Our team at the Bennington Chamber has been working for over a month now on creating new ways we can encourage people to become members. One of those marketing materials is a "Potential Member" booklet. A section of the booklet is all about the benefits available to the members of the Bennington Chamber.

As our team was putting it together, someone made the comment, "Wow, I'm not sure even our current members know they get all of this!" So, we sent that part of the booklet around to a couple of our members and sure enough, they didn't.

In my time at the Chamber, I have come to realize that communication is more than half the battle when we look to grow and improve the Chamber. Often times, we just simply haven't communicated the best or in the ways that people nowadays digest the message.

I'd like to share with you the benefits of being a member of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce for those who may not know:

• Free admittance into monthly mixers – members are eligible to host the mixers, which puts a focus on their business and provides great networking opportunities. Other members attend for free with food provided and a cash bar. On average we see about 40-60 people at the mixers each month.

• Member2Member discounts - members of the Chamber receive premium discounts with other members who have provided the discount. This includes discounts on meals, services, entertainment among other things.


• Listed on the Chamber website – our website is visited over 10,000 times a month as tourists, visitors and business are looking to see what Bennington has to offer.

• Representation with economic development partners – we meet monthly with area economic agencies where we voice your concerns and challenges.

• Insurance – we still provide Delta Dental, Accident, Life and Vision at a discount for members.

• Free advertising - on weekly Chamber e-blast emails that go to over 400 active, engaged readers. Our open rate is double the industry standard.

• Volunteerism - become involved on our project teams and committees (where most real business connections are made).

• Chamber bulk mail account – borrow the Chamber's bulk mail stamp which reduces mailing costs.

• Display your marketing material – you can put your marketing material on our Chamber racks and Welcome Center for free; we take your material with us to tradeshows along the east coast. Chamber members get a $200 savings when they put their billboards up at the Welcome Center and last year the Welcome Center numbers were over 100,000 visitors.

• Social Media – we have expanded our social media ten fold and love to showcase our members on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. We're also happy to sit down with members to work on their social media accounts.

• Internship program – we are working with internship coordinators from area colleges to provide additional services including becoming an intern at the Chamber.

• Advocacy on legislative initiatives – let your voice be heard as a small business at the local and State level. We're currently working on some key partnerships in the future to expand this concept. Plus, we love to bring politicians and representatives by your store!

• Membership decal and plaque - show it off, visitors trust a business that belongs to a chamber.

• Area guide publication – you're featured in the area guide and have a discounted rate on advertising in the area guide of which we publish 80,000 and distribute along the east coast.

• Professional and organizational development assistance – the Chamber is full of subject matter experts who will meet with business members to work with them to improve their business models and grow their business.

• Referral program – Both at the Welcome Center and at the Chamber the staff is trained to send people your way for food, lodging, shopping and entertainment.

• Tours and ribbon cuttings – we do specialty mixers to draw people out to your establishment for tours and to celebrate a special event (new product, expansion, renovations) with a ribbon cutting.

• Welcome wagon bag – we're bringing back this concept. Working with realtors and organizations in town, this will be a free bag of "goodies" (coupons, swag, gift certificates), which we give out to welcome new homebuyers and professionals to the Bennington area.

• Bennington Ambassador Program – send your staff to our Bennington 101 training to better educate them on the area and how to sell Bennington. Upon completion of the course they will receive a special pin to wear in your business designating them an official Bennington Ambassador.

• Weekly column – we constantly mention members we're working with in our newspaper columns. We've even been known to pass off column space to members from time to time to write something they're passionate about.

• Radio and TV – we utilize our monthly radio show with 1370AM WBTN and CAT-TV to showcase our members in unique ways (e.g. Bennington Made series).

• Constant Contact – discounts on this marketing email platform for all business who use our special chamber member coupon code.

• Award-winning events – Garlicfest, Winterfest, Snocross, Bennington Arts Weekend and more – we draw thousands of visitors to the area to shop, dine, lodge and enjoy all that Bennington has to offer.

• And Coming Soon monthly "Tour Bennington" emails to tourists, the Chamber Media Project, The Bennington Tomorrow show, and more!

One of the most interesting statics to come out recently from the ACCE (Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives) is that businesses who associate themselves with a chamber of commerce enjoy a 49% increase in their consumer favorability rating, a 73% increase in consumer awareness, a 68% increase in their local reputation, and an 80% increase in the likelihood that consumers will patronize those businesses in the future.

I'm not a tough seller. I don't like the 'snake oil salesman' approach. What I do believe in is creating an organization to which people want to belong to. That's the pitch! I believe in making products and services that help all our members and in turn it is my belief that people will want to become members to be a part of that. If you want to "hop on the bus" and join your local Chamber, give us a call (447-3311), visit our website (bennington.com) or stop in.

Always Onward,

— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce