You’ve seen the warning signs. Your chapter network and your relationship with your chapters is in trouble. You know it’s time to make changes. After evaluating your existing chapter model and envisioning options for a new one, you’re ready to move forward.
But, before any chapter restructuring discussions begin, the staff and leaders of the national association and its chapters must adopt a new perspective on the chapter-National relationship. Traditionally, associations and their chapters have found themselves in a ‘parent-child’ relationship—parents and children in a dysfunctional family. Chapters often see National as an overbearing parent and National sees chapters as rebellious or ungrateful children.The National/chapter relationship must be a partnership. Each must acknowledge the contributions and strengths of the other and leverage those strengths to deliver value to members.
Of course, a shift like this in the cultural mindset of staff and leaders doesn’t happen overnight. Trust takes time to build. Actions are what count—not words.
Trust will build if national and chapter staff and leaders co-design their future together. “What we can do in that discovery process by having the chapters involved is we can understand what is truly not working or broken and make sure the system addresses that,” said Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management.
National and chapters must start by agreeing on the goals for restructuring and on each’s role in the new relationship. Without this agreement, the future model and relationship will not be sustainable.
A still evolving story demonstrates the consequences of not having this agreement between a national association and its chapters. To better meet its fundraising goals, the Alzheimer’s Association decided to consolidate its chapters within the national organization. As a result, half the chapters disaffiliated so they could keep their independence.Why didn’t it go as planned? National goals and chapter goals weren’t aligned. An LA chapter member wrote,
Keeping locally raised resources under local control…will allow them to be more nimble, more creative, and more able to optimize local partnerships for the benefit of those they serve.
A Texas chapter member said,“By disaffiliating, we retain critical flexibility to respond quickly to community needs and we retain the authority to innovate and control our ongoing programs and service.” When developing a new chapter model, make sure both National and chapters are empowered to achieve their goals. A common vision with aligned goals is the only basis for a sustainable relationship and chapter network.
Building the foundation for a more trusting and healthy National/chapter relationship is the most critical aspect of the restructuring process, but you also have other essential work to do.
Financial analysis. Is this new model financially viable for both National and its chapters?
Process review. Who will be responsible for the following processes? What role does National and its chapters play in:
Technology review. What type of technology is needed to support this new model and shared processes? Is National hosting that technology? Will chapter staff/leaders have access to that technology? Who is responsible for the security and backup of shared data?
Metrics. How will you judge the health of this new chapter network and of individual chapters? How will you know whether this restructure helped? Make sure you track key performance indicators (KPIs) that show whether chapters are meeting mutually agreed upon goals. For help developing effective chapter KPIs, check out our on-demand webinar and/or workbook.
According to Mariner Management’s 2016 Chapter Benchmarking Study, only 5 percent of associations with chapters calculate the return on investment (ROI) of their chapter networks. If you want to calculate your ROI, you’ll need the data to do it. How will you collect that? The chapter KPI on-demand webinar can help you determine how to move forward with these efforts.
Communication, empathy, and courage. During exploratory discussions and throughout the restructuring process, you must keep the lines of communication open between National and chapter staff and leaders. Trust is based on regular, open communication. Don’t let misunderstandings and rumors throw roadblocks in the path to restructuring.You must create a safe place for difficult conversations and encourage people to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. If festering issues are repressed, they will rear their ugly heads later to sabotage any progress.
Develop a communication plan for how you will roll out information to National and chapter staff, leaders, and members about the restructuring planning process and implementation.
Change management. You need a change management plan. Project leaders, champions, and communicators must understand why people resist change. The reasons for resistance could be warning signs of issues you hadn’t considered. But other motivations will be purely human:
Official agreements. Identify what revisions must be made to existing affiliation agreements and bylaws.
Official documentation is necessary but that’s not what holds together the chapter/National network. The real glue is the relationships between staff and volunteer leaders in the chapters and National—relationships built on trust, common purpose, and an understanding of each other’s value. National has the responsibility to take the first steps toward creating the conditions for this collaborative partnership with its chapters.