Chapter Bright Spots: Proof For Chapter Leaders That Innovation Is Doable

Bright spots provide a doable road map for chapter leaders. They prove that other chapters have followed this approach and found success.

Remember the good old days when kids came home from school waving around (or hiding) report cards? Now, imagine your child’s report card displayed a few A’s, a few B’s, and one F. All you see is the F, right? You immediately go into action mode: maybe you should hire a tutor or take away their PlayStation.

If you’re like most, you switch into this problem-solving mode quite naturally. According to best-selling authors and all-around clever guys, Dan and Chip Heath, we’re wired to focus on problems rather than strengths. This problem-solving mentality usually works well enough—with tutoring, that F can turn into a B—but, in times of change, it’s not the best mindset.

When you look around your chapters, it’s natural to see challenges and problems everywhere. You could spend all day putting out fires and getting caught up in analysis paralysis with so many “priorities.”

We’re going to suggest something different. Right now, you’d do better to focus on bright spots.



A bright spot is something that’s going right. The Heaths describe them as “early glimmers.” Instead of taking a problem-solving approach to change, they suggest you encourage change by finding a bright spot, studying it, and cloning it.

For example, if you have a chapter or two with an unusually high member retention rate, find out what that chapter is doing differently than other chapters, then figure out a way to replicate that behavior in other chapters.

The bright spot approach has been around a while. It’s also called “positive deviance analysis.” Imagine that as a chapter award: Best Positive Deviant of the Year.

Here’s an example shared by the Heaths that illustrates the bright spot approach. In the 1990s, the aid organization Save the Children sent Jerry Sternin to Vietnam to help reduce the number of malnourished children. Conventional wisdom blamed the problem on polluted water, poverty, and ignorance about nutrition and hygiene.

But, instead of focusing on the problem, Jerry looked for positive deviants (bright spots)—parents with well-nourished kids. What were they doing differently? And, whatever it was, could other parents do it too?

If those parents are receiving funds from wealthier cousins in California, they don’t qualify as a bright spot. Extraordinary resources don’t count, but exceptional behaviors and practices do.

Jerry found six families who followed consistent but rare practices. They served multiple smaller meals a day instead of two big bowls of white rice. They supplemented rice with sweet potato greens and foraged proteins like tiny shrimp and crabs.

These six families were bright spots—beacons of success who demonstrated that the supposedly “impossible” task of solving malnutrition was actually possible for everyone. Jerry and his team arranged for the bright spot mothers to teach their meal practices to families in surrounding villages.



Chapter leaders are overwhelmed right now. In many regions, their sweet spot, in-person meetings, are not happening. They’ve had to change everything about how they operate—governance, networking, and education. They need bright spots not just as a morale boost but as a way forward. Bright spots provide a doable road map. They prove that other chapters have followed this approach and found success, so they can too.

With the ridiculous number of challenges they’re facing right now, chapter leaders need to focus their efforts on what’s been demonstrated to work elsewhere instead of trying to solve every problem coming their way. Bright spots prove that even in tough times, incremental change is doable and can make a big difference.

Bright spots are helpful because they are ideas from fellow chapter leaders, their peers. If other chapters can do it, they can do it too since these bright spots don’t require extraordinary resources.

HQ’s role is to illuminate the chapter bright spot and provide the kind of support that will help chapters replicate it.



What are the right conditions for the bright spot approach?

  • You see chapters dealing with too many priorities. You can tell they’re stressed and morale is sagging.
  • You’ve identified a common challenge or problem.
  • You know this challenge requires a change in behavior or practice. You can’t just solve it by throwing money or technology at it.
  • You believe positive deviants (bright spots) exist in your chapter network.
  • You think your chapter leaders are willing to address the issue.


Thinking back, when have you found a successful practice at one chapter and shared it with the others? You’ll want to remind chapters: we’ve done this before and it works.

What problems are chapters experiencing right now that could be solved by a bright spot approach? Remember, these problems must have a behavioral or practice-based solution.

How could you use your network to help you embark on a bright spot exercise?

6 Steps to Identifying Chapter Bright Spots – Glimmers of Sharable Success

Here are six steps to identifying a chapter bright spot and figuring out how it happens so you can help other chapters replicate that success.

If you’ve ever met with a career coach, they probably encouraged you to leverage your strengths instead of worrying about your weaknesses. This approach applies to chapters too. But first, you must identify the secret strengths that led to their success—their chapter bright spots.

The bright spot approach comes from best-selling authors Chip and Dan Heath. Instead of only focusing on solving problems, we should look for bright spots—chapters that are achieving unusual success in one specific area. Figure out what they’re doing differently and share that practice with the other chapters.



Every chapter wants a high retention rate, right? Well, imagine one of your chapters has an amazingly large percentage of junior and senior members. What are they doing to attract and retain them?

Here are six steps to identifying a chapter bright spot and figuring out how it happens so you can help other chapters replicate that success.



Think about a common chapter challenge—a problem you think can be solved by a change in practices or behavior, not by throwing money at it. In our Vietnamese story from the last post, aid worker Jerry was up against a seemingly intractable problem: child malnutrition.



Jerry recorded the height and weight of all the kids in the village, so he could see who’s malnourished and who’s not.

For our retention rate challenge, membership data would reveal bright spots—as long as you and/or the chapter collect the academic standing data. You could also use one or more of these methods to gather data from chapters.

  • Send out pulse surveys or polls.
  • Ask in your chapter leader online community.
  • Take a poll at virtual chapter leader meetings.
  • Ask in monthly or quarterly reports.
  • Ask on award or grant applications.
  • Call or email non-responsive chapters.


Chapters can help your identification efforts by revealing their own bright spot behavior. The Grant Professionals Association encourages chapters to submit their success stories via an online form.

The American College of Physicians collects success stories on their chapter awards nomination form. The form requests information about initial goals, results, lessons learned, cost, and advice on how others can replicate the program.

The Association for Computing Machinery – Women in Computing holds a monthly Facebook contest to find out what their student chapters have accomplished. The best post submitted by a chapter wins a $50 prize.



Jerry identified several families in the village who had healthy kids. Look at your data to find the chapters who are performing better than others in the area of concern. You’re not looking for perfect, just the best of the bunch.

You could also look for exceptions to the norm. When does your particular problem NOT happen? When do chapters NOT do whatever it is most chapters do.

Or, put aside the data and imagine your problem has been solved—it’s a miracle! How would you know a chapter has solved it? What would be a sign that things have changed? Look for chapters exhibiting that first small signal.



Jerry knew that most families served large bowls of rice twice a day to their kids. Were the families with healthy kids doing that too or were they doing something different?

You need to know what most chapters are doing so you can tell when something unusual is going on. In our example, you would have a sense of the typical programs, membership groups, and events offered by chapters.



In Jerry’s village, the families with healthy kids were serving four small meals a day and supplementing them with foraged greens and protein, like tiny shrimp and crabs. Study your bright spot chapters. What are they doing differently? What’s allowing them to outperform? What ordinary resources are they tapping into that others are not leveraging?

The best way to get this information is by asking the bright spot chapters to walk you through what they do. For example, ask them to describe step-by-step what they do to recruit members, onboard them, encourage them to participate, and keep their interest and loyalty. You might have to talk to a few members with different perspectives to spot the unusual behavior or practice that seems normal for them.



Bright spot practices or behavior can’t require extraordinary money or resources. The bright spot families in Vietnam had the same resources as other families. They weren’t receiving extra food or money from rich relatives elsewhere. 



How will you decide which chapter challenge needs the bright spot focus?

What data will you need to look for bright spots? What clues are you looking for?

Do you already have this data? If not, how will you gather it from chapters?

Will anyone help you comb through the data looking for bright spots?

How will you learn more about the performance of your bright spot chapters? What questions will you ask?


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About the author

Charlotte Muylaert is the former Marketing Leader at Billhighway and greekbill. She oversaw the marketing and branding strategies for 10 years in the fraternal and association markets.