November 12, 2021

1.   Group chapters by size instead of geography, to build supportive networks.
Chapters of similar sizes are more likely to share common challenges than geographic neighbors. For example, a larger chapter and smaller chapter will have different challenges with peer-to-peer mentoring, information sharing, leadership calls, and in-person and virtual programming due to numbers alone. But, grouped with similarly sized chapters, they have better opportunities for collaboration and problem solving. 

2.   Hire a professional staff.
Board and regional directors and volunteers are often asked to serve as association management consultants. Despite all their contributions to the association, the directors and volunteers are professionals in their industry, not association management, meaning they can be put in difficult positions and face challenges they have previously not encountered. Instead, associations should leverage the expertise of a dedicated staff, which will support and guide both the organization and its chapters.

3.   Automate, automate, automate.
A robust chapter structure can mean exponentially increasing certain activities, like dues collection, event registrations, and website content management. While a national staff resource can relieve some of the pressure, automating processes for select administrative responsibilities, such as website updates, database maintenance, dues collection, meeting registrations, and financial management, can alleviate some of that burden for associations with active chapters. As a result, the chapter volunteer is more focused on actual chapter activities, making the volunteer experience more rewarding and improving the relationship between the association and its chapter volunteers.

4.   Provide tools and resources in a secure location online for chapter leaders.
As experienced volunteers cycle out and new volunteers cycle in, resources and knowledge can be lost. Establish a system to store and update chapter volunteer resources on the association’s website, and regularly communicate available resources to volunteers.

5.   Provide resources in a variety of formats.
Strong volunteers create successful associations, and they need proper training to perform their roles. Provide a variety of resources and training opportunities, such as recorded and live webinars, playbooks, and checklists to best meet individual learning preferences. Training materials may include association board and committee orientation materials, and the national organization may conduct orientations for new volunteer leaders.

6.   Bring everyone together one to two times a year for training and information sharing.
The more sharing, the better. Sharing can be done at conferences or stand-alone training meetings.  

7.   Build a brand.
Branding is important because, for many members, the perception of an association is based on individual experiences. Branding should have enforced guidelines to ensure consistency, which means providing necessary branded collateral materials, such as logos, email headers, website banners, social media images, and more.

8.   Think metrics and compliance.
Metrics and compliance are important guides. Pull monthly membership reports for each chapter so each chapter can see its performance as it relates to the rest of the organization. Training for administrators will ease access and increase reporting confidence. If the association issues an annual report, chapters should file with their state of incorporation or their own IRS Form 990. To maintain consistency, compliance requirements should be communicated often. Ensure staff has verified proper filing of Form 990s and annual reports to maintain the proper tax exempt and incorporation statuses.

9.   Think about education and content.
An association board should always consider education and content strategies. The message should be consistent across all chapters in all areas. One way to ensure this consistency is to include chapter education in a portfolio review exercise.

10. Involve the chapters.
Engage chapter leaders in discussions on issues that impact them before any decisions are made by the national board, which can go a long way toward building and strengthening relationships between the national organization and its chapters. Understand there will never be unanimous consensus, but everyone should have the opportunity to provide input.

Learn more about the latest trends affecting association chapters.