If you’ve ever met with a career coach, they probably encouraged you to leverage your strengths instead of worrying about your weaknesses. This approach applies to chapters too. But first, you must identify the secret strengths that led to their success—their chapter bright spots.
The bright spot approach comes from best-selling authors Chip and Dan Heath. Instead of only focusing on solving problems, we should look for bright spots—chapters that are achieving unusual success in one specific area. Figure out what they’re doing differently and share that practice with the other chapters.
How to identify chapter bright spots
Every chapter wants more early-career members, right? Well, imagine one of your chapters has an amazingly large percentage of young professional members. What are they doing to attract and retain them?
Here are six steps to identifying a chapter bright spot and figuring out how it happens so you can help other chapters replicate that success.
#1: Identify the problem
Think about a common chapter challenge—a problem you think can be solved by a change in practices or behavior, not by throwing money at it. In our Vietnamese story from the last post, aid worker Jerry was up against a seemingly intractable problem: child malnutrition.
#2: Gather the data
Jerry recorded the height and weight of all the kids in the village, so he could see who’s malnourished and who’s not.
For our early-career challenge, membership data would reveal bright spots—as long as you and/or the chapters collect career stage data. You could also use one or more of these methods to gather data from chapters.
- Send out pulse surveys or polls.
- Ask in your chapter leader online community.
- Take a poll at virtual chapter leader meetings.
- Ask in monthly or quarterly reports.
- Ask on award or grant applications.
- Call or email non-responsive chapters.
The American College of Physicians collects success stories on their chapter awards nomination form. The form requests information about initial goals, results, lessons learned, cost, and advice on how others can replicate the program.
The Association for Computing Machinery – Women in Computing holds a monthly Facebook contest to find out what their student chapters have accomplished. The best post submitted by a chapter wins a $50 prize.
#3: Study the data to find bright spots
Jerry identified several families in the village who had healthy kids. Look at your data to find the chapters who are performing better than others in the area of concern. You’re not looking for perfect, just the best of the bunch.
You could also look for exceptions to the norm. When does your particular problem NOT happen? When do chapters NOT do whatever it is most chapters do.
Or, put aside the data and imagine your problem has been solved—it’s a miracle! How would you know a chapter has solved it? What would be a sign that things have changed? Look for chapters exhibiting that first small signal.
#4: Understand the normal way of doing something
Jerry knew that most families served large bowls of rice twice a day to their kids. Were the families with healthy kids doing that too or were they doing something different?
You need to know what most chapters are doing so you can tell when something unusual is going on. In our example, you would have a sense of the typical programs, membership groups, and events offered by chapters to early-career members, as well as the typical marketing, governance, volunteering, recruitment, and retention practices.
#5: Study the bright spots to see what they’re doing differently
In Jerry’s village, the families with healthy kids were serving four small meals a day and supplementing them with foraged greens and protein, like tiny shrimp and crabs. Study your bright spot chapters. What are they doing differently? What’s allowing them to outperform? What ordinary resources are they tapping into that others are not leveraging?
The best way to get this information is by asking the bright spot chapters to walk you through what they do. For example, ask them to describe step-by-step what they do to attract the attention of early-career members, onboard them, encourage them to participate, and keep their interest and loyalty. You might have to talk to a few members with different perspectives to spot the unusual behavior or practice that seems normal for them.
The National Association for Catering & Events (NACE) recently went through this bright spot identification process to see what their Maine chapter was doing differently. Because members were losing their livelihoods during the pandemic lockdowns, the chapter wanted to ensure their members (and non-members) received necessary resources from the state.
They first launched an industry awareness campaign (Postpone, Don’t Cancel), started virtual fundraising, and consulted with the local Chamber of Commerce about retaining a lobbyist. The next step is creating templates and guides to help other chapters replicate these bright spot practices.
#6: Make sure none of the bright spot practices are exceptional in some way.
Bright spot practices or behavior can’t require extraordinary money or resources. The bright spot families in Vietnam had the same resources as other families. They weren’t receiving extra food or money from rich relatives elsewhere.
The success of the Maine NACE chapter isn’t due to a bigger budget or more experienced leadership. In fact, they’re a new chapter.
Questions to get you revved up…
How will you decide which chapter challenge needs the bright spot focus?
What data will you need to look for bright spots? What clues are you looking for?
Do you already have this data? If not, how will you gather it from chapters?
Will anyone help you comb through the data looking for bright spots?
How will you learn more about the performance of your bright spot chapters? What questions will you ask?
In our next post, we’ll describe how to help other chapters replicate the bright spots you discover.