A healthy association chapter program provides valuable benefits for an association. It drives member engagement, member satisfaction, and overall member growth. At the same time, managing a chapter program can be a tricky business.
So how do you evaluate the health of your association’s chapter program?
What makes a chapter healthy?
Before you evaluate your chapter program, it’s important to understand what a healthy chapter program looks like. The Dashboard Indicators for Chapter Success report by Mariner Management & Marketing identifies four elements that correlate to chapter success:
Strong chapters have a core group of volunteers with an identifiable leader as well as leaders in the wings. In fact, it turns out that developing upcoming leaders is just as important as supporting current leaders. Chapters that continuously recycle leaders and fail to develop new leaders may struggle over time.
Supportive administrative structure
An effective administrative structure establishes and implements policies and procedures, provides software tools to support chapter functions, maintains the chapter identity, and assures continuity through leadership changes. Associations typically provide their chapters with tools and services such as database management, dues processing, event registrations, speaker support, learning management, and career development resources.
Enthusiastic member involvement
A strong indicator of a healthy chapter program is less about the number of members in each chapter and more about how actively engaged members are in the chapter by doing things such as:
- Attending meetings and events
- Talking to other members formally and informally
- Stepping up as presenters or facilitators
- Participating on committees
Associations have successful chapters in all sizes. And while some have a minimum requirement to start a chapter, they concede that it isn’t a magical number.
Valuable member services
Many associations’ chapter programs require a set of member services. Yet the Dashboard Indicators for Chapter Success report found that when these same associations recount what makes their chapters successful, most name three or fewer services that make the difference.
In short, it’s less about the number of services and more about the chapter serving the members’ most important needs. While the list of valuable member services varies, the report found the most often noted services are networking, education/training, and legislative/public affairs.
Similarly, the Community Brands Association Trends 2022 study found these same services to be among the top benefits of high importance to members – along with job opportunities and career advancement.
Why do associations have chapters?
When thinking about your chapter program, be sure to take a step back and consider why you have a chapter program in the first place. This step can help you make better, more informed decisions about what resources to apply to your chapter program.
Chapters have a strategic role to play in an association’s overall success, including:
- Local resources which the association can tap into for additional expertise, area knowledge, and other help for the delivery of national programs at the local level.
- Member engagement through which members can become active participants with the association by volunteering, learning, attending events, networking, and more.
- Leadership development through which members can develop and sharpen their leadership skills, thus improving their readiness to participate on the association’s national or global stage.
- Member recruitment through which the association can develop new relationships and attract new members.
- Professional development through which the association can train and mentor students and entry-level professionals at a local level and keep them certified.
Identifying needed chapter repairs
With a clear picture in mind of why it’s important to have chapters and what a healthy chapter looks like, it’s time to assess whether your association’s chapter program is in need of repair.
Identifying the symptoms
First, take a look at the following list. If your chapters or chapter system exhibit any of these characteristics, there may be cause for concern. A combination of these symptoms may signal a decline, or even an absence, of chapter contribution to your association’s value proposition:
- Lack of data-driven reports about the status and health of chapters
- Vacant chapter volunteer positions, or positions filled by the same people multiple times
- Aging chapter memberships, or difficulty in attracting younger members
- Lack of data showing correlation between member retention and chapter participation
- Declining chapter membership levels and event registrations
- How satisfaction ratings among chapter members or for chapter events
- Inability of chapters to complete annual reports
- Higher growth rates among national memberships than chapter memberships
Gathering the data
Fully and accurately diagnosing your chapter programs’ needs requires data, which many associations may not have readily available. Collecting the following information can help you better assess where your chapter program may need help:
What individual members are involved in chapters, attend events or activities, or help/volunteer? Most associations know only one side of their members, so a member might look un-involved from the national view and yet be highly engaged at the chapter level. The opposite may also be true. Knowing the full picture allows associations to more accurately personalize the member experience from both perspectives, which can improve the overall value proposition and help drive retention.
Ask members how satisfied they are with the chapter and the areas in which the chapter impacts the overall value proposition. One huge miss for associations is hearing only the leaders’ point-of-view. It’s important to hear the members’ perspective to more accurately help chapters enhance their role in the association’s value proposition. This is also critical in fully understanding the value chapters play and to whom.
Retention and recruitment trends
Your dues/member model will shift how you can use these metrics.
Take the next step for your chapter program
Delivering an exceptional member experience requires supporting chapters and members through each stage of their relationship with your organization – and in their careers. YM Careers delivers a job board software and career center solution that fully supports a great association, chapter and member experience. Get solutions that help your organization grow your members’ careers, attract new members, and maximize revenue.