It started out as another client acquisition.
It turned into a deeper kind of challenge for Angie Schaefbauer, who is in her second month as president of the Richfield Chamber of Commerce, a traditional organization that must now embrace a target market of young entrepreneurs who have their own ideas about tradition.
The Eagan resident became president after initially signing on as an interim director when former President Steven Lindgren retired last summer after 20 years leading the chamber.
As interim director, Schaefbauer handled day-to-day duties as chamber leadership sought out a full-time permanent president, until she changed their concept of what a chamber president should look like.
“Angie came to us in a two-month interim position and proved to us that wasn’t necessary,” said Jennifer Bornholdt, chair of the chamber’s board of directors.
Contracting with Schaefbauer signals a dramatic shift in the chamber’s leadership strategy. The chamber technically writes checks to Schaefbauer’s company, called ExtendedOffice, which contracts with businesses and non-profit organizations to handle administrative tasks and other functions.
The role of president of the Richfield Chamber of Commerce is no longer the traditional full-time position that it was for Lindgren and his predecessors, who held regular office hours. “We are trying to get away from the hourly look at his role and we are just looking for results,” Bornholdt said.
The office is still there, but Schaefbauer figures to be a less regular sight than Lindgren was at the chamber’s headquarters in Woodlake Centre. Schaefbauer operates out of a “virtual office,” as the term goes, employing a remote, mobile administration model.
“The office is still available to everybody when she’s needed,” Bornholdt said. “It’s just a matter of how she’s reached.”
With the new leadership model comes a shifting strategy for the chamber. They must address a population of baby boomers that will inevitably diminish through attrition, and direct their attention toward a younger audience that doesn’t blindly embrace the chamber as an organization worth joining.
“Baby boomers, they founded our organization. They live eat, breath, sleep — everything — for their organizations. They will give any amount of time to their organizations and they’re fiercely committed,” Schaefbauer said.
“Generations after the boomers, not so much.”
To reach them, the chamber has to change. “If we don’t, we will go away,” Schaefbauer warned.
It doesn’t make it easier for Schaefbauer that the new mindset is not solely generational. “Even for us baby boomers — and I am one of them — if it’s not interesting its not worth your time,” said Gordy Ecklund, who is in line to take over as chair of the chamber’s board of directors next year.
Addressing these realities has already meant a redesigned website that is to be filled with “value-added content,” Schaefbauer said. Plus, she is promoting more specialized programs such as a roundtable group for small business owners and another group geared toward young professionals.
With these initiatives, she hopes to engender a more active membership, which would manifest itself with increased turnout at events such as the chamber’s regular luncheons, where Schaefbauer hopes to increase average attendance from about 40 to upwards of 100.
The effort is necessary because tangible value is now what members demand, while mere tradition isn’t good enough, according to Bornholdt. “There are a lot of people that write their checks to the chamber for their membership because it’s kind of what you do, and that’s the same way I was when I came into my business,” said Bornholdt, who has owned HUB Jewelers in Richfield for about eight years.
Schaefbauer derives much of her strategy from the book, “The End of Membership as we Know it,” by Sarah L. Sladek. The book describes a generation ‘X’ and ‘Y’ that demand an organization demonstrate more value than just a place to belong. The same book even shuns the term “networking” as a benefit that organizations should highlight, because such opportunities already abound.
Schaefbauer recalled finding Richfield a “pleasant surprise” as she drove down Lyndale Avenue from Highway 62 and noted the new development along the corridor when she first took the job.
“I turned left and I came down here and I was just like, ‘Wow, what is happening here? This is cool, because it’s unexpected,’” Schaefbauer said.
She described an “excessively welcoming” and “tremendously loyal” chamber membership.
But they are getting older; replacements must be found. And, Schaefbauer has reason to expect, they’re going to make her work for it.