Big Picture Ideas for Chapters During & Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic

The questions never end… Will members travel to national conferences? Will they go to chapter meetings? How do their jobs change? How does your job change? Will their businesses survive? Will your chapters and association?

This is the last in a series of posts focused on issues brought on by the pandemic:

As we move deeper into unexplored territory, you, your colleagues, and your volunteer leaders are responding to new member and industry needs. Members might be working from home, adapting to a new way of life, mourning the loss of their business or job, or completely immersed on the frontlines of this pandemic and trying to hold things together.

It’s been an intense two months of listening, researching, and writing about these new conditions. We decided to end this series of posts by sharing some thoughts about chapters that have emerged in the last few months.

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When chapter leaders took office, some only wanted to keep the train rolling and some had big plans. But they never would have imagined seeing the upending of the usual chapter role—facilitating in-person connections at local educational events.

Through no fault of their own, some of them now find their chapter in a precarious financial position. They might wonder: will the chapter fail on my watch?

Chapters have been postponing events until later this summer or fall, but they really should have a virtual plan B for all 2020 events. Unfortunately, so much is riding on factors out of their control: state guidelines, employer restrictions and budgets, and member anxiety about group settings.

Compound this stressful uncertainty with whatever’s going on in their lives: the status of their livelihood and/or their spouse’s, their kids’ education, elderly parents, and the isolation of those who live alone.

You’ve probably been doing a lot more hand-holding and coaching lately. Keep it going. Help your leaders make decisions without data at hand, find ways to serve members, and continue to fulfill their chapter’s mission by providing education, community, and advocacy.

But you can’t lend a shoulder to everyone. Chapter leaders need each other—their peer support network. Make sure they have a way to connect, hear other perspectives, and learn from each other.

In-Person, Virtual, Hybrid? How Do You Choose?


These are trying times. Now, before you roll your eyes at this cliché, hear me out. The times are “trying” as in difficult and challenging, yes, but they’re also “trying” as in it’s a good time to try something new.

In our last post, we said: “Looking back a year from now, it will be interesting to see what new strategies, tactics, and programs came out of this crisis. It’s a good time to experiment and consider ideas you may have dismissed in the past as impossible, impractical, or inappropriate.”

The pandemic gives you and your chapter leaders permission to experiment with new ideas—and don’t worry about trying to make things perfect. Encourage leaders to think, “It worked in Ohio, it might work here.”

You and your chapter leaders have pandemic permission to get rid of sacred cows that don’t provide enough ROI to the chapter or members. Chapters have permission to rethink everything:

  • New diversified revenue streams
  • Supplier/vendor members as industry partners who provide thought leadership and expertise, not just logos
  • The post-pandemic sustainability of virtual learning events as a supplement to in-person events
  • The place of virtual happy hours and other virtual networking events in the chapter’s permanent schedule

Who would have thought that committee chair, you know the one, would be Zooming up a storm? Anything can happen, so let it.

How CRPs Can Support Chapters with Virtual and In-Person Event Decisions and Design


Things may not be normal for a while as long as the threat of a pandemic is out there. Things may never go back to normal—a scary but liberating thought.

What doesn’t change is the role of the chapter in a member’s life—to provide community and education. What is changing is how that value is delivered.

When will members feel comfortable returning to group meetings? How long will we be social distancing? Different models project different outcomes. Some say we might be dealing with this into 2021 and maybe beyond. When you start thinking about the impact of this pandemic on venues, event contracts, pricing, logistics, and meeting protocol, you wonder how viable this new normal is.

In the short-term, chapters and associations have replicated their in-person events by turning conference sessions into webcasts, sometimes with a chat feature enabled. But in the long-term, prepare to rethink virtual events as attendee expectations change.

  • Will events be spread out over time instead of focused on one day?
  • Will we find ways to connect attendees one-on-one and in small groups?
  • Will we think of events in three stages—before, during, and after—to build engagement?
  • Will we move away from talking-head lectures?
  • Will there be new roles for volunteers as moderators and producers, and sponsors as networking/discussion hosts and content creators?
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Associations and chapters have an opportunity to rethink membership value delivery. You could work more cooperatively to divvy up value offerings. Who does what best? Where can you collaborate?

Associations can provide a new type of support to chapters. For example, we’ve seen them provide Zoom licenses, technical assistance, and consultation on virtual events and non-dues revenue generation.

If attendance at national events is limited, chapters have a role to play in hosting smaller gatherings. Associations and chapters can take a hybrid, flipped learning approach to events. National designs a two-part program and hosts the virtual segment first—a live webinar or on-demand online learning program. Then, attendees meet at a chapter event for the in-person segment.

Associations and their chapters can also coordinate on designing and hosting programs and learning pathways that lead to certifications or other digital credentials. This is an opportunity to become true education partners, leveraging National’s design and virtual delivery capabilities, and chapters’ in-person delivery.

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We’re experiencing mass psychological fatigue right now. Everyone’s tired of life as is and anxious to get back to… back to what, we don’t know.

Chapter leaders are understandably fatigued. They’re probably juggling a new set of personal and professional responsibilities while trying to fulfill expectations as a volunteer leader. This pandemic may be stretching their comfort zone to a painful extent.

They may also be entering the burnout zone if they don’t get more help. Encourage chapters to recruit virtual volunteers who can take on some of these new (and traditional) responsibilities.

Volunteering doesn’t only help chapter leaders; it provides a major psychological boost to members too. They get an opportunity to contribute. They’re given a role to play in creating value for their community. Volunteering is a much needed counterbalance to the lack of control members feel dealing with the impact of this pandemic.

Pandemic or no, economic crisis or no, your association’s mission remains the same—to connect, promote, educate, and serve your industry or profession. You have pandemic permission to rethink how your association and chapters can fulfill your mission in these “trying” times.


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About the author

Sarah has a soft-spot for component relations professionals (CRPs), creating amazing experiences, and having a good laugh. She focuses her time at Billhighway on building and delivering chapter-focused resources, creating unique experiences for CRPs through webinars, events and the one-of-a-kind Component Exchange (CEX). Sarah is passionate about exploring new ideas and trying new things. What we really want to say is Sarah is a component bad@$$ who is sure to put a smile on your face.