Every existing business association was born when a few business owners came together and realized that they needed their own association that would help them pursue their business goals and interests.
The need for business owners to come together to advance their collective interests is almost instinctive. That’s because they realize that they are part of a community, and a community thrives only when its members work together.
The reality for many businesses is that they are in a community, within a community, within a community. This could not be truer for LGBTQ-owned businesses. There are so many social, political, and business issues that LGBTQ business owners must deal with each day that having a local representative organization for their business concerns is essential.
Business Association or Chamber of Commerce?
According to lore, the first business association was founded in Marseilles, France in 1599. They chose to call themselves a “Chamber of Commerce” and that name has been used by business associations for centuries.
It doesn’t matter much if you call your organization a “business association” or “chamber of commerce.” It’s your objective that matters most. And that objective is to promote the interests of LGBTQ-owned businesses in your neighborhood, town, city, county, or state.
Where to Begin?
Begin at the beginning, of course. You are starting an organization from the ground up, and it takes a huge commitment of time and energy. First, identify a core group of influential leaders to form an organizing committee. Be careful not to create a clique because you’ll need a broad base of support to succeed.
Check around to see what other business associations are doing. Many groups have done what you are trying to do, so you don’t need to start from scratch. Learn what you can from them.
Developing Your Mission Statement
Developing a mission statement can be the most fun or the most frustrating part of the process. Try to have fun with it. Your association needs a mission statement to clarify its intentions and whom it serves. The mission statement is an artful blend of optimism and realism that inspires members to work on behalf of the association. So be creative and come up with a great one. There are lots of online resources to help you.
Setting up Your Business Association
Now here’s where you will need some legal and tax advice. Most associations are nonprofit corporations. There are advantages and disadvantages to having a nonprofit status, but you may find that the benefits outweigh the time and cost of establishing a nonprofit association.
You’ll also need money to get things moving. Your core group of organizers may chip in at the beginning, but you’ll need some type of membership dues structure to pay for ongoing expenses. Think of the association as a business and run it like one.
Then there’s the question of how you will manage the association. Will you use all volunteers, volunteers with a small staff, or a full staff with many volunteers? Having volunteers is great, but they may not be able to devote the time it takes to get your association going. Spend time thinking about your management structure.
Become an Affiliate of the National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce
Perhaps starting an independent association from the ground up isn’t right for you. Then consider starting an organization that can become an affiliate of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).
Founded in 2002, the NGLCC exists to support LGBTQ business owners and showcase the diversity of talent in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. They operate programs and services that promote diversity and inclusion in the business community. They advocate for LGBTQ-inclusive policies at the federal, state, and local levels of government. And they provide a wide range of resources for members, corporate partners, and affiliate chambers.
You’ve Done the Work, Now Enjoy the Benefits
Whichever route you choose, starting a business association will be a rewarding venture. In the years to come, you’ll have the satisfaction of playing an important role in promoting the interests of your LGBTQ business community.