Like all member-based organizations that serve businesses and the community around the nation, the Houston West Chamber of Commerce (HWCOC) had to adapt.
HWCOC is a professional organization that serves West Houston with engaging live events that connect members to economic opportunities. In addition, the HWCOC connects members to important community issues and helps build stronger communities, encouraging its members to stay involved in business, civic and social priorities.
Events are held weekly throughout the year. The unexpected crisis posed a huge challenge – marquee events long planned on the organization’s spring calendar were cancelled as gatherings were prohibited. HWCOC President Kari Werner did not let COVID-19 further disrupt plans even if her staff had to work remotely. Werner transitioned scheduled meetings and events to Zoom, even opening them up to non-members.
Maintaining a continuity of programs is valuable to members. Werner says it was critical for her organization to learn how to pivot. “With the many events and meetings that we have we had to learn to do them all virtually,” said Werner.
“The response from the members has been exceptional and this is a result of the leadership skills that Kari Werner has exhibited,” said Dave Gilkeson, HWCOC board chairman.
Focus on members
In a letter to members, Werner wrote: “Despite all the distractions associated with this pandemic, our team operation has remained laser-focused on continuing to build our Chamber and ways to innovate us.”
Understanding that the crisis was going to inflict severe economic pain on members, a majority of whom are small businesses, HWCOC set up daily newsletters and a recovery and resources page on its website. Members can submit a need or resource that HWCOC would share with others and match within its network to assist in finding help.
As the federal government unveiled emergency SBA programs, HWCOC provided links and updates to funding options. Further, HWCOC hosted Q&A style webinars with different categories each week. From social media seminars presented by West Houston Young Professionals, Networking After Hours, Personal Development Networking to SEO411 Internet Marketing, HWCOC hosts far-ranging events with topics customized to member interests.
Werner heard from numerous members who turned to the HWCOC for help. When asked advice on how to weather the storm she took a positive outlook. “Change is not a bad thing,” said Werner. “Learning to do something differently to conform to the new norm presents opportunities. If there is a will there is a way.”
Werner didn’t look far for her own inspiration. “It has been an adventure for the past 3 years at the Chamber and I would not be here without the guidance and mentoring of our CEO, Jeannie Bollinger,” said Werner. “She has been inspirational to me and the team and we continue to learn more and more every day. She is a gem.”
Pivot…and pivot again
“As her term began in January, Kari jumped right in, rallied staff members to accommodate the membership, brought in new members, instituted budget reductions and moved events (a big part of the chamber’s income and activity) to the last quarter of the year,” said Gilkeson.
The HWCOC will present a Salute to Veterans on October 30th at Houston Community College – West Houston Institute where the keynote speaker will be Congressman Dan Crenshaw. The theme of the event is “Freedom Isn’t Free.”
Meanwhile, HWCOC will continue engaging audiences virtually.