4 Challenges to Consider Before Launching a Virtual Chapter
With everything going virtual these days, why not create a virtual chapter too? Virtual chapters provide a chapter experience to members who can’t or don’t want to participate in local chapters. However, like any new initiative, you must first consider all the challenges involved in launching and supporting a virtual chapter.
If you’ve been following this series of posts, you’ll recall we discussed in the first and second post the difference between a hybrid and virtual chapter, benefits of a virtual chapter experience for members, and programs offered by virtual chapters.
The third post focused on several issues to consider when planning the launch of a virtual chapter: chapter purpose, metrics, level of services and resources provided by National, leadership support, volunteer champions, and “sister” chapter support. But, wait, there’s more!
Most virtual chapters require dual membership—the member must belong to the National association before joining the chapter. The virtual chapter can serve as an introduction to National membership.
Who qualifies for virtual chapter membership? The American Society of Appraisers (ASA) limits membership in their virtual chapter to members who are located more than 120 miles away from a geographic chapter, or belonged to a chapter that closed. Members who live within 120 miles of a geographic chapter can only join the virtual chapter as a second chapter.
Think about how you’ll handle special cases, for example, members who can’t drive, or whose schedules don’t allow them to participate in local chapter meetings. How inclusive or exclusive do you want to be?
Some associations are concerned that virtual chapters will end up competing for members with National and other chapters. If you require dual membership, National shouldn’t have any worries. However, it’s a different story for your chapters. Will they see a virtual chapter as “cannibalizing” their membership?
Decide what’s most important: giving members the ability to choose the association experience they need and desire, or giving in to chapters’ territorial wishes. These concerns will diminish when local chapters become true hybrid chapters providing both a virtual and in-person experience to members.
“To start any type of chapter whether it’s virtual or face-to-face, there has to be that drive as well as a group of people who are willing to commit to it,” said Jeff Dansdill, past president and founding member of the virtual chapter for Hawaiian and Alaskan members of NIGP – The Institute for Public Procurement.
“Having the right tools and providing a clear division of responsibilities are key to the success of any organization, but this has proven especially true in the case of our virtual chapters.”
Like local chapters, virtual chapters need a sound leadership structure—officers, board of directors, and committees or task forces. Take a look at this list of committees for NIRI’s virtual chapter—that’s a lot of work for members who don’t meet face-to-face. Communication takes on more importance in these circumstances, which is why you must choose the right collaboration platform. Make sure everyone stays in the loop and understands the need for transparency.
Building a virtual community presents a different set of communication, collaboration, and programming challenges than experienced by local chapter leaders. You’ll have to help virtual chapter leaders figure out this new online working environment. As more chapters realize they must offer a hybrid experience to members, what you learn from your virtual chapter will help other chapters succeed in this new environment.
Virtual chapters also need assistance building their leadership pipeline and planning for leadership succession. Help them identify and nurture emerging leadership talent through a strong volunteering program.
Every member benefits from the transformative impact of volunteering. Assist the virtual chapter in identifying microvolunteering opportunities for members who don’t want to or can’t commit time to committee service. For example, virtual chapter members can moderate online discussions, write webinar recaps, reach out to new members, and share external content in discussion forums.
A virtual community or chapter, like a local chapter, depends on sponsors (corporate partners) for programming support. Help virtual chapters identify and market sponsorship opportunities. NIRI’s virtual chapter lists these sponsorship opportunities on their website:
- Create and present content, such as webinars, articles, and tip sheets
- Host topic-focused conference calls
- Support annual in-person events
Virtual chapters face many of the same challenges as local chapters, including member engagement. Jeff Dansdill from NIGP’s virtual chapter said, “Some of the challenges we face are no different than other chapters—getting involvement and keeping people interested. People are busy today, so showing the value of being involved and being part of our organization is always a challenge but something we’re up to.”