11 Strategies for Preventing Chapter Crises

Sorry, folks, our blog has been on a bit of a downer lately with our series on chapter crises. But our intentions are positive: we want to help you manage stressful chapter challenges and give you strategies to prevent them.

To refresh your memory, here are the eleven crises we’ve covered in this series:


We’re sharing 11 strategies for preventing chapter crises in this post.

Build a strong relationship with chapter leaders


In our post on chapter financial mismanagement, we pointed out a frustrating trait of chapter staff and volunteer leaders: they won’t ask for help unless they’re completely comfortable admitting their ignorance or pointing out something that doesn’t look or feel right. Chapter leaders must sense in their bones that you’re on their side and always pulling for their success. They’ll only do this if they trust you.

To build a trusting relationship with members that shuffle in and out of leadership positions, you need to regularly communicate with them and provide helpful resources to them from the moment they start climbing the leadership ladder.

  • Schedule regular (at least monthly) check-in calls or web meetings with chapter officers.
  • Send out chapter leader newsletters that provide helpful information and keep them in the loop so they know what’s going on at HQ and can answer member questions. You don’t want any chance of a rumor mill starting.
  • Have an ‘open door’ (inbox, message, or phone call) policy. Make it easy for leaders to contact you. Be responsive when they do.

Exercise your empathy muscle by putting yourself in their shoes. They’re busy volunteers, not association experts, who have a different focus than you because they’re thinking of their chapter first. Listen carefully to their insight, ideas, and concerns.

10 Foolproof Ways to Help Support Chapters at Your Association


Left to their own devices, chapters will tackle administrative and operational challenges each in their own way—and not always the best way. By providing technology outright or subsidizing their technology investment, you can help chapter leaders save time, avoid errors, provide a better member and user experience, and stay in alignment with HQ standards.

Many associations provide chapter leaders limited access to their association management system (AMS) or customer relationship management (CRM) software. We’ve also seen associations provide website templates, email marketing software, and chapter banking technology.

In our post on financial fraud, we described how associations use chapter banking software to ensure chapters follow sound financial management practices. This technology automates repetitive tasks and eliminates the chapter’s financial and data reporting burden, giving them more time to focus on programming and member engagement.

The Tools & Templates Every Chapter Leader Needs


It’s trite but true: education is the best prevention. Leaders make mistakes that turn into crises because often they don’t know any better. They’re running a small membership organization without the benefit of years of experience and training.

Even if chapter leaders attend your annual leadership summit, all the information you provide there might be quickly forgotten unless you reinforce it over time. But remember, this training must fit into a chapter leader’s busy life. If you break the information down into small bites (microlearning), it is easier for a leader to read or watch when they have a few minutes—and easier to digest and recall.

For example, create a series of short videos on federal and state compliance issues. Translate the basics of tax-exempt status or remind them when and how to file taxes. These videos don’t have to be fancy. Record them on your phone and group them with other compliance training resources in your learning management system (LMS) or on your chapter leader web page. Take a look at the short video Charlotte and Peggy recorded on Zoom and emailed to CEX first-timers. Simple and effective!

Mix up your delivery of training content. Besides videos, use short articles (or blog posts), tip sheets, webinars, virtual roundtables, webinar and conference session recordings, and online courses made up 10-minute lessons.

If you use your LMS for online leadership training, you can track member participation. If you don’t have an LMS, post training content on a web page devoted to chapter leader resources.


You can never assume chapter leaders know the right thing to do. They may operate in an entirely different workplace culture than you and not be aware of association best practices. You can help them stay on the right path by encouraging (or requiring, if they’re subsidiaries) them to adopt policies and procedures developed by your association.

By following cybersecurity policies and procedures, for example, a clear procedure for payment and money transfer requests, chapter leaders are less likely to fall for social engineering scams.

Chapters also benefit from having a:

  • Financial controls checklist
  • Data privacy policy
  • Conflict of interest policy
How to Bring the Chapter Value Conversation into the C-Suite


Sometimes chapters need more assistance than a policy, video, or checklist can provide. You can provide a valuable service by assessing or auditing a chapter function and working with them to develop a plan that gets them on the right track.

In our post on data privacy, we described how a data governance plan helps chapters follow best practices for data management, stay in compliance with new data privacy regulations, and minimize the risk of data privacy complaints. Your consulting service can help chapters get their hands around the data they’re collecting and improve how they’re using and securing that data.

You could also offer website audits as a chapter consulting service. Every few years, show chapters how to improve their website’s user experience and align it with HQ branding.

By providing the support and resources that chapter leaders need to manage their chapter and provide a valuable membership experience, you build a trusting relationship with these busy and dedicated volunteers. Once you’ve established that trust, chapters are more likely to turn to you for the type of guidance that prevents a chapter crisis.

What Does a Well-Designed Chapter Self-Assessment Tool Look Like?


Associations usually approach compliance with the chapter affiliation agreement in one of two ways. Traditionally, chapters complete and submit an annual checklist. But another option is becoming popular: a chapter self-assessment.

With a self-assessment, chapters evaluate how well (on a scale) they meet ‘best practice’ criteria. The assessment can also include open questions about their biggest successes and challenges, and ask chapters to assess your association’s support in different areas.

You can also use a checklist or self-assessment for a more in-depth and instructional evaluation of specific chapter functions. For example, a website checklist assesses a chapter on how well their site meets information requirements, provides functionality needed for an optimal user experience, and complies with procedures for domain renewal and other important deadlines.

Chapters also benefit from checklists for:

  • Data privacy compliance
  • Determination of employee or contractor status
  • Legal liability and risk exposure
How Associations Can Become Thought Leaders


By facilitating a network for chapter leaders, you provide the opportunity for them to get to know, support, and learn from each other—an invaluable resource, especially since chapter leaders are often more receptive to advice coming from their peers than from HQ.

Dedicate a private group in your online community to chapter leaders where they can ask questions, provide advice, and share resources and success stories.

Host monthly chapter leader web meetings to discuss common or timely issues. As mentioned in our post on struggling chapter leaders, you can use these meetings to discuss prickly leadership problems in a general way without having to call a particular leader out for their behavior. Post recordings of these meetings on your chapter leader web page along with a description of topics covered so leaders can easily find them.

Use these meetings as a training tool. For example, if the monthly topic is microvolunteering, ask chapter leaders to share examples of the microvolunteering opportunities they’re offering. Then, you can discuss how microvolunteering can help alleviate a leader’s workload (the cause of many crises) and grow the chapter’s volunteer and leadership pipeline.

5 steps to gain board approval for new budget for your association


Identify the chapter activities you want to encourage and provide a budget match for them. For example, you could match the dollars a chapter invests in leadership development, thus ensuring a healthy leadership succession plan.

A match could be used for other initiatives, such as technology investment. With a dollar match, the chapter has some skin in the game. A match also demonstrates HQ’s acknowledgement of the chapter’s limited resources and its commitment to the chapter’s success.

How NIGP Provides Resources for Chapter Leaders & Members


Toolkits and quick-start guides provide a handy reference for chapter leaders who are taking on a new project or figuring out a new task. For example, chapter leaders and staff most likely need help with understanding best practices for outsourcing, contracting services, and hiring employees. The toolkit can include:

  • Checklists for hiring vendors for website, IT, meeting planning, and/or marketing/PR services
  • Vendor due diligence questions and red flags
  • Questions for vendor reference checks

You may also want to develop toolkits for preparing a budget, building a website, making site visits, and negotiating contracts.



A list of vetted professional service providers ensures that chapters know where to turn when they need help. The list also minimizes the likelihood of conflicts of interest.

For example, to help chapters deal with legal issues, identify a nonprofit attorney with association experience for each state and share this list with your chapters.

You could also provide a list of vetted association management companies (AMCs) or consultants with association experience for meeting planning, administration, HR, marketing, PR, advocacy, and website development/design.

Woman sitting at a table, smiling, and working on a laptop with a half drunk cup of coffee by her


Templates developed by your association give chapters a head start, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They can take one of your templates, for example, a template for a business continuity/disaster recovery plan, and customize it to their chapter’s needs.

Other examples of useful templates for chapters include membership marketing copy for their website, new member onboarding emails, data privacy policy, and speaker contracts.

Looking back on these 11 strategies, a few recurring themes are evident: communication, support, and education. If you stay in touch with chapter leaders, learn about their needs, and provide resources that help them do their ‘job,’ you will lay the groundwork for establishing a trusting relationship. Chapter leaders will become more receptive to your advice and more willing to ask for help before a potential problem turns into a full-blown crisis.


You receive a lot of emails…we get it. Subscribe to the content you want and we’ll do the rest! We send updates on new articles, guides, webinars, events, conferences and more. Receive awesome resources in your inbox every month >>

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.