In most cities, chambers of commerce and better business bureaus are competing for members. Not so in Colorado Springs.
The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado have unified to bring a joint membership package to the business community. The venture is a first-of-its-kind in the country, said Carol Odell, executive director of the Springs-based southern Colorado BBB. “This prototype is so strong that we hope other chambers and better business bureaus will go with it,” she said. The prototype includes a 15-month joint membership deal for businesses that are new to the chamber and the BBB. Business owners who have not previously been members of either organization can join both and receive an additional three months the first year at no charge. The new members will pay the individual organization’s annual membership fees minus the administrative fees (the BBB and the chamber will waive the admin fees), and both fees will be billed as one.
“We started this dialogue the beginning of the year, and it has made incredible sense,” said Dave Csintyan, executive vice-president of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. He said the collaboration – named Community Partnership – will attract business owners who find value in the chamber and marketability with the BBB moniker.
“When you think about all the stovepipes out there, these kinds of collaborations mean more choices for the community,” Csintyan said. “The import of each organization is different – our books are different, but together we present the whole deal. There is 20-to-25 percent overlap in membership, and we’ve never legitimized the dual relationship.
“We didn’t tamper with the operating models, and the sales teams are cross training. Many folks think this is the right thing to do.”
Odell agreed. It may be the right thing to do because she said many companies don’t understand what either organization offers to the community. “I recently over-heard someone talk about what the two organizations bring to a community,” Odell said. “The chamber brings the apple to the community and the BBB keeps the worms out. The chamber keeps the apple shining so the community is the best it can be concerning the quality of life. The chamber helps bring business in, and we keep the bad guys out. And both missions are extremely important to the success of a community.”
“The chamber is an advocate for the companies, and the BBB hooks up good companies with the consumers,” said Mary Jane Gilson, the director of membership development for the BBB. “The program is geared toward first-year members of both organizations. We do not assume this partnership is for every company, but we want companies that are excited about the community, and some feel a responsibility to partner with and support the two organizations.”
Gilson also said the partnership between the chamber and the BBB “reflects a global impression of what business is going to be like in the future.” The old model is shifting to one of cooperation, she said.
The Community Partnership members will have to meet the BBB standards, which Odell said are “stringent.” The chamber and the BBB are working to offer current members of one or both organizations a joint package as well.
Csintyan said the businesses that need the BBB “tattoo” also will have the support of the chamber’s networking, outreach and legislative efforts. “The collaboration eliminates one decision tree in the community,” he said.
Both organizations are launching two other programs unique to each other. The chamber is offering a sampler package for businesses of 10 or less. It’s a four-month trial membership package to allow business owners to preview what the chamber is all about, Csintyan said.
And the BBB is inaugurating a pilot television series Nov. 5 on Adelphia’s Channel 2. The “BBB Eye” is a 30-minute program that will cover wide-open topics, Odell said. “As we get a sense of what the audience is wanting, we’ll develop it even more,” she said. The “BBB Eye” will air several times a week during prime time television. The pilot series features spots on home winterizing, senior scams and how the consumer can use the better business bureau.
As both organizations usher in new ways of reaching out to the business community and fuse some of those efforts, Csintyan said, “There is not a lot of upside in being myopic in how you view the world. What’s the downside of taking a risk as long as we don’t dilute the desired outcomes?”