Chapter leaders are incredibly dedicated volunteers, but they’re not association management experts. They can be easily overwhelmed by your association’s expectations and the responsibilities of leadership.
Ensure your chapter leaders have the knowledge and resources they need to succeed by inviting them to a chapter leadership conference.
The conference can provide the training they need to keep their chapter afloat, help your association deliver value to members, and work with you to achieve mutual goals. Plus they can start building a community of peers whom they can count on for support and inspiration.
In our last post, we covered the benefits of a chapter leadership conference for an association and its chapters, conference program design, and our Chapter Special Sauce session on technology strategy. Read the article How to Train, Support & Inspire Volunteers at Your Chapter Leader Conference here >>
Everyone benefits from a chapter leadership conference
After identifying session topics, it’s time to find the best people to teach, facilitate, and/or participate on panels. Cast a wide net for these experts, including:
- Former and current chapter leaders.
- Leaders from other associations who have addressed similar challenges—ask your network and fellow ASAE/SAE members for referrals.
- Business partners, vendors, and/or consultants.
Identify and invite national staff who would benefit from developing closer relationships with chapter leaders, and whom chapter leaders would benefit from knowing better. Ask national staff and industry partners to participate in ‘talk to an expert’ sessions or ‘office hours.’ In these sessions, chapter leaders can get help with legislative, regulatory, legal, financial, technology, membership, event planning, marketing, and communications issues.
If you’re planning new programs or initiatives that need buy-in from chapters, invite staff who are leading those efforts. Identify other industry partners who can help you obtain chapter buy–in for new processes or technologies—that’s one of the reasons we’re often invited to chapter leadership conferences.
Help chapter leaders turn ideas into action
Schedule time for education and networking. Help chapter leaders develop relationships that will make them feel like they’re surrounded by an extended support team of fellow chapter leaders and national staff. These relationships will be as valuable as the knowledge they take home.
Include interactive activities in each session’s design. When information is recalled and applied in group exercises, it’s more likely to stick. Attendees learn more from ‘guides on their side’ than a ‘sage on the stage.’ Session plans should include discussion, idea-sharing, problem-solving, and other peer-to-peer exercises.
When programs, products, and projects are on the session agenda, include a discussion about metrics. Chapter leaders need to know what’s expected of them; how their chapter’s performing; how their chapter’s programs, products, and projects are performing; and whether these new (or old) initiatives are worth their limited time and money.
Give chapter leaders the resources they’ll need to put their new knowledge in action. They’re too busy for grand ideas that take 18 months to ramp up. Break down session takeaways into simple actionable steps they can begin implementing when they get home. Help them turn pages of notes into a practical to-do list.
- Prepare worksheets that break down projects into reasonable ‘next steps.’
- Provide timelines to help them stay on schedule with large projects or events.
- Help them find accountability partners—fellow leaders of chapters with similar size, structure, challenges, and/or goals.
- Show them where to find additional resources on your website.
Schedule a session at the end of the conference to help them focus on turning ideas into action—we did this at our Association Component Exchange (CEX) event earlier this month. As participants work in groups, they discuss the people who need to be involved in implementing a new idea, obstacles they may encounter along the way, and ideas to overcome those obstacles.
Create chapter champions for new initatives
If you have to rely on email to convince chapter leaders to get behind a new initiative or get on board with a big change, the chances of them immediately rallying around your idea are pretty slim. But if you talk with them face-to-face at the conference about a new idea or process, the odds start rising in your favor.
When pitching new ideas to chapter leaders, make sure you acknowledge the natural fear of change. Before making your pitch, discuss the changing conditions faced by all associations and chapters. This disruption and change will create winners and losers. Some associations won’t make it and some chapters won’t make it. Although change can be uncomfortable, it’s a necessary part of your association’s and chapters’ evolution.
Hold a town hall conversation where national and chapter leaders and staff can discuss:
- How outside changes are affecting your association and chapters.
- How chapter leaders feel about these changes.
- What scares them about these changes.
- Where they see opportunities if they adapt to these changes.
- What could happen if they don’t adapt.
A conversation about disruption and change is worth having whether you’re pitching a new idea or not. But if you do want to pitch a new idea, you could paint a picture of what the future could look like if your idea is successfully implemented. Discuss together ways to transition to that better place and the obstacles that stand in the way. You can then offer the new idea as one solution while also considering others that emerge.
Continue the learning and networking experience
Besides going home with ideas and worksheets, you want chapter leaders to leave with good memories. But, once your chapter leaders get back to work, a good deal of what they’ve learned at your conference will be forgotten unless you help them make it stick.
Post Recordings on Website
Post recordings (videos) of educational sessions in the chapter leader resources section of your website – if you don’t have one, that’s something you should address immediately. You could also use these videos in the onboarding program for new chapter leaders. Use your learning management system (LMS), if you have one, to host educational resources and track new leaders’ progress through orientation.
Share Takeaways & Action Plans
Ask them to share their takeaways and action plans in your online chapter leader community or forum. Or, ask them to share those ideas with you, supplement them with additional resources, and post a curated selection on the resources section of your website. Send out checklists and advice in the weeks and months following the conference as a reminder to take action.
Check-in With Leaders Individually
Keep listening. Check in with leaders individually and in groups to find out how they’re applying new knowledge and handling common challenges. Ask for their input on issues and ideas.
Help Leaders Connect
Continue to help them connect with each other. The more you know about individual chapter and leader concerns and success stories, the better you can identify leaders who can help each other. Consider organizing online mastermind groups where chapter leaders can help each other work through challenges and hold each other accountable for professional and personal growth.
A chapter leadership conference gives you the opportunity to inspire volunteer leaders, strengthen a shared sense of purpose, and remind them of your shared mission. We’d be happy to discuss our experience at chapter leadership conferences—we’ve presented at several—and the types of sessions we could facilitate at your conference—free of charge!
Check out our download of how to Empower & Inspire Your Chapter Leaders At Your Next Conference (and How Billhighway Can Help) >>
If you missed our last post on training, supporting and inspiring volunteers at your chapter leader conference, make sure to check it out next! You’ll learn about the conference benefits, participation obstacles, how to design an experience and ways to take advantage of subject matter experts and partners.