What sounds like a great chapter member engagement idea to you might not always be a good fit for your chapters. Instead of taking the usual -down approach to new chapter programs, why not do the exact opposite? Identify a program that is already successful at one of your chapters and trickle it up to the rest of your chapters.
In this two-post series, we’re sharing the experience and advice of three associations who had success with trickling up new chapter member engagement programs:
- NAIOP, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association
- Project Management Institute (PMI)
- Educational Theatre Association (EdTA)
Why the trickle-up approach works
Local chapters are the membership heartbeat of an association. They have more opportunities to see what members want and need. It can be tricky for National to introduce a new program to chapters. You won’t always know in advance if your great idea will be adopted or even work.
However, programs that trickle up from chapters to National attention give you a head start. The challenge is scaling these programs across the chapter network because what works for one chapter won’t necessarily work for another.
How to tell if a chapter program is ready for primetime
Ask your team these questions before investing too much time and money in chapter program ideas.
Is there a wider need for this program? Look for data (surveys or polls) that support the need for this program across the chapter network.
Does it fit into National’s strategy? Any new program must be aligned with your association’s strategic plan and goals.
Will other chapters be willing to participate in this new program? Chapter collaboration and adoption depends on your relationship and their level of trust in National. Will they welcome or resent your involvement? Chapters may be more receptive to another chapter’s idea since they can see it has already worked in their world. But bear in mind: chapters with limited resources may not welcome an idea from a big-budget chapter. They may think anything coming from one of their richer brethren couldn’t possibly be feasible for them. However, with some tweaking, some of these ideas could work.
What is National’s role—driver or facilitator? Consider whether your association has the resources and/or bandwidth necessary to take a leadership role. For example, NAIOP was the driver of their new program. They had the resources to recraft the original chapter program. On the other hand, EdTA was the facilitator of their new program. They acted simply as the connecting point for chapters who wanted to participate.
How will you track and improve program performance? Have a plan for staying on top of what is and isn’t working, and making tweaks when necessary. Decide ahead of time how you will measure success.
Case Study #1: NAIOP’s chapter mentoring program
NAIOP, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, has 51 chapters with 19,000 members. Their chapters are independent but operate under an affiliation agreement with NAIOP.
We’ve discussed NAIOP’s chapter mentoring program before on this blog. The mentoring program originated at their Toronto chapter—NAIOP’s second largest chapter with more than 1,500 members plus several staff.
NAIOP was intrigued by Toronto’s software that matched mentors with mentees. They knew from a survey of NAIOP’s young (35 and under) members that mentoring and career advice was their number one need. NAIOP decided to refashion the Toronto program in a way that would work for a 100-member chapter as well as a 1500-member chapter, and let chapters use it at no cost. They drew up a licensing agreement with Toronto and hired software engineers to tweak the software for a better overall chapter fit.
Chapter Mentoring Program
In this case, NAIOP is the program driver because they:
- Paid for the software ($13-15,000 annually).
- Provided a survey template that minimizes the work for chapters.
- Developed a Do’s and Don’ts document for mentors and mentees.
- Distributed a program survey to identify what did and didn’t work.
NAIOP opted for a soft rollout with 14 chapters. They offered program training suitable for busy volunteer leaders:
- Webinars for chapter leaders who wanted to participate live as well as recordings for those who didn’t.
- Individual coaching for chapter leaders.
- Presentations at local chapter board meetings.
NAIOP helps each chapter customize the program according to their members’ needs. The chapter decides how many members will participate in the program and what member commitment looks like, for example, the program length and number of hours.
NAIOP staff consult a dashboard that tracks how the program is doing at each chapter. They can check in with the chapter if progress stalls and offer help without taking over.
Key takeaways from NAIOP
NAIOP didn’t want to take software developed by the Toronto chapter and make it theirs. Throughout this project, they’ve given full credit to Toronto. This approach encourages additional collaboration because chapters see you giving credit to another chapter. When they see you as a partner, they’re more willing to bring their ideas to you.
Know what your chapters want.
Because of what they learned from their survey of young members, NAIOP knew a good idea when they saw one. They also surveyed chapters with mentoring programs and found that mentors preferred a six- to eight-month commitment rather than a one-year commitment, and wanted flexibility on how they offered their time.
Keep open channels of communication.
NAIOP built communication into every stage of this project. When they saw a chapter struggling with the program, they offered help by coaching chapter leaders, not taking over.
They realized the program wasn’t going to be a good fit for every chapter, but perhaps elements of the program could work. They talked to those chapters about ways they could help them with mentoring, even if they weren’t going to use the software. This continual communication loop meant that chapters who didn’t adopt the program still felt the care and commitment from National.