When Cindy Anderton started working at the Association for Vascular Access (AVA), she hit the ground running: “trying to learn, see and do everything.” After five years of juggling what seemed like four full-time jobs, she finally got the responsibility (Director of Affiliates) and the go-ahead to focus on AVA’s 48 networks. “Networks” is AVA’s term for their chapters.
“The networks were an issue,” Cindy said. “We weren’t giving them the love they needed and we really didn’t know what they were doing.”
Before Cindy came on board, there was little communication between AVA and its networks. Because the networks didn’t get much direction or support from AVA, they didn’t have the resources to accurately track and report membership and other data.
This lack of reliable data was painfully apparent every time Cindy had to present a board report. “I spent a lot of time trying to come up with data to give the board but the problem was we didn’t have any trustworthy data,” said Cindy.
Networks didn’t have the tools they needed so they were giving me their best guess. There was only one place to go and that’s up.
She had some big goals in mind:
She was also hoping they could improve the membership structure. AVA and its networks handled membership separately: AVA collected its own dues and the networks collected their own dues. The networks paid an annual affiliation fee to AVA—that’s the only money changing hands.
With 2,900 total network members being reported and only 800 were national AVA members, she saw lots of untapped membership potential for AVA.
First, Cindy had to take care of some basic procedural issues:
Then, she had to find a way to get the board behind her, and that meant getting them to start really listening and understanding the challenges AVA faced. “I would take things to the board in the past and they’d say, ‘All right, thank you for your presentation,’ but I couldn’t get them to do anything.”
Networks didn’t get any board attention until a few directors griped about the inconsistency in network names. Cindy pointed out that the name issue was a symptom of a larger problem: no direction from AVA. “How can we force changes when we’ve never given them guidelines?”
Eventually, the board began to see the problem with not having reliable membership data from their networks.
It took me standing up over and over again saying ‘I don’t have that data. We have to give our network leaders the tools they need to provide the data we’re requesting.’
The turning point Cindy had been waiting for finally arrived: her board started hearing her:
One day, they said, “Why aren’t we providing more resources to our networks?”
And I said, “Exactly, I’ve been asking for resources!”
They came back and said, “What do you need?”
And I said, “We need answers. We need help.”
Cindy proposed an idea: an Advisory Task Force made up of network leaders who could tell AVA what they needed.
Once the board championed the task force idea, it was funny how everything just changed. Getting your leadership behind you changes everything.
Before getting into task force specifics, Cindy wanted to discuss a topic not often broached in case studies—not knowing.
“Trying to figure out how I was going to solve all these issues with one small task force really froze me in my tracks,” she said. “It was overwhelming and daunting not knowing where we were going to start or what we were going to do.”
After reading a Mariner Management & Marketing white paper, Are Chapters Worth the Effort?, she realized there isn’t a perfect model to follow. “That gave me some peace of mind. Knowing that nobody knows does give you some courage to keep digging in and moving forward,” she said. “I challenge everyone to not let a lack of answers stop you. Pick a spot. Start somewhere.”
Cindy picked the task force members purposely from east, west, Midwest, and south; large and small; and successful and struggling networks. “I wanted a voice from every angle I could think of.”
Her advice on picking a team: “Don’t pick the people you think are going to be the easiest to work with. You don’t want yes-men, but you don’t want argumentative people either. You want those who are willing to listen to others, ask tough questions, and take a stand they believe in.”
She said, “When we got into tough discussions and disagreements, that’s when the ‘aha’ moments came and mindsets changed.”
Before the first task force meeting, Cindy sent a survey to both the board and task force members asking them to identify and rank their hot topics.
They were not aligned, for sure, but we had promised the board that their hot topics would be addressed by the task force first.
When you step into the unknown, you’re bound to make mistakes. But you learn from those mistakes and make adjustments so everything runs more smoothly the second time around. “At the start, it was a little rough,” said Cindy.
“We let the board get really involved in the task force—which I don’t recommend. They didn’t know anything about networks, but they all had their opinions about what they thought was important or not important.”
Now, AVA is moving forward with what they’re calling the Network Task Force 2.0. “I see this going very differently,” Cindy said. “The direction will come from the network leaders. We’ll focus on the issues they’re struggling with.”
What a different a year makes.
Associations often come up against chapter resistance when trying to introduce change into the relationship. Chapters don’t always see an upside to change because they don’t trust the relationship. The dynamics of this dysfunction plays out in the communication between national and its chapters.
Cindy described a typical chapter communication challenge:
“When I started down this road, I focused on the administrative side of things, like, ‘Hey, we don’t have your fee. We don’t have your agreement.’ I was the bad guy. Every time a network leader saw an email from me, I know they were thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s her again.’ They didn’t want to talk to me. They didn’t want to deal with me.”
Cindy realized that’s no way to build relationships so over the last 18 months, she changed the focus of her communication with network leaders. For example, she started providing advice about better business practices like how to send out blast emails.
Now, network leaders call Cindy for everything. “They know they have a resource at national. Whatever their question, they call me first. And, they’re talking to other members about their experience.”
Building those relationships has helped my networks become more open and willing to accept the change AVA is pushing on them. It’s made these transitions much easier.
If you’re trying to introduce change to your chapter network, relationships are the place to start—with your board and with your chapter leaders.