Progressives in business on the march


How Business for a Better Portland grew to 400 members in three years

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The challenge

The organization had to strongly differentiate itself from the incumbent chamber of commerce through its voice and storytelling, actions, and methods of outreach and engagement.

The outcome

BBPDX is the city’s fastest-growing chamber of commerce, with members ranging from 500+ employee firms to solopreneurs.

Project timeline

We conducted a series of interviews, beginning with early adopters and the initial 100 menbers of BBPDX. Througout the course of the engagement we interviewed 300 stakeholders, including business leaders and entrepreneurs, community organizations, advocates and civic engagement designers, policymakers, members of the media and higher education.

PHASE I: 2016-2017
Listen and serve
  • Develope initial “call to action” engagement model
  • Build stakeholder relationships and buy-in
  • Develop and test public programming
  • Establish and grow brand awareness

PHASE II: 2017-2018

Prototype and define
  • Develop and test business and non-profit membership offerings
  • Add revenue streams (events affiliate membership)
  • Solidify three policy priorities
  • Impact local policy through testimony and sign on letters
  • Build capacity through associate board
  • Launch 501 (c)(3) to accept philanthropic support

PHASE III: 2019-2020

Operationalize and scale
  • Add revenue streams (fee-for-service consulting, philanthropic funding)
  • Grow and develop board and operationalize committees
  • Scale partnership with City of Portland to increase procurement between member companies and women- and minority-owned businesses
Ten technology and new growth-sector entrepreneurs were not satisfied with the existing business organizations largely serving incumbent industries. They saw an opportunity to design a 21st-century chamber of commerce that would build public/private partnerships, advance policy, provide a “civic education on-ramp” for entrepreneurs, and leverage technology and a broad spectrum of novel, high-impact engagement practices.

How to operationalize a unique value proposition for a policy maker?

The specific design challenge was to define the unique value proposition, develop a membership model, raise seed capital, establish brand and build relationships with policymakers and community organizations. The organization had to quickly build trust and partnerships to advance, inform, and influence key policy measures around affordable housing, sustainable transportation, and economic development.

Goals of the engagement

Several goals were formulated at the beginning of our partnership:

  • Design a membership model that accommodates every size of company
  • Clearly articulate engagement entry points, time commitments, and outcomes
  • Involve and educate business owners who had previously never been civically involved
  • Leverage technology to increase reach, impact, and scale
  • Create measurable economic development outcomes for the community to increase shared prosperity
  • Catalyze a new culture of collaboration, partnership, possibility, and cooperation between the private and public sector

“I’m excited by the energy, vision, and commitment Business for a Better Portland has shown. At this critical time in our history, local businesses must step forward to positively influence the direction of our community. A progressive coalition like BBPDX can truly make a difference in this effort.”

Earl Blumenauer, Congressman

The outcome (so far)

BBPDX is the city’s fastest-growing chamber of commerce, with members ranging from 500+ employee firms to solopreneurs. It developed diversified, low-volatility, multi-channel revenue streams that include membership dues, sponsorships, philanthropic grants, and fee-for-service engagement consulting. The model is now positioned to grow to more cities at a national and international scale.

The organization has significant policy impact through advocacy leading to:

      • $2B in funding for public education
      • $500M for an affordable housing bond measure in Portland
      • $50M for Oregon’s first-ever environmental initiative created and led by communities of color
      • $8M economic development legislative package in the 2020 session for women, minority, rural and veteran entrepreneurs (Coalition leader)
      • $1.5M in economic development for underrepresented entrepreneurs in Portland

“To say that Business for a Better Portland came along when our community needed it the most would be an understatement. We need a chamber of commerce that helps ensure prosperity and equity for all Portlanders, and BBPDX is that organization. They truly believe in lifting our entire community, and the organization lives this through its work.”

Glenn Fee, Associate Vice President, Gateway to College Network

BBPDX has now grown to 415 members, growing membership and revenues every year.

Members engaged in issue-based work groups

Businesses signed on to letters to lawmakers, most of whom were never involved in policy prior

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