Trade associations have a mission to their members as well as a bottom line.
HISPANIC BUSINESS® magazine
The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) has a mission “to promote the development and growth of Hispanic-owned businesses.” This mission grants the organization tax-exempt status and differentiates it from for-profit corporations. While most chambers of commerce support themselves by collecting dues from their members, the USHCC depends mostly on corporate sponsorship. According to former USHCC Chairman Massey Villarreal, it is Corporate America -- not Hispanic entrepreneurs -- that provides “the lion’s share” of the organization’s budget (see “USHCC Faces a Fork in the Road,” March 1998). If finances don’t tie the USHCC to its constituency, the organization’s structure does little better (see "USHCC Board Organization"). The USHCC is an umbrella organization; voting members consist of about 250 local Hispanic chambers across the country, each paying annual dues of only $100. (Non-voting members include Hispanic companies, which pay either $500 or $5,000 depending on their size, and corporate partners, which pay $10,000.) Those local chambers elect the 24 members of the USHCC board, the essential link between grassroots members and the national organization. The chamber’s penchant for business ventures such as a TV show and a magazine means new challenges in board oversight. “To whom is the organization accountable?” asks Lisa LaMontagne, communications manager at the National Center for Nonprofit Boards (www.ncnb.org). “It is the responsibility of the board to determine the organization’s mission and purpose, and make sure that everything is measured against that. They should assess program activity against the mission to ensure that the organization doesn’t drift away from the original mission.” Ms. LaMontagne suggests several questions board members should ask before entering into a business deal: How is “success” defined within the organization? Do the profitable activities really further the chamber’s mission? Is it the only option available? And what is in the best long-term interest of the group? For answers, the board can look back at the history of the USHCC and its funding practices. When Jose Niño, the predecessor of Mr. Herrera as the organization’s CEO, spoke with Hispanic Business upon his retirement in 1998, he noted that when the USHCC came to Washington, D.C., the board thought it should look and act like a for-profit company (see “Niño on His Legacy,” March 1998). “When the board hired me, they hired an executive. They gave me the title of CEO at the first board meeting,” he said. “We wanted to emulate a corporate structure.” Now some chamber members may wonder if the organization has carried the corporate profit motive too far.
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