I was inspired to hear Seth Godin talk about what it takes to create tribes at the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives’ (ACCE) convention a few years ago. Although we work to cultivate a “tribe” for our members, the majority of them are unengaged, uninspired and unconnected.
We all want a tribe of people who believe in what we’re doing, who are passionate about the cause and who enjoy being together because they “belong”. Even if we don’t personally know everyone else that gathers, we feel that everyone here could be a friend, a mentor, or a fellow traveler through life.
But most of our membership base doesn’t feel that way. We yearn to create what Seth talks about and yet it seems out of our reach.
So, it’s not surprising that the first and the most important influence that ACCE espouses in the Horizons Initiative: Chambers 2025, Eight Influences Shaping the Next Decade for Chambers of Commerce is focused on The Nature of Belonging and Gathering. At strategic planning sessions, boards of directors for associations strongly agree that they want to attract the “next generation” as members and be seen as organizations that welcome diversity and inclusion.
It sounds good on paper and the intentions are real. Yet, many of our organizations still look and feel like it did when our grandparents belonged and we don’t look like the communities we’re supposed to serve. What’s missing and how we do create the “secret sauce” that truly develops the tribe we want to be and the one that people want to be part of?
Sometimes the Best Practice Is in Our Backyard
I started attending the same church my son has been going to for several years. Truth be known, I hadn’t gone to church for quite for some time. I remember getting dressed in my “Sunday best”, listening to stern sermons and feeling short of what God wanted in me. Church was a somber and serious place on Sundays.
As soon I walked into Gateway Church, I saw this image on the wall which called out to me. We walked into the auditorium and found seats about half way up. I was surprised to see that the room was pretty full.
The stage was outfitted with lighting, instruments and a live band that started to play. The music made people stand up, sing along and applause. The band musicians and singers were female and male, young, and ethnically diverse. The “sermon” had more than one speaker, including some of the younger folks. I looked at the audience (there must have been almost a thousand people there) and they were as diverse as the performers on stage. This was a happening place that understood what Belonging and Gathering feels like and has the “secret sauce.”
John Burke and his wife Kathy founded Gateway Church in Austin in 1998. The church has grown to over 3,000 members and 70% of them are in their 20s and 30s. They are engaged, inspired and connected around a common cause and an effective leader. John is successful in creating a culture that makes members feel included, valued and willing to share their gifts and investments so their community prospers. He even wrote a book about how to deconstruct the five main barriers standing between emerging generations and the church by creating the right culture.
I’m not comparing our missions to serving God or saying that your organization should be a church. What I am saying is that there are other organizations excelling in creating a community for belonging and gathering and that we might be able to glean insights on how we could do it better.
Three Lessons I Learned From Observation
I’ve been attending Gateway Church for about a month with my son. I recognize that associations are a different breed of non-profit since we’re not charitable and more business-focused. But I believe these three lessons or takeaways from what I’ve gleaned from my experience could help us convene stakeholders and create the “special sauce” that brings diverse people together who feel they all belong here and are connected through our culture:
1. Develop a culture of shared leadership — John Quincy Adams said it best, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Leaders are those others want to follow which are not always your longtime, “cut-from the cloth” members. Rather than separating YPs from the rest of your members, ask them to lead new member orientations, task force meetings, serve on your boards and have the spotlight moments at signature events.
2. Create pathways for members that fit their passion, time and how they want to serve — All of us have a need to connect in a meaningful way whether it’s through service or support. Offer a Starting Gate where members choose the path and the community where transformation can occur.
3. Curate collaborative content — We feature experts that are outside of our membership because the “prophet lives at least 25 miles away.” Our members come with experiences, gifts and wisdom to share. Consider how you can leverage your members’ voices to create compelling content.
When it comes to developing a culture of belonging and gathering, you’re either trying or being. Which describes your organization? I hope this inspires you to act to design your organization’s future proactively.
Let’s have a conversation about how you can develop the culture you need to grow. Schedule a complimentary 30-minute strategy session!
Cathi Hight helps organizations manage constant change, develop customer-centricity and “work smarter, not harder”. She is President of Hight Performance Group and the developer of The Member Retention Kit, A New Approach to Tiered Membership and Work Smarter, Not Harder. Learn more at www.hightperformance.com.