You know it’s going to be a great day when the first session of an event you’re attending (or hosting!) is packed with insights and ideas.
That’s how our day started at the Association Component Exchange, aka CEX thanks to Jennifer Rowell, Director of Member Engagement at the North Carolina Association of CPAs(NCACPA), and Lindsay Currie, Director of Stakeholder Engagement at the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS).
Here are some of the chapter practices they shared with fellow Component Relations Professionals (CRPs):
#1 – The old chapter model is not going to take us into the future.
Chapters still have an important role at RAPS, Lindsay said, so it felt wrong to completely abandon them. However, if chapters were here to stay, they needed a more strategic purpose and role in RAPS’ long-term plan. We’ll come back to this later in the post.
NCACPA had 11 chapters, but less than 1 percent of members were participating in chapter events. Our chapters were on life support, and we were the enablers.
In response to a growing trend in volunteering—the desire for more short-term micro-volunteering opportunities and less long-term committee and board commitments—they decided to sunset their old chapter model and introduce My Member Community.
#2 – The language you use has impact you may not have considered.
“The word ‘chapters’ carried so much history for us—both positive and negative,” said Jennifer. The word itself makes you think of geography. Their new model, My Member Community, removes boundaries and encourages participation based on a member’s interest, not necessarily their location.
‘Chapter,’ ‘volunteer,’ and ‘committee’ can be loaded words. They may mean one thing to staff and another to volunteers. “At RAPS, the word ‘chapter’ came with weight and history,” said Lindsay. They chose to continue using the word ‘chapter’ for now, but wanted to better identify, with the help of their volunteers, the purpose of chapters.
#3 – Ask volunteers to define the chapter’s mission.
To gain the buy-in of chapter leaders to a more strategic role for chapters, RAPS asked them to create chapter mission statements that RAPS could also stand behind. These mission statements set out expectations for each chapter, provide a means to hold them accountable, but are also flexible enough to adapt to future conditions.
#4 – Reconsider your language of volunteering.
At RAPS, the word ‘volunteer’ didn’t seem sufficient to describe the critical role these members play. When asked what they would rather be called, volunteers came up with titles like ‘thought leader’ and ‘subject matter expert.’ This new language is having a positive effect on volunteer engagement.
#5 – Examine the message you send to chapters.
We were asking chapter leaders to bring in more revenue as if they were an internal product line.
So RAPS flipped the script: they moved from a bottom-line-driven directive to a mission-driven, community-focused conversation. They stopped talking to chapter leaders about financial-based outcomes and started talking about people-based outcomes, for example, expanding reach in their regions and engaging more people at events.
#6 – Understand how members want to engage and meet them there.
My Member Community provides three participation options:
The new model also offers different ways members can connect with each other: Connect (digital community), Meet-Ups (ad hoc, face-to-face), and Networking Groups (longer-term, face-to-face).
#7 – Satisfy the need for networking outside the chapter structure.
During their chapter mission statement discussions, RAPS identified a need for local networking groups. These smaller, informal groups serve as a chapter alternative in areas where members have a need for connection. They also provide these members a pathway for becoming a chapter.
NCACPA’s most popular events are their new Meet-Ups: informal, organic gatherings based on a shared interest or location.
Members use the online community to gauge interest in a Meet-Up. Many Meet-Ups eventually develop into interest-based Networking Groups that meet regularly. NCACPA provides Networking Groups with facilitation and communication tools and resources.
#8 – Leverage technology to improve your volunteering process.
RAPS’ online volunteer portal helps them recruit and select volunteers by matching volunteer profiles with position descriptions. Member-created profiles include information about skills and ways they’re willing to contribute. The portal also helps staff identify gaps so they can recruit volunteers who can fill those needs or create training that nurtures those skill sets. Lindsay said,
Since launching our volunteer portal, we went from several decentralized internal lists of 600 volunteers to a pool of 1300 in less than two years. More than 700 members have volunteered.
NCACPA’s Volunteer Match publicizes volunteer and leadership opportunities, Meet-Ups, and community service events. Members who fill out a volunteer profile are notified about opportunities that match their availability and interests.
#9 – Sometimes the machines know better.
By having a ready volunteer pool and removing the human element in many of these steps, RAPS has been able to organically increase diversity in the selection of volunteers.
“We no longer have to rely on staff familiarity with individual members to source needs,” said Lindsay. “We also know who is doing what when and can avoid double dipping on the same volunteers.”
#10 – Offer a continuum of volunteer experiences.
RAPS also created a continuum of engagement that allows members to pop in and out of volunteer programs at various levels as their career and lifestyle allow.
“Have a variety of opportunities: long-term and short-term, strategic and tactical, and F2F as well as online,” said Lindsay. “Let them know that every type of engagement is valuable to the association.”
#11 – Support chapter success with an online toolkit.
Volunteers don’t usually know how to organize a group or run a successful event. RAPS had to fill that gap if they wanted chapters to succeed. They evaluated chapter needs and developed an online tool kit that provides volunteers with everything they need to go from newbie to experienced leader.
#12 – Host an annual conference for chapter leaders.
NCACPA and RAPS both host an annual chapter leadership summit—a one-day training for chapter leaders where they can connect with each other and with national staff and leaders. Encourage chapter leaders to talk about successes and failures.
Include team-building exercises that break down competitive thinking and build up a leadership community. Schedule time for future planning so chapter programs complement instead of compete with national programs.
#13 – Provide an exclusive online community for chapter leaders.
RAPS hosts an online community for their volunteer leaders. The community helps chapter leaders deepen the relationships started at the annual meeting and feel more connected to their peers across the country. “Chapter leaders are their own best resource,” said Lindsay.
They understand the experience of their colleagues, and now they have instant access to an entire network of their peers who may have the answers they’re looking for.
#14 – Provide constructive feedback to chapters and their leaders.
“If you claim that volunteering is valuable professional development, you owe it to your volunteers to give them feedback,” said Lindsay. RAPS defines goals and expectations up front so chapter volunteers know what success looks like. They started assessing chapters and will roll out individual volunteer assessment over the next few years.
RAPS uses an assessment rubric that corresponds to the expectations set for chapters. The goal is to help chapters improve, not judge them. The assessment process also helps RAPS recognize emerging trends and training gaps.
#15 – Walk in the shoes of your volunteers.
Lindsay encourages her staff to volunteer in their professional associations so they understand what it feels like to be a volunteer. Her staff’s experience as volunteers themselves helps guide their interactions with chapter leaders.
15 takeaways and it’s only a taste of what was shared at CEX. You won’t want to miss CEX next year—stayed tuned for the 2018 CEX date announcement.