A chamber of commerce (or board of trade) is a form of business network, for example, a local organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interests of businesses. Business owners in towns and cities form these local societies to advocate on behalf of the business community. Local businesses are members, and they elect a board of directors or executive council to set policy for the chamber. The board or council then hires a President, CEO or Executive Director, plus staffing appropriate to size, to run the organization.
A chamber of commerce is a voluntary association of business firms belonging to different trades and industries. They serve as spokespeople and representatives of a business community. They differ from country to country.
Membership in an individual chamber can range from a few dozen to well over 800,000, as is the case with the Paris Île-de-France Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Some chamber organizations in China report even larger membership numbers. Chambers of commerce can range in scope from individual neighborhoods within a city or town up to an international chamber of commerce.
In the United States, chambers do not operate in the same manner as the Better Business Bureau in that, while the BBB has the authority to bind its members under a formal operation doctrine (and, thus, can remove them if complaints arise regarding their services), the local chamber membership is either voluntary or required by law. Some chambers are partially funded by local government, others are non-profit, and some are a combination of the two. Chambers of commerce also can include economic development corporations or groups (though the latter can sometimes be a formal branch of a local government, the groups work together and may in some cases share office facilities) as well as tourism and visitor bureaus.
Some chambers have joined state, national (such as the United States Chamber of Commerce and the British Chambers of Commerce), and even international bodies (such as Eurochambres, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Worldchambers). Currently, there are about 13,000 chambers registered in the official Worldchambers Network registry, and the chamber of commerce network is the largest business network globally. This network is informal, with each local chamber incorporated and operating separately, rather than as a chapter of a national or state chamber.
State chambers of commerce are much different from local and regional chambers of commerce, as they work on state and sometimes federal issues impacting the business community. Just as the local chamber is critical to the local business community, state chambers serve a unique function, serving as a third-party voice on important business legislation that impacts the business community and is critical in shaping legislation in their respective state. State Chambers work with their Governor, state representatives, state senators, US congressional leaders, and US Senators. In comparison with state trade associations, which serve as a voice and resource to a particular industry, state chambers are looked to as a respected voice, representing the entire business community to enhance and advocate for a better business environment.