Monday, December 22, 2014


By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Virtually every association membership survey our firm has undertaken over the past 17 years has shown that members most appreciate the local contacts they have with their association--as opposed to their relationship with the more distant national headquarters or even more distant international headquarters operations, if they have one. “Out of sight, out of mind” certainly holds true at this level. This means that in gathering and keeping members organizations that have an existing chapter network usually have a built-in advantage over organizations that do not.

But, having said this, we also know of many instances where either unruly or dormant chapters can cause mangers back in headquarters to pull their hair out in frustration. So which is it?—are chapters useful, or are they a management pain-in-the-neck?

The truthful answer is “both.” Chapters are an incredibly good tool for mobilizing the grassroots, and finding and keeping new members; but they are far from being maintenance-free. Those organizations that have the best chapter networks have understood that they are dependent on fallible, time-strapped, volunteers who mean well but who often lack the experience, knowledge and resources to do lead their chapters the way they might like; so headquarters has a big role to play if these well-meaning volunteers are not to end up embarrassed, harassed and bitter at their experience.

Well-run chapter networks have the following:

  • A team or at least a person back at headquarters dedicated to working with the chapters
  • A leadership recruitment plan for identifying and cultivating future chapter leaders
  • A leadership training program designed to equip chapter leaders with the skills and knowledge they will need to do their jobs effectively
  • A tracking mechanism through which chapters can compare their performance 
  • A list-serve through which chapter leaders can learn from each other
  • A “chapter starter’s kit” that includes “best practices” and answers to frequently asked questions as well as a list of dos and don’ts
  • Products and services developed at headquarters but offered through the chapters. (This might include ways in which distant chapters can participate remotely in association meetings and conferences in other parts of the globe.) 
Successful chapters have the additional advantage of keeping headquarters on their toes. It is not uncommon to see large and successful chapters out-shine headquarters on occasion!—but this is a good problem to have.

No comments: