Supporting Growth & Inclusion in Chamber Referral Groups

Christina Metcalf
Christina Metcalf
Published on 12/04/2023

Chambers play a pivotal role in fostering economic growth and collaboration within a community. And now more than ever, it’s essential to help members do something they’re unable to do for themselves. Chamber referral groups are an excellent way to help members extend their networks with a visible return on their investment. Often members relate that referral group membership alone is worth the cost of chamber membership.

But one of the things that is critical to referral groups is the importance of creating an inclusive environment that promotes diverse opportunities for all members. It’s likely as a chamber pro you know the benefits of starting a referral group. What you might not realize is how it can contribute to building a more diverse and inclusive business community.

The Power of Referral Groups

Referral groups, often known as business networking groups or leads groups, bring together like-minded professionals from various industries within the chamber. These groups serve as a platform for members to exchange leads, referrals, and business opportunities. By facilitating regular interactions and relationship-building, referral groups enhance the professional network of each member.

While most chambers insist upon one member per industry and they achieve some industry diversity that way, they may be opening their groups as a first come, first served and not think about how making them less homogeneous could make a big difference in the excitement surrounding their groups.

Chamber pros needn’t run the groups, but they should be involved. Still, since you don’t need to be heading it up, you can have more than one group going at the same time. Look at your member needs and make decisions on that, not simply assuming you can only fill one. There may be more interest than you think.

Creating Diversity in Referral Groups

To foster diversity and inclusion, it's essential to intentionally structure and promote your referral group. Here are some strategies on how you might do that:

  1. Open Invitation: Ensure that the invitation to join the referral group is extended openly to all members of the chamber, irrespective of their industry, background, or age (unless there are other membership requirements such as a C-suite title or executive mastermind group). Encourage a diverse representation to bring in varied perspectives and experiences.

  2. Industry Mix: Aim for a well-balanced representation of industries within the referral group. A diverse range of professions can contribute to a richer pool of resources and opportunities. Most chambers do an excellent job at this.

  3. Inclusive Policies: Establish inclusive policies that explicitly state a commitment to diversity. Make it clear that discriminatory behavior will not be tolerated and ensure that everyone feels welcome and valued.

Benefits of a Diverse Referral Group:

Broader Business Opportunities

A diverse referral group brings a wider range of business opportunities to its members. Different industries and perspectives can open doors to collaborations that may not have been explored.

Cross-Industry Learning

Referral group members from diverse backgrounds can share unique insights and strategies. This cross-industry learning enriches the professional development of each participant and contributes to a more well-rounded business community.

Community Representation

A diverse referral group ensures that the chamber is truly representative of the entire business community it serves. This representation is vital for building trust and credibility.

Networking Beyond Boundaries

Diverse referral groups offer the chance to connect and build relationships with a broader network of professionals. This extended network can lead to new partnerships, collaborations, and business ventures.

From a Diverse Beginning to an Inclusive Referral Group Environment

Creating a comfortable and inclusive environment within your referral group is crucial for its success and the overall well-being of its members. Once you’ve created a diverse referral group, you want to ensure it remains so and feels inclusive. Bringing everyone to the table only to find they don’t feel comfortable there can take the wind out of your group’s sails.

Here are additional ways to foster inclusivity and make everyone feel comfortable:

Establish Clear Guidelines

Clearly outline expectations and guidelines for behavior within the referral group. Emphasize the importance of respect, open-mindedness, and inclusivity. Having a shared understanding of acceptable conduct sets the tone for a positive and welcoming environment.

Launch Diversity Training

Consider implementing diversity and inclusion training sessions for members. These sessions can provide education on cultural sensitivity, unconscious bias, and effective communication. Increased awareness leads to a more empathetic and understanding group dynamic.

Institute Rotating Leadership

Promote diversity in leadership roles within the referral group. Consider implementing a rotating leadership structure where different members take on leadership positions on a regular basis. This ensures that various perspectives are represented and valued in decision-making processes. It also lessons the leadership and work commitment, making it more appealing to more members.

Encourage Open Dialogue

Create a culture of open communication where members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, concerns, and ideas. Encourage open dialogue during meetings and establish channels for members to provide feedback anonymously if needed.

Offer Mentorship Opportunities

If you have a large group, establish mentorship programs within the referral group, pairing experienced members with those who are newer or from underrepresented backgrounds. This creates a supportive environment for professional growth and fosters a sense of belonging.

Celebrate Diversity

Acknowledge and celebrate the diversity within the group. Highlight member achievements, milestones, and cultural festivities. This not only creates a positive atmosphere but also demonstrates the chamber's commitment to recognizing and valuing all members.

Provide Accessible Meeting Formats

Ensure that meeting formats accommodate various communication styles and preferences. This may include providing opportunities for verbal and written contributions, utilizing diverse communication platforms, and being mindful of scheduling constraints.

Use Inclusive Language

Encourage the use of inclusive language that respects different backgrounds and experiences. Make it a norm to use gender-neutral terms and avoid assumptions about personal or professional backgrounds.

Regularly Assess and Adapt

Conduct regular assessments of the group's inclusivity. Use surveys or feedback sessions to gather insights on members' experiences and suggestions for improvement. Adapt the group's structure and activities based on the feedback received.

Partner with Diverse Organizations

Forge partnerships with organizations that focus on diversity and inclusion. Collaborating with these groups can bring valuable insights, resources, and a broader network to your referral group.

Finally, we’re not suggesting you launch a diverse referral group because it’s trendy. Chambers are the Voice of Business, all business. Many are embracing diversity initiatives so it makes sense that your commitment should extend to your programs as well. But you’re not just making your members feel welcome. You’re also helping them understand the importance if diversity in their own business practices and giving them an example by which they can shape their own professional endeavors for the betterment of your community.

About the author

Christina Metcalf

Christina Metcalf is a writer who loves stories and specializes in assisting small businesses and chambers of commerce to tell theirs.


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