Sorry, folks, our blog has been on a with our series on chapters 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:
- Financial mismanagement
- Financial fraud
- Compliance issues
- Data privacy
- Website disasters
- Struggling chapter leaders
- Leadership succession challenges
- Outsourcing and hiring issues
- Legal risks and liabilities
- Natural disaster
We’re sharing 5 strategies for preventing chapter crises in this post, and 6 additional strategies in our next post.
#1: Continually work on your 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.
#2: Support chapters with time-saving technology
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.
#3: Provide online training for chapters
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.
#4: Create chapter policies and procedures
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
- Conflict of interest policy
#5: Offer chapter consulting services
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.