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The Art of Finding the "Right" Chapter Model for Your Association

Written by Joshua Paul | on August 3, 2011 at 8:05 AM

This is a guest post by Peggy M. Hoffman, CAE, President and Association Manager for Mariner Management, an association management company and consultancy.

Effective Chapter Model and member Community for AssociationsNext week, I will be joining Scott Balthazor from Higher Logic and Nadine Merker, Director of Volunteer Services from American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), at ASAE's Annual Meeting for a discussion on building new member communities.

The session on August 8 (at 8:45am) shares the journey AADE took to retool their local chapters for the future. The following are tips from this ASAE session.

There is No Silver Bullet in Building Effective Chapters

The session, aptly titled "Design for the Future: Creating a Sustainable Local-State-National Member Community," will look at answering one of the primary questions on the minds of most association executives who face struggling chapters:

What are the characteristics of the right chapter model?

What's good about this question is that it doesn't presume there is one correct model. There isn't. There are, however, five elements to an effective model.

Five Characteristics of an Effective Chapter Model

Characteristic #1) Scalable

Your chapter model needs to work for the small and the mega chapters. The right model can serve chapters of all sizes because it dictates those elements that are critical rather than "nice to haves."

Characteristic #2) Flexible for Members

We often think of flexibility in terms of volunteer needs or size. However, that thinking is focusing on the "organization" we call a chapter, not on the member. The right model lets you bring the association to all individuals in your trade or profession. Can you provide a local-only option either by membership, a "friends of" option, or perhaps "professional guest"?  Keep the doors open.

Characteristic #3) Enables Groups to do Their Primary Function Well

Take the emphasis off of doing a little bit of everything. For too long, chapters have been cast as mini-versions of the national association. We have developed chapter requirements and awards based on how much they do, not on how well they do the most important things.

Characteristic #4) Matches What You Can Support

Beware of developing a model that requires more service and resources than the headquarters association can provide. If you can't support it, then don't require it. For example, requiring dual membership when you can't support an integrated database and dues billing is putting an undue burden on members, chapter volunteers, and national staff.

Characteristic #5) Built for the Future

Research, including ASAE's "Decision To Volunteer," has given us clear data on how volunteering and member engagement is changing. We know the generations coming in are different than those retiring. Those differences require new considerations from governance models to volunteering to communication to the essence of engagement.

Member Engagement Takeaway

Implementing the "right" chapter model has never been more feasible for associations as it is today. Along with the right planning framework, technology designed to handle, grow, and maintain strong chapter models makes turning the characteristics listed above into manageable chapter and component programs.

AADE has smartly incorporated all five of these elements in their solution. If you are in St. Louis for the ASAE conference, I hope you will come to learn more and share how your association is retooling its chapters and member communities.

Follow Peggy at @peggyhoffman or her company's blog.

The most successful membership managers practice these 11 habits.

Topics: Associations, Member Experience

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