Engaging our Community through Chamber Councils

Sandra Brewer, Vice President of Member-Investor Services, Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce

Want to get involved and build leadership skills? Volunteer with us.

Our Chamber peers tell us that our Councils stand out as a powerful asset and we agree. Our Chamber Councils represent 11 geographic footprints in our area along with one Hamilton County-wide council focused on international business.

Prior to joining the staff of the Chattanooga Chamber more than six years ago, I volunteered with our Chamber for 15 years and the Councils propelled my business success by:

  • connecting me to the business community
  • showcasing my business to the entire Hamilton County region
  • providing leadership opportunities through the Downtown Council
  • finding mentors through the Downtown Advisory Council

Last year our 12 Councils provided more than 7,100 volunteer hours and $17,000 in community investment.

“The vast majority of our members leverage their Chamber value at the Council level,” says Mike Sarvis, President of Synovus Bank and immediate past Chairman of the Chattanooga Chamber Board. “They do tremendous work.”

Our 1,800 member businesses represent about 100,000 employees and all of them are welcome to engage in our Councils.

Each Council acts independently and has its own board – that’s as many as 170 board members in any given year, so we are always searching for talent. The Council structure provides an avenue for everyone to get involved and have easy access to leadership training.

Council Presidents and Presidents-elect meet quarterly with our President and CEO. They also participate in workshops on:

  • Governance and Financial Structure
  • Economic Development
  • Membership
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Talent Development
  • Education, Public Policy and Advocacy

Every three years Councils report to our Board for recertification. That’s why our President-elect volunteer position includes a seat on the Chamber Board of Directors, providing a unique leadership development opportunity.

In addition to officer positions, each Council has a Vice President of Membership, Communications, Programming, Economic Development, Education, and many have also added a VP of Diversity and Inclusion.

Council VPs of Membership actively engage in outreach to potential members and refer new members to our sales executive, and we provide cash incentives for Councils to assist with both member retention and recruitment.

Last fiscal year we paid more than $9,000 in bonuses. These funds directly benefit our community as Councils reinvest in their geographic area.

Council VPs of Communications promote their Councils’ work and benefits of membership. Meeting quarterly for training enables volunteer leaders to compare best practices. Engagement ranges from Councils that create their own dynamic Facebook videos to those that find e-mail newsletters work best. The techniques they learn often benefit their own businesses.

All volunteers and Chamber staff members provide Council programming ideas. The Council VPs of Programming engage community leaders, showcase exciting initiatives and provide learning opportunities – which means our Chamber offers 12 opportunities for growth and development every month as well as a chance for members who present to grow their own brands.

Developed within the last few years, the Council VP of Education leads the projects and mentorships that benefit students of all ages, from elementary school to higher education. This work also engages volunteers in the community-wide education initiative Chattanooga 2.0.

Our Council VPs of Diversity and Inclusion work with our Director of Diversity and Inclusion and provide avenues for awareness and engagement. Our Downtown Council is focused on disability awareness; MidTown hosted ‘Taste of Midtown,’ showcasing cultural food; Ooltewah/Collegedale targets workplace diversity initiatives and Southside actively recruits minority businesses.

With more than 75 languages spoken at home in Hamilton County as recorded by an annual school survey, our International Council focuses on issues affecting our growing international community.

Other Council initiatives include economic development forums, candidate forums, quarterly community summits, food drives and efforts to encourage voting.

We encourage friendly competition, which can become fierce in a healthy way. One hard-working Council receives the coveted ‘Council of the Year’ designation at our annual meeting – based on an application and judging system. The Council bringing in the most new members also earns public accolades.                                          

While we certainly value modesty and we know we’re nowhere near perfect, we do encourage all of our staff and volunteer leaders to commit to continual learning and growing. It’s the only way to provide our members the value they deserve and advance our region together.

Want to get engaged with one of our Councils? Contact Ross Katayama at rkatayama@chattanoogachamber.com

Council Highlights:

  • The Hixson Council gives education enrichment funding to every public school in their footprint, providing support for programs that teach fifth graders to write robotics code, equip middle schoolers with the resources to create a sustainable sculpture garden, and more. 
  • The North Hamilton and Red Bank Councils hosted silent auctions that each raised more than $3,000: In North Hamilton, this funded monthly enrichment grants for 12 area schools; in Red Bank, this provided funds to the Family Justice Center to protect victims of domestic violence.
  • The North Chattanooga, East Ridge and Southside Councils partnered with elementary schools in high need areas to paint classrooms and hallways and provide new classroom furniture.
  • The East Brainerd Council provided more than 100 backpacks filled with school supplies for inner city elementary school students.
  • The Enterprise Gateway Council hosted a Business Owners’ Opportunity for Success Today (BOOST) summit focused on talent pipeline development.
  • The Downtown Council donated $4,000 for school uniforms and worked with one of our high schools to address public safety, providing funding for security measures. 
  • The International Business Council will award its second annual International Business Awards to businesses engaged in international trade at its annual meeting June 5.

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