4 Associations Experiment with Volunteer & Chapter Leader Training Programs

At the Association Component Exchange last year, component relations professionals (CRPs) from four associations told us about their new volunteer and chapter leadership training programs. Their stories were too good to keep to ourselves, so we’re sharing them with you.



Nina Holman, chapter administrator at Project Management Institute (PMI), found a brilliant way to ensure chapter leaders are prepared for their role. They must attend a six-hour virtual chapter leader orientation if they want to qualify for a $1,000 travel grant for PMI’s annual Leadership Institute.

What can you dangle in front of your chapter leaders as an incentive to attend leadership training? Would a financial incentive work? Or would they better appreciate a different perk?



Nabil El-Ghoroury, executive director at California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT), wanted a better method for teaching financial management to chapter leaders. He needed an approach that would engage treasurers as well as other volunteer leaders attending the chapter leadership conference.

Here’s a clue to his solution.

Make it fun to learn about chapter finance, really

“I’ll take Chapter Leaders for $200”

“Answer: the most engaging financial management training we’ve encountered”

“What is Finance 101 Jeopardy?”


You win by turning a potentially boring presentation into a fun game. CAMFT’s Jeopardy categories were taxes, insurance, reports, leadership transitions, and basic roles. They played a round and then spent a few minutes diving deeper into the biggest issues.

Nabil said the room was full of engaged, smiling, and laughing attendees—and I’ll remind you, this was a session on financial management! There’s science behind the fun: learning is more sticky when it’s enjoyable. You know what else happened? Finance came out of the treasurer silo. As fellow officers increased their understanding of finance, the treasurer’s isolation decreased.

How can you turn a boring topic into a fun experience for chapter leaders? Which topic will you start with?



Wesley Carr, director of stakeholder engagement at Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS), told us about their five-step volunteer continuum. With each step, the level of commitment and time increases. RAPS puts every volunteer opportunity into one of the five buckets:

  • Engaged Member
  • RAPS Champion
  • Subject Matter Expert
  • Thought Leader
  • Strategic Leader


In two years, they’ve gone from 500 to nearly 2,000 volunteers. The percentage of members volunteering increased from 6 to nearly 24%. Wes did what many CRPs haven’t: he attached a monetary value to that volunteer contribution and made a business case for more investment in RAPS’ volunteer program.

This growth in volunteers revealed a new challenge: volunteers weren’t familiar with the organization and its chapters. To fix that problem, RAPS is creating learning pathways for volunteers in their LMS. Each online course matches one of the five volunteering levels. For example, level 3 for Subject Matter Experts will include modules for speakers and authors on reimbursement practices, code of ethics, and copyright. The mix of videos and reading makes training “an easy lift” for volunteers so they can do it on their own time.

The response to the pathways that RAPS has built so far—levels 1 and 2—has been huge. The LMS allows staff to track volunteer engagement with the pathways. For example, they can see if someone has read the volunteer code of conduct, which is required at the lower levels.

Wes’ colleagues are excited about the LMS’ potential for other programs, like board orientation. The professional development team loves seeing more members using the LMS so they’re completely bought in.

Do these five levels of volunteering make sense for your association? Have you identified microvolunteering jobs? How can you use your LMS to provide volunteer and leadership training?

Attract and prepare members for volunteering


We got a two-fer from Sondra Frank, formerly the senior manager of chapter relations, and Karen McMullen, senior director of membership and chapter relations at Community Associations Institute (CAI). Their stories demonstrate the benefits of experimenting with new ideas—even when the “us vs. them” syndrome is affecting your relationship with chapters.

When chapter leaders visited CAI for the annual executive directors (ED) retreat, they tried out speed dating for the first time—well, for the first time with CAI. Each chapter ED had 8 to 10 timed office visits with different CAI staff, such as education, marketing, and membership.

The chapter leaders did have one complaint: there wasn’t enough time for each visit. Isn’t that refreshing? Sondra and Karen said the ‘dates’ helped reduce the “us vs them” disconnect and build new relationships. The experience humanized CAI since now chapters are more likely to think of them as individuals, not an institution.

Even better, that feeling went both ways. CAI staff went from saying “your chapters” to “our chapters.”

Another successful experiment was the chapter leader lounge at CAI’s annual conference. In the past, stale training content resulted in disengaged and grumpy chapter leaders. This year, CAI provided an exclusive chapter leader lounge that hosted informal and formal training sessions led by CAI staff and chapter leaders.

Chapter leaders were constantly networking in the lounge since it was a safe space for peer-to-peer discussions. CAI provided food and beverage, including a barista, as well as space to work.

To overcome existing negativity, CAI put a lot of effort into marketing the lounge. Chapter leaders became well aware of CAI’s investment in them—and it wasn’t cheap. The furniture alone cost $10K to $15K. CAI will seek sponsorships to cover future expenses.

What’s the temperature of your relationship with chapter staff and leaders? How can you get to know each other better? How can you show them that you care for them as individuals and as a group?

The moral of these four stories: don’t be afraid to experiment with change. As you can see, the pay-off for these four associations is huge.


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About the author

Sarah has a soft-spot for component relations professionals (CRPs), creating amazing experiences, and having a good laugh. She focuses her time at Billhighway on building and delivering chapter-focused resources, creating unique experiences for CRPs through webinars, events and the one-of-a-kind Component Exchange (CEX). Sarah is passionate about exploring new ideas and trying new things. What we really want to say is Sarah is a component bad@$$ who is sure to put a smile on your face.