Are Chapters Worth the Effort? The Importance of Chapter Strategic Roles

Do chapters add value? We look into the importance of chapter strategic roles and their effectiveness, along with common risks and concerns.
Are Chapters Worth the Effort? The Importance of Chapter Strategic Roles

Chapters consume resources: staff time, dollars, volunteer time, and board energy. Do they add value? Or, do they distract attention from other programs and services? We approached this question from three directions.

  1. Strategic Roles: First, we asked associations about the importance of ten strategic chapter roles and their chapters’ effectiveness in performing these roles to HQ’s expectations.
  2. Risks & Concerns: Second, we looked at common risks and concerns.
  3. Calculating Chapter ROI: And, third, we asked if HQ calculates chapter ROI or attributes any financial contribution to chapters.

The Importance of Chapters’ Strategic Roles

The survey looked at 10 strategic roles for chapters. We asked first how important each was and then how effective chapters were in fulfilling that role. Respondents rated each role on a five-point scale from “absolutely essential” (5) to “not at all important” (1). The higher the score, the greater the importance of the role to HQ.


  • Distribution: delivering/selling products and services such as training programs, publications, and educational events.
  • Marketing & Communication: delivering organizational messages regarding industry/professional issues, products and services, etc.
  • Professional Development: helping to train and mentor students/professionals, and/or prepare them for careers/certification.
  • Member Recruitment: identifying and developing relationships with new members.
  • Product Development: providing an effective “incubator” where the association can test new concepts for content, format, pricing, and messaging before rolling them out to the entire membership.
  • Listening & Learning: allowing HQ staff/leaders to identify and track emerging issues and trends that may present opportunities or threats.
  • Local Resources: providing sources of expertise, area-specific knowledge, and labor for delivery of the association’s programs at a local level.
  • Member Engagement: connecting members to the association through chapter programs and volunteering opportunities.
  • Leadership Development: helping members develop and sharpen leadership skills, and improving their readiness to participate in association leadership.
  • Advocacy: delivering the association’s messages to legislators and regulators through direct constituent contact.


Everyone listed Member Engagement as important—64% said it’s “absolutely essential” and 25% said it’s “very important.” No one described it as less than “important.”

The other strategic roles topping the list were Leadership Development and Member Recruitment.


Effectiveness in Fulfilling Strategic Roles

We then asked respondents the extent to which their chapters fulfill each of those strategic roles. Once again, we used a five-point scale from “extremely effective” (5) to “not at all effective” (1). The higher the score, the greater the effectiveness. We compared the importance rating to the effectiveness rating and calculated the gap between the two.

Strategic Roles

Two changes are evident since the 2016 survey: the overall perceived effectiveness scores increased, but the importance/effectiveness gap also increased.

In other words, the gap widened between the strategic importance of an activity to HQ and the chapter’s effectiveness in delivering that activity.

Chapters’ perceived effectiveness in engaging members increased from 2.2 in 2016 to 2.8 in 2019, but because the importance of this role also jumped (from 3.4 in 2016 to 4.5 in 2019), the gap between the importance of this role and the perception of how chapters were delivering grew by 50% from -1.2 to -1.8.

Risks & Concerns

We asked survey participants to describe their level of concern about four possible chapter issues:

  • Chapter alignment with HQ
  • Risk management
  • Quality control
  • Resource allocation

Not surprisingly, quality control and alignment cause a fair amount of angst for associations.

Risk & Concerns

Let’s take a look at the respondents’ thoughts on each of these HQ issues.

Quality Control

Do chapters consistently deliver the “fit and finish” members need and expect? Or, do chapter products and services leave much to be desired? 65% said their chapters provide “uneven” or “frequently low quality” products and services.



Are your chapters moving in the same direction as you? Or, do they take action outside of or contradictory to your mission? Little better than half the respondents (54%) said their chapters are “usually aligned.” 40% said their chapters are “somewhat aligned” or “rarely aligned.”


Risk Management

Do chapters behave themselves for the most part? Or, do they do things that could get your association into legal or financial hot water? 74% of respondents said their chapters have “occasional missteps.”


Resource Allocation

Does the value created by chapters for your association justify the resources you allocate to their support? Or, are you pouring effort and dollars into a chapter money pit?


Providing Value

We see lots of room for improvement here as 45% of respondents said chapters provide “uneven value” and only 34% said chapters provide “consistent high value” or “usually good value.”

Chapter Benchmarking Report: What the Data, Success Stories & Opinions Tell Us

Download The Report

Mariner Management, in collaboration with Billhighway, launched this second edition of the Chapter Benchmarking Report. The report was designed to gather industry data that helps associations benchmark their chapter programs against others. We also wanted to fuel the dialogue on what makes an effective chapter—and an effective chapter/association relationship.

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