If you’re struggling to work through the bills and keep a business afloat, to cover fixed costs, it’s possible one of the last things on your list would be your business association or chamber of commerce membership.
That’s a challenge both for individuals and their businesses, but also the local chamber. Without a membership, there is a loss of services and some peer supports, while the chamber loses out on annual dues it needs to operate – a real risk as businesses struggle in the wake of COVID-19.
“Restaurants, travel, some retail: we continued to hear their stories. And one member was just sharing how she was really going to struggle in being able to pay her membership and was saying: ‘Going into 2020-2021 is when I need the Chamber most,’” said Penny Walsh-McGuire, CEO of The Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce.
With story after story, the need resonated not just with Walsh-McGuire, but with Chamber members.
But some members fared better than others in 2020.
“And all of a sudden people started to say ‘You know what, I would be happy to pay for the membership of that business who was struggling, because I believe in the Chamber and we need to be connected, we need to stick together,” Walsh-McGuire told Atlantic Business Magazine.
A standard membership is $300.
As of mid-December, more than 20 members were supported, with better-off businesses pledging and covering the dues of harder-hit fellows.
The Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce has formalized the effort now, with a Back-A-Chamber-Member Fund. Walsh-McGuire said she’s noticed similar efforts are popping up all across the country.
The businesses being sponsored in P.E.I. are all aided anonymously.
The sponsors so far have spanned from food manufacturing to media to insurance-sector businesses.
At Maritime Electric, Kim Griffin (also a Chamber board member) normally arranges for support for community events. However, the usual dinners and gatherings were not on, including the usual Chamber of Commerce events.
“So we thought what better way to allocate our money then to anonymously donate to help out Chamber members, who probably need the Chamber more than they’ve ever needed it before right now, in terms of member supports and services,” she said.
The company was an early sponsor and offered enough support for up to eight business memberships based on need.
Maritime Electric serves over 80,000 Island customers and Griffin said the company had heard from small business owners directly on the challenges of late. It offered a COVID-19 support program and the company has offered hundreds of strained customers the ability to make smaller payments on their bills over a longer period. Griffin said there has been a lot of learning along the way, in terms of the need that’s out there.
At the same time, she cheered Islanders’ collective efforts to move through tough times.
“On P.E.I., we feel in lots of ways we’re a Utopia really because we’ve been so well managed in terms of the way in which we’ve been able to keep our island safe and lots of credit to chief health officer Dr. Heather Morrison as well,” Griffin said.
“I think people are feeling very lucky and blessed here in a lot of ways. (…) But I’m sure we’re no different than Nova Scotia, or New Brunswick, or Newfoundland (and Labrador), in that we’re just really trying to help our neighbours out as best we can.”
For her part, Walsh-McGuire offered thanks to all the members who have stepped forward with support to date. She said she expects more will still be needed into 2021.
At the same time, she encouraged individuals and businesses supporting each other wherever they can, down to encouraging Islanders to shop local and contributing to the #LoveLocalPEI push.