Twenty-five years ago, a fifty year-old mother of four became discouraged with what was then the standard Chamber of Commerce membership drive program. She had volunteered for several campaigns while living in Fort Worth, Texas. The structure was made up of numerous business people that were interested in making a name for themselves. They were summoned to build a team of individuals from their company, paraded them into the Chamber board room and were handed a list of businesses in the community that were not currently members. Each volunteer was asked to call as many as possible and ask them to join. In other instances, Board members were strong armed or “guilted” into spending a few hours at their Chamber in a call booth with a stack of index cards that included the name and phone number of every non-member business in town. These calls went on for weeks as more and more volunteers became discouraged at the poor results and manipulation of their precious business hours.
“How can I do it differently?” Lorraine Deitchman, YCC President, asked herself. “How do I help these Chambers accomplish their goals, build revenue, but shorten their commitment time and make it fun? How can it be psychologically rewarding, and leave the volunteers happy and eager to help again next year?” She even joined the staff of a locally owned membership drive company for a very short period, believing she could make a difference there, but her ideas and efforts were in vain. In December 1990, she set out on her own.
Lorraine had just made the move when a 21 year old former co-worker named Jimmy Cusano, from the same Fort Worth company, came knocking on her door. He admired her confidence and determination to create a more effective way of helping the Chambers grow. He, too, felt they could create a new model. He was loud, gregarious, funny, and captivating with his outrageous mannerisms and captivating personality. Lorraine saw that people would stop in their tracks and listen, yet he kept them bent over with laughter as he expounded on the purpose and impact of a Chamber of Commerce and how it affected their day to day business and personal life. Lorraine saw something in Jimmy that could indeed distinguish her program from all the others. We can use this, she thought.
With no formal business plan or capital, but much support from Lorraine’s husband and lifetime business partner, Macy, they relocated the idea to the California coast. There were months, even years, of trial and error as together they honed their craft. Slowly, with many successes and occasional failures, Your Chamber Connection was born. They learned to listen to the volunteers and to the Chamber staff, paying close attention to what did and did not work. They collected data and trusted the trends.
Let’s do away with these week-long sweat shops that demand Chamber volunteers call from cold lists or index cards, they concluded. Let’s stop the, ‘my business against your business” process and teach them to utilize their personal business networks. It is this model, along with the now, world famous Enter”Trainer” that Jimmy Cusano has become, that distinguishes the YCC program above and beyond all the others.
Most Tuesday mornings, in a city near you, a loud, hysterically funny, in-your-face, fast moving, Italian guy in a brightly colored zoot suit storms a room filled with Chamber volunteers. “Hands up!” he shouts. “Go ahead, give yourself a hug!” The room roars and he proceeds to wow the audience with his humor, his undeniable charm, and his infinite knowledge and passion for their Chamber of Commerce. “It’s about community, it’s about business, and it’s about how you, too, can make a difference in the quality of life here.”
While Lorraine and Jimmy perfected their craft over several years, they possessed the forethought to employ former Chamber of Commerce staff members that gave them better insight to the inner workings of their principal focus. Ellie Braxton, formerly with the Modesto, CA and Richardson, TX Chambers joined the staff in 2006 and Jessica Bravo, formerly from the Wayne Co., NC Chamber joined in 2010.
Today, Your Chamber Connection is a world renowned corporation, with calls requesting help from the guy in the suit as far as Ireland, Australia, and Russia. 2015 is a year of celebration for this small but powerful company that started in the imagination of a woman determined to make a difference. Stay tuned for more to come on the birth and growth of Your Chamber Connection…