forth in this Plan.