8 Obstacles to Avoid When Restructuring Chapters

Two organizations share their experience restructuring chapters and 8 obstacles to avoid if you're thinking about a big change at your organization.
8 Obstacles to Avoid When Restructuring Chapters

New research has shown a wealth of untapped potential that just might be at your fingertips. It’s all a matter of making the most of your chapters. As part of an extensive study into the current state of chapters, this research has brought to light an important message: many organizations are overlooking their chapters, sections, states and affiliates, and it’s costing them. Big time.

So, if you’re looking into ways to update your organization, you might want to think about putting chapters at the top of the agenda. Whether you’re planning the strategic vision for the next three years, or you’re thinking it’s time to restructure and embrace change, now is the perfect time to turn things around.

Chapters can be a fantastic way to maximize the potential of your organization, but it’s no secret that they often also add an element of complexity that most associations could do without. In recent independent research, the current status of chapters has been examined in order to best understand the underlying problems and needs of chapter-based associations.

A Whole New World For Chapters

Some of the CEOs who were interviewed as part of this research were recently at the helm as their associations underwent considerable change, transitioning from one structure to another entirely different one. As you might expect, they came across some bumps in the road. Let’s take a look at two case studies to see how associations have been changing in recent years.

Case Study #1

Interviewee A began with complex structures, which needed to be consolidated.

+279 Chapters to 50

The association had no less than 279 chapters. This was boiled down to 50 (generally state) affiliates with local subsidiaries under each level.


Point of Contact

More national staff, including those working in policy and advocacy, membership, marketing and creative services were able to connect and collaborate with new, better-defined chapter points of contact, beyond the existing affiliate relations team.

Affiliate Benefits

As a result, each affiliate then had staff and a new charter with its own reserve, budget, audit, policy agenda and other requirements.


Independent Spinoffs

Any chapters that did not meet the requirements or had a different focus spun off as independent organizations.

Case Study #2

Interviewee B reported resistance to change, which was reflected in the simple fact that a new affiliation agreement can be complex and filled with legalese.

350 Chapters to 250

The association is in the process of narrowing their component network from 350 to 250.

Work in Progress

They are still working through these challenges, and the final outcome is yet to be determined.

Big Brother Factor

A distrust of central authoritative decisions was represented in reports that led to chapter leaders and volunteers questioning why “big brother” was doing this.

Obstacles to Avoid

In these two case studies, we can see how a restructure might be hugely beneficial for chapter organization. Nevertheless, it’s not always smooth sailing, as you might expect. Here are the obstacles you’ll want to look out for if you’re thinking about a big change within your own association:


The administrative costs of restructuring organizations can be prohibitive.


Many chapters do not have a clearly defined set of business rules, so chapters will want to do things differently.


Restructuring projects can stall due to unclear and varied expectations.


It can be difficult to encourage people to align in volunteer-run cultures.


People are largely resistant to change. Many CEOs report chapter leaders and volunteers becoming “balking and fearful” as organizational changes begin to be implemented.


Change is no simple task, and it often takes several years to complete. Patience is key in these projects, and it’s crucial that those leading the change have a clear vision of the end result, which can be effectively communicated to their teams.


Many chapters fear for their prestige and might see changes to their number or positioning as a ‘demotion’.


Chapters are known to see their budgets as “their money” rather than thinking of the bigger picture — they should be running as a business rather than a club.

Current State of Chapters cover

Download This Whitepaper

In this Billhighway whitepaper, we share what executives are thinking in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of their components and how the national-chapter relationship can be enhanced.

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