CEOs Share Their Perspective on the National-Chapter Relationship

Are the national-chapter relationships of your association best described as ‘strained’? Your organization is not alone. Read what CEOs think of chapters.
CEOs Share Their Perspective on the National-Chapter Relationship

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.

Why you ought to be making the most of your national-chapter relationships

As part of an extensive research project, CEOs were interviewed in order to give an exclusive insight into the current state of these important inter-organization relationships. Are the national-chapter relationships of your association best described as ‘strained’? If so, your organization is not alone.

Importantly, this research has shown that an overwhelming number of CEOs would describe their national-chapter relationships in this way. An element of tension is often present. Hence, we looked into why that might be, and the answers we got might surprise you. Typically, CEOs are looking to influence the way in which chapter leaders perceive them, and they’re actively working on asserting a good reputation. But we heard that’s much easier said than done.

“Everybody in the building is responsible for chapters.”


Formal liaison activity

Formal liaison activity has been found to be one of the main ways in which CEOs are influencing their chapters’ perceptions of them. This largely constitutes high-level visits and diplomacy, such as rotating visits or “roadshows,” sending along the elected president or the ED/CEO, or even relying heavily on specialized regional or chapter relations staff.


Strategy Over Support

Not surprisingly, the more effective staff members have been found to be those who are more strategic and support-oriented, rather than those who are entirely compliance focused and might spend their time compiling reports and requesting information from chapters. The more strategic the staff member, the more time they’ll spend looking at the bigger picture. And it’s team members like these that really help to turn things around.



Recently, the Society of Financial Services Professionals was responsible for an interesting new accountability strategy, designed to turn the difficult task of formal liaison activity on its head. The organization made each and every member of staff, including the CEO, personally responsible for nurturing the bond between chapters and national.

The idea centered around a need for all chapter leaders or volunteers to feel that they had someone to turn to at the national office, no matter how senior that team member might be.

What you may already know, and what you may not…

Accountability Strategy

Jill von Czoernig, Managing Director of Chapter Development at the Society of Financial Services Professionals, said the new accountability strategy has been an effective tool. No longer is it the duty of one or two designated staff members. It’s been massively beneficial, too. The strategy has improved communication tenfold, and led to more information from chapters reaching top level management.*

*Source: Tim Ebner (October 27, 2017). Membership Hack: Chapter Liaisons. Retrieved from Associations Now.

Size & Structure

As we’re sure you’re aware, chapters are never a one size fits all subject. In fact, this research has identified just how varied the size and structure of different chapters can be. Not only do chapters vary hugely in their size, but their complexity too is different across the board.

Risk Management

Given specific mentions of embezzlement in our interviews, it might come as no surprise that risk management is becoming a hot topic in the world of chapters. Whereas before there might have been a total lack of control, now there is a clear need to demonstrate trust in local volunteers, and provide effective tools that establish processes.

Volunteer Structure

Trust is part of a new need to respect and reward hardworking volunteers amongst current and past chapter leaders. Not only that, many past chapter leaders have found themselves in positions of power, having risen through the ranks of the national association’s volunteer structure.

7 Most Common Sensitivities

The independent research team identified a range of common sensitivities and potential pitfalls when it comes to national-chapter relationships. These include:

  1. The location of annual meetings (due to a potential for several events in the same geographic area competing for attendees)
  2. The sharing of information and data
  3. Effective communication of national membership and services
  4. Culture clashes due to a lack of understanding
  5. A misconception amongst leadership that there is a lack of willingness among affiliates to help with projects
  6. The huge range of diversity among chapters, each with its own culture, causing difficulties in effective management
  7. The sheer number and variety of decision makers leading to inefficient business practices
One CEO shared that over 75% of their membership is paid for by the individual’s employer.

Chapter Networks

In some cases, chapter-based associations have sufficiently consolidated networks, or have a large enough total membership to be able to support their own network of mostly-staffed affiliates. However, other systems rely on volunteer networks. If your organization is on the smaller side in terms of membership numbers, you’ll likely already have experienced this.

In most cases like these, chapters will rely universally on volunteers, who have been known to undertake all major tasks and responsibilities. So, it’ll come as no surprise that the power of volunteers is paramount to chapters.

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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