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Hey Chambers… Improve Member Engagement, Increase Revenue, and Have Fun Doing It (Promise)

Ryan GriffithRyan Griffith

Recently, Ryan Griffith, President of VoterFly and Jill Rowland-Lagan, the CEO of the Boulder City, Nevada Chamber of Commerce sat down with chamber consultant, speaker, and author Frank Kenny to talk about engagement. In this article, we’ve provided a summary of the highlights of that conversation, as well as the video interview, and transcript. If you’re a chamber pro looking for new ways to engage your members, connect with your community businesses, recruit new businesses, improve your web traffic, and create a new revenue stream, this article will help.

Benefiting From “Best Of” Awards – An interview with Frank J. Kenny and Jill Rowland-Lagan

Member engagement and recruitment are top concerns for chambers of commerce these days. But finding unique opportunities to accomplish these goals without taxing your already-taxed chamber staff can be a challenge. However, Jill Rowland-Lagan, the CEO of the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce, found a solution with VoterFly, a user-friendly software designed to streamline “Best Of” contests. In an interview, Jill and Ryan, the owner of VoterFly, discussed the highlights and benefits of using the program, such as its ease of use, high engagement, and positive community response. Let’s delve into their conversation to understand how VoterFly revolutionized Boulder City’s member engagement and recruitment through a “Best of” contest.

“VoterFly is easy and user-friendly. It’s accessible for not only the public but it made the back-office side of things easier for us. When you’re a smaller chamber operating with two employees you need everything to be easy.”

Jill Rowland-Lagan

Engaging the Community and Boosting Participation

Jill initially had concerns about hosting a “Best of” contest for several reasons:

  1. A nearby metropolitan area was already hosting one
  2. Staff resources were limited in her two-person office
  3. Her past experience made her concerned about finding user-friendly “Best Of” software
  4. Her budget wasn’t as large as her metropolitan neighbor, so she wanted something affordable

Even with her concerns, Jill witnessed the success that nearby Las Vegas had experienced even with a platform that wasn’t user friendly. She wanted a similar concept to show off her community’s businesses. But her bottom line was ease-of-use. She didn’t have time for a steep learning curve. She was looking for something that was essentially ready to go and intuitive. Jill knew her community wouldn’t participate if it was anything other than fun and easy.

After taking a software demo, she realized VoterFly would make it easy for businesses in her community to participate. The program created a sense of friendly competition among organizations, leading to increased engagement and community involvement.

The Boulder City Best Of contest received an overwhelming response. They enjoyed 118,000 total page views in just seven weeks in a town of under 15,000 people!

“One of the most common things we hear is the engagement and the excitement from the community. Above all else, that’s incredibly palpable.”

Ryan Griffith

Top 10 Things Chamber Pros Love About VoterFly’s Best Of Contest Software

Chambers aren’t at a loss for events. There are many unique ideas out there to help increase member engagement but if they’re cumbersome to host, require a lot of staff time or energy, or are hard to participate in, they won’t impress the members or your community.

With VoterFly, Jill appreciated the following things:

  1. Ease of use: there was no big learning curve for the participants or the back office.
  2. Simplicity: it doesn’t take an army to run or hours to dedicate to using it.
  3. Partnership: VoterFly helped make adoption easy and provided a plug-and-play system that required no additional set up on the chamber’s end.
  4. Website traffic: the contest increased chamber website traffic exponentially.
  5. Engagement: the community nominated, voted, supported, and enjoyed the friendly competition. Six weeks later, they are still talking about it and Boulder City businesses are already thinking about next year.
  6. Branding: participating businesses got excited about showcasing the “Best Of” nominee logos.
  7. Revenue: Voterfly offers several ways to increase chamber revenue both through fees for participating non-members and ad sales.
  8. Recruitment: Boulder City opened the program to non-members, and it became a great recruitment tool to reach out to businesses in their area.
  9. Reporting: data on the contest is easily attainable and analyzed.
  10. Media Attention: the winners announcement drew 300+ people and lots of media attention.

The program was so popular, even the elected officials wanted their own version. While Jill talked them out of that, she’s already planning for next year.

“We will continue this program for many years to come.”

Jill Rowland-Lagan

Are you looking to improve member engagement, increase revenue, and recruit businesses to your chamber? VoterFly gives you the tools you need to easily execute and host a “Best Of” contest in your community. If you’re wondering just how easy and user-friendly VoterFly is, take a demo. Sign up today and see how your chamber can brand and host one of the most well-remembered and engaging contests/events of the year.


Frank Kenny: Let’s do introductions. Jill, who are you?

Jill Lagan: I’m Jill Lagan. I’m the CEO of the Boulder City NV Chamber of Commerce. I have been here for about 21 years. I absolutely love my job and I’m very excited to talk with you and any other chamber folks out there.

Frank Kenny: This is so awesome. Thank you for making the time to do this and Ryan.

Ryan Griffith: My name ‘s Ryan Griffith. I’m a board member with the Fair Oaks Chamber of Commerce. I’ve been a volunteer with them for nine years and I am the President of VoterFly.

Frank Kenny: Fantastic. For those of you who haven’t been following this the “best of contests” or “best of awards” have been in the industry a long time. Ryan, can you give it a 30,000-foot overview of what these “best of” things are?

Ryan Griffith: Sure. So they’re a way for a community, the individual, or key organization in the community, say a Chamber of Commerce, to run their very own best of contests or awards. What that does is that allows the chamber to select various categories where they want to highlight businesses. A lot of chambers already do some sort of variation of this. They might have their own internal chamber awards. For example, best new business, best small business, or large business. Something like that but it typically has more categories that are more finite. This gets the community involved to nominate and vote for those businesses.

Frank: Very good. For those of you watching again what chamber are you with? Where are you watching this from? Does your community do a “best of” awards or a “best of” contest? In a lot of communities I’ve seen, the newspaper does it or some other entity does it. And it’s a really good fit for the chambers to do that. Jill, you’ve done one of these recently.

Jill: I have to tell you I’m really grateful for the Western Association of Chamber Executives. At their annual conference they have an expo hall, and I had the chance to meet Ryan. The information he provided me there sparked the idea that we should be doing this in our community. I checked into it a little bit more and found out that one of our local papers (in a metropolitan area near me) does offer this kind of a program but it was specific to them. It was very technical and very difficult. I was absolutely impressed with the fact that Ryan’s program VoterFly is very easy. It’s user friendly. It’s accessible for not only the public but it made the back-office side of things much easier for us. When you’re a smaller chamber operating with just two employees you need everything to be easy. We’re grateful for the ease of this and all of the great help that Ryan and his staff provided.

Frank: Awesome, Jill. Can you go over some of the benefits you saw from hosting one of these kinds of events?

Jill: I wasn’t sure what to expect because it was the first time we were doing it in our community. We’re here in Boulder City. We’re just outside of Vegas. Vegas does this. And they have great success. But, like I shared, it was also expensive and cumbersome. For me to try this and to see if our businesses would also take part, it had to be easy for them. Also, mom and pops don’t have time for that. We saw that they not only picked up on this, found it to be simple and user friendly, but absolutely enjoyed it. I had no idea how competitive our businesses were. They really got into it. They created an energy in and about itself. Between all of that, we really saw huge amounts of people involved and engaged and loving the program to the point where we just had somebody two days ago (we finished this program back here the 1st of May), ask for the logo because they are so excited to be able to just share that with others. I have seen great engagement and they are so excited to see what comes next year.

Frank: Interesting. For those of you watching, have you tried one of these contests? Do you have any questions for Jill as the Chamber CEO who’s done it or Ryan who owns the company that helps chambers do this? I’d love to know what questions you have or what concerns you would have about doing this? Ryan, is Jill’s kind of testimonial pretty common? Do you hear that a lot?

Ryan: We hear (this) pretty much every single time. One of the things Jill mentioned to me multiple times throughout the course of the race, and she just said it here, one of the most common things we hear is the engagement and the excitement from the community. Above all else that’s incredibly palpable in the community. There are these businesses that just really stand out and grab the bull by the horns, if you will, and take this and run with it. They’re very excited about that friendly competition within the community.

Frank: Jill, there are some questions here. What if we do not have a local newspaper? You didn’t partner with anybody on this did you?

Jill: I did not. You’re exactly right, Frank. I didn’t have that option. Our local paper wasn’t offering something like that. It was the Vegas paper that was doing it. It had become so big. So, people knew the “best of” idea. That concept was well branded. For me, it was our opportunity to finally get Boulder City involved. Traditionally, a rural community doesn’t get those types of great opportunities. This was an opportunity for our Boulder City businesses to be able to play with the big guys. But we were doing it with such a great, simple program. We loved that they have loved it. They are taking such pride in being able to display those logos that show they were nominated “best of.”

I was looking at some of the data that was shared with me earlier that Ryan sent over. We had over 118,000 total page views in a matter of seven weeks in this program.

Frank: Stop there. Jill, how many people are in your service area in the Boulder community?

Jill: We have just over 14,000 almost 15,000 people here in Boulder City and that was massive. Yes, you’re talking about a 27% engagement and that’s a big deal online. We’re all striving for that. We know digital marketing is the best way for us to go and the least expensive for us at this point in time for those rural communities and smaller chambers. This was an ideal way for us to be able to play in that arena.

Frank: Ryan, your company helps chambers do this. Is it something that even the smallest chambers can afford? And could they do this themselves using various other tools, but your software streamlines it?

Ryan: Yeah, exactly. There are chambers that do something like this whether it’s an actual best concept or an internal chamber awards (event), kind of the concept of “best new business,” “citizen of the year.” We play in that area as well. Chambers do use other software, such as SurveyMonkey or Google Forms. That will get you a certain distance, but our platform helps refine that, smooth that out, and give more control to the chamber to execute on this. Plus, it’s more interactive. You find better engagement from the community because there’s an interactive component to it. It’s not simply a form that you fill out, submit, and then move on. That’s one of the things that makes it different, taking to the next level.

Frank: Jill, did you find the software intuitive and easy-to-use? Pretty happy you used it?

Jill: Absolutely. I don’t know that I would have been able to put this type of program together independently. We don’t have the skill set to do that. We needed to find (something) inexpensive, doable, and obtainable for us. I was grateful that we generated some revenue from it too for the first year. That was not expected. But we were able to see profits there. I can see the potential for that to increase next year. Now that we’ve seen the entire thing play out, we know we’ll be doing that again next year. We’ll be adding to the different programs we’ll be doing.

I have to tell you, I can see this is actually more of a membership recruitment tool. We call them future members. We opened this up so that nominations could be for all businesses, not just members. It was a great way for us to engage them. We have an installation. Our chamber installation is coming up in just a couple of weeks. We sent out special invitations to all of those “best of” winners and it doubled our sales for our tickets because they all want to be a part of the chamber now. I can guarantee you that my speech during that event will be all the reasons why they should join a Chamber of Commerce. I am prepared to make sure that we’re using that as a recruitment tool because those “best of” winners will be there in the audience.

Frank: They are still future members. Interesting. Ryan, can you kind of go over the steps here? Like (how) they can use you on the most basic level—just to do the award—but they can also do some non-dues revenue and take it to the next level. Can you explain?

Ryan: Yeah. Sure. There are multiple benefits for using the platform. Some chambers, especially if they’re just getting started, are going to use it in the basic fashion because they’re just getting used to the platform, getting used to see how the community reacts to it. Pretty much every single time after that first year we hear something like what Jill just mentioned. “We have ideas about how we can add to that; how we can ramp that up; how we can utilize it differently.” One of the advantages is new chamber memberships, just like Jill mentioned. If you bring these “best of” contests and you open them to the entire community, not just chamber members, you have an introduction to businesses that aren’t chamber members. That’s an opportunity to introduce yourself to them. Pick up the phone. Say congratulations on your nomination. We’d love to tell you what the chamber can do for you and businesses like yours. It’s that foot in the door for that conversation with them.

Frank: Let me interrupt you here, Ryan. When you do beyond the members to the whole community that can resonate with the city, the economic development corporation, other people you’re getting grants from, or you’re partnered with. A lot of times chambers are only focused on the members and that can be a sore spot with officials especially. When you bring something like this, suddenly, you’re trying to help the entire community. I could see where that would be beneficial for relationships.

Ryan: Absolutely. Chambers of Commerce are conveners of commerce. They’re advocates for business and that doesn’t always just mean your members; that means all businesses. What are the concerns of businesses locally? How do we support business locally? So, sometimes you go beyond your membership to promote business. So that one of the things when we’re talking to a chamber, we bring that up to them and say, “You know it’s okay to open this up to the community as a whole.” One of the ways you can still say we’re focusing on our chamber members and giving them an advantage is we do what’s called “seeding” those businesses in the race out of the gate. Chamber members are automatically included in this. But the community as a whole/non-chamber members have an opportunity to also be added if they choose to participate. You’re giving a preference to your chamber members.

Frank: Did you get much pushback from members saying, they’re not a member. Why are they part of this?

Jill: No, we really didn’t. I think that’s part of the cooperation. It was kind of the idea of everybody being a part of this. They wanted to be measured up against that competitor even if they weren’t a member. It’s been lots of fun and we have not had any pushback at all.

Frank: Interesting. Did it put you top of mind in the community where all of a sudden, a lot of people were talking about the chamber and this contest and stuff?

Jill: Absolutely to the point where our elected officials wanted to know if we could have a “best of” elected official (contest). I said no to that one. That would be a little too dangerous for us. But we saw a lot of branding going on with this. It gave us the opportunity to create a new logo for it. We now have that, and we don’t see an end to it. I’m pretty sure we will continue this program for many years to come and improve on it each time.

Frank: One of the questions was where is the revenue coming from?

Jill:  We did ask people who were nominated (if they were not a member) to pay an initial fee to become a part of the nomination process. We were able to capture some dollars from those nonmembers who were participating.

Frank: How else are chambers making money?

Ryan: That is one way to do it. Jill and the chamber are trailblazers with that concept that she’s talking about where they charge a small fee to be included. That was our first example of doing that with our platform. Some of the other ways we generate revenue is we have sponsor and ad spots within the platform that can be sold. All that revenue goes to the chamber. You can either look at that as new revenue for example, with ads you can sell to generate that revenue and that’s all for the chamber or, in the case of a sponsor, maybe you already have some existing sponsors that sponsor for the entire year. You can view that as a value add for those sponsors. They also get that visibility.

Frank: Jill, how many visitors to your website for this?

Jill: We had 118,000 and that was total page views. That was based on the website that we were able to have VoterFly put together for us. Loved it. It was linked into our website. They had it ready to go. It was a plug-and-play program. Absolutely easy.

Frank: Interesting. So that much traffic. You’d get the banks, the credit unions, various members would want to have that kind of visibility. You could sell that. Ryan, your software provides statistics?

Ryan: Yes, that’s what I was going to say is that there are statistics on all these ads and sponsorship spots so you can quantify what you are doing for these advertisers and these sponsors.

Frank: Interesting. Let me see if there’s any other questions. Somebody wants to know how much was the fee? What’s your software cost?

Ryan: The base cost is $300 for an annual subscription to the platform.

Frank: Okay. So, it’s not terribly expensive. Jill, did you find it terribly staff consuming or money consuming or anything?

Jill: No. It was a completely reasonable program. In fact, I had shared with Ryan at one point I think he might be losing money. I will say that as far as staff time goes that is something we want to put some kind of a dollar tracker amount on. We know what we’re spending as far as our staff hours. We noted there was about 10 hours in the first month in setting this up. Ten staff hours is reasonable for a brand-new program like this. They made it so easy. Then when we first launched (that week or maybe 10 days to two weeks) we were seeing probably 10 hours in those weeks. There was a lot of time that we needed to answer questions, stay on top of things, making sure we knew what we were doing, and a lot of lessons learned. Then we left it open too long. We know next year we will not leave it open for seven weeks. We’re going to shorten that to four. Then that will also reduce some of the staff hours there as well. Toward the end, it was very simple. Once the list was provided to us of the winners, we made that announcement at a major event. It generated about 300 people in a park trying to find out who the winners were, a lot of media attention there as well. We made that a big deal. I will say it absolutely was reasonable. The financial commitment was nothing that you couldn’t handle.

Frank: Good stuff. Ryan, has anyone been able to take this like to the next level to where it’s a major deal in their community? I know Jill’s just getting started with it but you’ve had clients for a while. Anyone doing anything big with it?

Ryan: Yeah, so we started locally. The Fair Oaks Chamber of Commerce was the flagship. That has really grown to a large event. They take this entire process and at the end of all the voting, and all the nominations, and when the votes have been tallied, they turn that into a very large event. It’s a black-tie affair. We have announcements dinner and it’s a revenue generator for the chamber. They’ve turned that into something big.

One more thing is the first year with these races is always the most difficult because you’re starting from zero. You haven’t created that buzz yet. Every year thereafter builds upon the momentum of the year’s prior. It just continues to grow.

Frank: Very cool well we’re running low on time here. Jill did you want to add anything else?

Jill: I am an absolute believer and I’m happy to help anybody who has any questions or if they want to reach out, I’m sure they’ve got my information. They can do so and I’m happy to help.

Frank: Fantastic. Ryan, if people want to demo your software or talk to you individually is that okay if they reach out to you?

Ryan: Absolutely. Probably the best way to do that would be to go to our website VoterFly.com/demo. You can watch a video of the software, a short little video and submit a contact (form) to us.

Frank: Fantastic. I appreciate you coming on. For all of you watching, thank you so much for taking the time. I suggest you reach out to Jill if you have questions and Ryan. I’ve seen Ryan at several of the conferences and I’ve talked to other chambers using the software. It seems to be a big hit, so I think it’s got huge legs. Ryan, you’re going national right with this? You’re taking it to the big leagues?

Ryan: That’s right.

Frank: Line up for those who don’t want to wait and have him already booked, or your neighboring chamber already have it. Thank you so much. Take care.

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