Chamber of Commerce reports $65,000 profit at end of fiscal year

Group restructures debt, gains 196 new members

Small Business

October 13, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Chamber of Commerce finished its fiscal year with a $65,000 net profit, a jump in new memberships, a smaller deficit and debt restructuring - factors that chamber officials say have given stability to the business organization that teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in its past two fiscal years.

Chairwoman Linda Burton told members at a chamber luncheon last week that the business organization "is alive and well despite what you read in the news" and that the group will continue its efforts to show accountability to members, encourage participation in programs and to get feedback about programs.

Although the organization finished the fiscal year in August with 196 new members, membership retention remains an issue, said Kara Calder, chamber president and chief executive officer.

The 707 members reported last week is down from the 740 reported in July. But she said she hopes a new-member orientation program and membership retention efforts will help. In the past year, 65 percent of new members went through the orientation.

"We still have a challenge understanding what motivates a member to stay," she said. "We don't want to wait until after someone fails to renew to ask why not. What's more important to them and to the chamber as a business is `What is it you expect the chamber to do to help you to succeed?' "

Calder said the chamber's report to members showed the organization had made a turnaround and had grown in a number of areas.

In the fiscal year ending August 2002, the chamber lost $66,000, bringing its total deficit to more than $238,000, according to the group's financial statements. The group took a $30,000 loan to stabilize cash flow but had more than $42,000 of debt in addition to the new loan, records showed in April.

Since then, said Calder, the group has restructured its debt and paid down some of its short-term deficit with profits earned, in part, through a targeted fund-raising program that raised more than $30,000 for the group.

The business organization raises money through its programs and events, sponsorship and member dues, which range from $195 to $2,995 a year, depending on the number of employees in a member company.

The chamber also has restructured its staff, headquarters space and plans for succession in board leadership. It has developed goals for serving members and a means to measure its success.

With the report, the group also began several initiatives, including a membership drive, a campaign to publicize member businesses the chamber has helped, and strategies to build revenue and cash reserves.

Calder said several people in the business community supported the chamber during a difficult period because they saw "the value of having these types of institutions." With its reorganization, the chamber has to deliver on its promises.

"What you've seen in the past year is the support of the role," she said. "Continued new members, [and an] increase in retention is an indication of the [members] receiving value. They'll become members and stay if they see value."

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