7 Tips for Becoming a Successful Association Change Agent

The Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS) have 7 tips for becoming a successful association change agent and strengthen the chapter community.
7 Tips for Becoming a Successful Association Change Agent

If you’re weary of being stuck in the “us vs. them” cycle with your chapters, the component relations professionals (CRPs) at the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS) have a story you’ll want to hear. It’s a story we told in an earlier post about the new mindset at RAPS which strengthened their chapter community and their relationship with chapters.

During our conversation with the CRPs at RAPS—Lindsay Currie, Director of Stakeholder Engagement, and Wesley Carr, Senior Manager for Chapter and Volunteer Relations—we heard advice which will help anyone who’s trying to make a lasting change at their association. At RAPS, the change in their approach to chapters and chapter volunteers has had an impact not only on their chapters but throughout the organization.

Lindsay Currie
Lindsay Currie

Director of Stakeholder Engagement
Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS)

Wesley Carr
Wesley Carr

Senior Manager for Chapter and Volunteer Relations
Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS)

Tip #1: Prepare for a challenging long haul.


“Change is not for the faint of heart,” said Wes. At RAPS, they’re still trying to convince some colleagues of the new approach’s benefits, but many have caught on. This new approach includes:

  • Having empathy for chapters and their volunteer leaders.
  • Focusing on a decision’s impact on chapters and their members.
  • Putting everything through “the prism of the mission.”


Lindsay said to prepare yourself for the long haul if you’re in the midst of change. It may take a while for financial and chapter reports to reflect the positive moves you’re making. “You have to be willing to stick with it,” she said. “You have to be willing to have difficult conversations, continuously. And, you have to be willing to defend your staff and your volunteers, continuously.”

It took two and a half years for RAPS, but finally their numbers are where Lindsay said they’d be one day if they changed their approach to chapters.


Tip #2: Be willing to tweak and rework your plan.

When you start out with a plan for a new chapter strategy, it doesn’t have to be a detailed outline of everything you want to do. You need a vision for where you’re heading, an agreement on what’s most important to accomplish along the way, and a willingness to adapt as you go.

Lindsay says,

“We constantly tweaked our plan. You also have to be willing to throw it in the garbage when necessary.”

Tip #3: Be frank with people.

Sometimes, Lindsay said, you have to get real with colleagues who don’t see the writing on the wall. Here’s a taste of her candor “Do you want this association to last? Because the way we’re going, we’re not going to last. We’re going to have to do something radical and drastic because, otherwise, we’re going to slowly die.”

To make the medicine go down a little easier, show, don’t just tell. Share stories about associations, like RAPS, who have done something similar to what you want to do. Or, get to know some of your peers who have done something similar and invite them to talk with your colleagues about their experiences. You can meet your CRP peers at our Chapter Roundtables or annual Association Component Exchange (CEX).

Lindsay Currie Association Component Exchange

“Take some of our successes at RAPS and use them as the support you need to move forward,” said Lindsay. However, she advised, manage expectations. Point out how long it took RAPS and other associations to see results.


Tip #4: Find a professional network of people to help you get through the tough times.

“Some days are going to really blow and be really hard. Some months are going to be really hard,” said Lindsay. How’s that for frank?

During those hard times, you want to be able to tap on others and ask:

  • How do I get through this?
  • What suggestions do you have?
  • Can you just listen to me gripe for 20 minutes?

Having this critical support network will help you get through challenging times—another good reason to attend CEX and/or Chapter Roundtables.


Tip #5: Brag about small wins.

People, including your colleagues and chapter leaders, like associating with winners so take advantage of that natural human desire. “Get a couple of small wins under your belt and scream about them to the mountaintops,” said Wes.

When Wes works with chapters on new programs that end up being successful, he makes sure other chapters know about it. For example, a few chapters collaborated with him on a new career program. “We’d never done anything like that before and now it’s one of the biggest programs we do every year.”

Tip #5: Brag about small wins

When chapters do something successfully—a new process or program—brag about their success to other chapters. Wes said he can push and push a new program idea on chapters, but when chapters see one of their own take that idea and succeed, their example carries more weight.

Chapters aren’t the only ones listening to Wes brag about small wins. “We now have people in our organization begging to do stuff with us whereas two years ago, they didn’t want to touch chapters with a ten-foot pole,” said Lindsay. Their RAPS colleagues are seeing the chapter team celebrating their success and want some of that magic for themselves.


Tip #6: Champion the work of others in your organization.

Lindsay revealed another secret for getting colleagues interested in what you’re doing:

“We have among our team an obligation to champion the success of others in our organization even if it has nothing to do with us. We do this so we can spread our team culture around the building and encourage other staff to want to work on projects with us.”

Nurturing that mindset has been fruitful for Lindsay and Wes. Colleagues now want to collaborate with them because, among other reasons, they know the chapter team will tell their boss how great it was to work with them. “Nobody says, ‘I loved working with that person, let me go tell their boss,’ but we do,” said Lindsay.


Tip #7: Change the conversation.

“If nobody in your organization really cares about supporting chapters, you’re never going to change things,” Lindsay said. “You need to change the tone of your internal conversations and your conversations with chapters.”

This philosophy lies at the heart of RAPS’ success. They changed the language they use with and about chapters. “You have the power to control the conversation,” she said. “We stopped talking about finances with our chapter leaders and instead started talking about engagement. As a result, the relationship changed.

Tip #7: Change the conversation

They applied the same strategy to the language they use internally. “We started talking more positively with our colleagues and now they want to work with us more,” she said.

Association change agents take small steps in the direction of their vision. These small actions eventually lead to small wins. Shifts in conversations lead to new kinds of relationships. The momentum builds and one day you’ll look back, like Lindsay and Wes do now at RAPS, and see how far you’ve come with your chapters and your colleagues.

Are you ready to build successful chapters with hard work and honest communication? Let Billhighway help! Schedule a demo with us.

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