Three years ago, at the beginning of December 2012, I was about to do something I didn’t want to do. But some new friends had talked me into it, and somewhere along the way I’d said yes. I wasn’t sure I’d made a good decision.
That’s pretty much the story of how I joined the board of the DJCC. I was Chief Technology Officer in 2013, which essentially meant I was responsible for managing the website and Google Apps account. That was fine with me – that’s about all I wanted to do anyway.
What it meant was that I got a title and a shiny nametag, and if something happened during an event, someone would ask me what to do. The best part was that I didn’t even have to fix the problem! All the real jobs were other people’s responsibility. I had all the perks and none of the responsibility.
A strange thing happened though. The more time I spent with the group, the more I grew to care. I was developing strong friendships, and doing charitable things, and helping to plan the types of events I loved going to. I started wanting to do more, to learn more about the community and our members. To know why people wanted to hang around, but no one wanted to be a vested member.
The Chamber was in a tough place at the time, and 2012 was a particularly tough year. Ponce Duran (2012-13) President, and Chris Kobler (2012-13 Chair) were holding the organization together with their bare hands. But we were growing, we had great attendance at Taste and networking events. What was the problem?
“Well…I guess we’re really just a drinking club.”
At every happy hour I would meet a ton of new people, and they’d ask me what we do. I’d tell them about the happy hours, about Taste and BEEP, and what I knew about Johnny Sides (absolutely nothing). Then I’d mention professional development and philanthropy – followed by the sudden realization that I had never been to a professional development or philanthropy event. Because the Chamber hadn’t held one since I joined up in the summer of ’12.
“Well…I guess we’re really just a drinking club.”
I said it in jest, because I had made a ton of friends, and the only reason I’d joined the board is because of them. But I started over hearing other board members go through the same conversation. It turns out that we all knew why no one was joining. I spent several months mulling the problem over.
By the end of the year what I had expected to be a one year favor to a friend became a passion. In 2014 I became the Executive Vice President (a role quite different than the EVP of 2015 and on, since the board was restructured). In January I took my first shot at the elephant in the room.
Building on Strength
I went through what I knew about our membership and about the people who hung around in our orbit. I looked at myself and at our board. I realized that the thing we’d been running away from was our greatest strength. During our leadership retreat I asked each board member why they joined the Chamber. Every person said the same thing. We all joined because of the people we met. Some were new to town, some had new jobs, or just graduated, or just left relationships. Some well established. But everyone joined for social reasons.
We realized that we were a social club; we could be considered a fraternity. And instead of running away from that, or being ashamed, we should focus on it as our way to connect.
Fraternities and social clubs can be seen as being about cliquish behavior and social status. But in their purest form, they are about the development of the member. We already had in place three prongs: Networking, professional development, and philanthropy. Now we only needed to focus on why those prongs were important, and how to best pursue them. But most importantly we needed to talk about the Chamber like we were proud of it. “We are a drinking club! And we’re becoming so much more.” I presented these ideas and some new branding to the board and I was beyond excited.
The year wasn’t perfect. We had some board struggles, some professional conflict, and some negative outcomes. But it was a huge step. We had huge turnout for Taste; rebranded BEEP was in People magazine; my idea for a new summer event – Christmas in July – raised over $4,000 for local charity (and I met my girlfriend there…that’s winning); the profile for Johnny Sides increased immensely. We massively increased our membership, and we had found a purpose again.
This year has been even better. The American Foundation for the Blind and SMU signed on for BEEP, Christmas in July was on the roof of Skyhouse Dallas, we had successful philanthropy projects with a number of local charities, and professional development involving local entrepreneurs and nationally known speakers. The Dallas PD Rookie of the Year was awarded at the top of the Bank of America Tower, and celebrated in the lights on Reunion Tower.
As Senior VP of Operations I was able to be part of some of these awesome developments, along with the rest of my board (and the ambition of this years EVP, Kylie Spurgeon). We’ve not reached the goal yet, but we’re on our way.
Next year will be different for me, though. I won’t be part of the leadership that takes the next steps. Elections for the 2016 Board of Directors are tonight, and I’ve chosen to stay off the ballot. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it yet…it’s going to be a different kind of year for me. But I guess that’s why I’m writing this all out.
The Chamber board has been a huge part of my life, and I’m not quite sure what things are going to be like on the other side. Just like when I joined three years ago, I’m about to do something I don’t really want to, and I’m not sure I’ve made a good decision.
The show’s not over though. I’ll still be involved, and I probably won’t be able to resist entering the elections next year. But for now, good luck to the 2016 board. I’m stepping off.