Continuing its fight against a five-year decline in membership numbers, leaders of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce announced at its annual meeting Tuesday the full extent of a $75,000 re-branding and reorganization effort.
Chamber president and CEO Ralph Schulz — now one year into his tenure as head of the Chamber — said Tuesday that many of the changes are geared to open up leadership and community action opportunities to more members, including the 92 percent of the organization’s membership base that includes small businesses.
“At the base of that is, you’ve got to be broad in your community leadership to pull this branding strategy off,” Schulz said. “You don’t have to be on the board anymore to lead an effort.”
The Chamber’s re-workings, as previously reported in The City Paper, include a major paring down of the Chamber’s board of directors.
In June, the Chamber Board cut the size of itself almost in half, from 69 members to 34, and at the same time adopted a comprehensive set of new governance policies and procedures.
Chairpersons of a new set of chartered committees — to replace, for the most part, the roughly 20 former board committees — will be appointed by the board beginning next year but will not have to be board members, as the previous committee structure required.
The reorganization has included staff changes too, though Schulz said he believes the Chamber’s “head count” hasn’t changed significantly over the course of the year.
Several positions have been eliminated. Others have been added, including the addition of former Purcell administration member Marc Hill as the Chamber’s chief education officer.
Schulz said a goal for the Chamber as revenue increases this year will be to add more staff members to positions supporting existing business, as well as research.
The Chamber is beefing up its Public Benefit Foundation — an organization that facilitates long-term public-private efforts to improve social ills such crime, poverty, and problems with the education system — to serve as an “action arm” of new Chamber research, Schulz said. Former Vice Mayor Howard Gentry was recently appointed head of the foundation.
The organization also will continue to step up its civic action efforts, Schulz said.
In the last year, the Chamber has publicly opposed “English-only” legislation that was before the Metro Council, supported keeping the Nashville Predators in town through the Our Team coalition, supported construction of a new convention center and committed to making improvement of public schools the organization’s top priority.
The Chamber’s retention rate for the 2006-2007 financial year was 87 percent. But Schulz said in a previous City Paper interview that the rate is 6 percent higher than last year’s.
Overall membership for the Chamber increased by 27 percent in the last year, according to a statement from the organization.
In terms of the Chamber’s new branding strategy, which was announced at the meeting Tuesday with a performance art painting of the Chamber’s new logo by Texas artist Dan Dunn, the organization said it is building and maintaining a membership experience that matches its new tagline, “Belong, Engage, Lead, Prosper.”
“Everything we do is about that,” said Janet Miller, the Chamber’s vice president for economic development and leader of the organization’s branding team. “We have a new internal mantra.”