Chapter Member Engagement: Components as Innovation Incubators

We’re sharing the experience and advice of three associations who had success with trickling up new chapter member engagement programs.
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Many national associations think they know what’s best for their chapters, and in most cases, you’re right because you’re the experts. However, sometimes your great ideas don’t go over so well at the chapter level.

Instead of taking the usual trickle-down approach to new chapter programs, why not try trickling-up instead? Identify a program that’s already successful at one of your chapters and trickle it up so the rest of your chapters can try it out.

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. In our last post, we explain how NAIOP, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, took a chapter mentoring program and spread it across their chapter network.

In this post, we focus on chapter member engagement programs at:


Case Study #2: PMI’s military veterans transition program

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has around 500,000 members in more than 300 chapters around the world with 162 of them in North America. PMI took a very small program from one chapter and scaled it up for all their U.S. chapters.

Operation: Qualify for Hire helps veterans, active military and/or their families make the transition back into the civilian world and into a new professional community. It assists them in becoming qualified for project management certification and helps them secure employment in that profession.

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Starting the program

Two members from the Tampa, FL chapter started the program. One was a certified project manager working for the U.S. Department of Defense, and the other was retired lieutenant colonel from the Army who had transitioned to project management.

  • They believed project management was a good fit for the military mindset and skill set, and had seen many veterans succeeding in the project management profession.
  • To help other veterans learn about this career, they started holding monthly educational Lunch & Learn sessions at a local Air Force base where they talked about project management and how to get certified.
  • These two members encouraged other PMI chapters near military bases in the region to adopt the program.
  • Tampa and other chapters created a military liaison volunteer role to assist with the program. This member is someone who has already transitioned from the military to a civilian role in project management.


How chapters & members were engaged

The Tampa chapter created a LinkedIn group where chapters and members can ask questions and get advice about adopting the program. Local volunteers created and shared educational materials about the program.

  • PMI heard about the success and contacted the two original volunteers to see if they would help scale the program into Operation: Qualify for Hire. National staff worked with the volunteers to develop a more robust handbook with information about networking, education, and certification.
  • PMI shares program best practices through a newsletter, quarterly webinars for chapter military liaisons, and chapter leadership conferences.
  • So far, 72 U.S. chapters are participating. 10,000 service members, veterans, and active military have been part of the program. Here’s the best part: 60 percent of these participants are now PMI members, and 40 percent are PMI certification holders.


Key takeaways from PMI





Keep creators involved. Continue to collaborate with the people who started the chapter program. By keeping them involved and engaged, they’ll become your biggest champions. Allow the creators and early adopters to help co-create the program as you move forward and they will continue to feel a sense of ownership.


Recognize program leaders. Put a spotlight on the program’s creators and early adopters. Give them an opportunity to talk about their part in the program. PMI embraced and honored those leaders. Now when PMI staff travel around the country, they hear other chapters talking about those two guys. The upcoming leaders see that and remain committed to the program.


Communicate constantly. Keep an open channel of communication with chapters who have rolled out the program. Find out what’s working and address any issues.


Create an advisory group. Create an informal focus or advisory group who review ideas for new program features. You can find out what resonates and tweak things before introducing them to the larger group.

Case Study #3: EdTA’s disaster relief matchmaking program

The Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) started as a national honor society for high school students in theatre. Now EdTA has 47 state chapters, two international chapters, plus Thespian Troupes (high school groups) all over the world. They have 100,000 active junior and high school members and 5,000 professional members (teachers and industry professionals).

The idea for EdTA’s Disaster Relief Matchmaking Program was initiated in Texas after Hurricane Harvey. The state chapter used a Google Doc to match schools who needed help to schools who wanted to help. The Texas chapter (and National) witnessed an incredible outpouring of help by students. This next generation wants to engage, get involved, and connect in a meaningful way.


Spread the idea nationally

Then Hurricane Irma affected FL schools, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and the Northern California wildfires happened. EdTA knew there would always be a need for help. They wanted to take the Texas idea and scale it so it could spread nationally. But EdTA decided to facilitate, not drive, this new program.

EdTA didn’t want to be the “bank.” They didn’t want to collect and distribute funds. Instead, if a school says they need help, and another school wants to help, EdTA puts them together.


Create a Community

These connections between chapters are made on EdTA’s online Higher Logic community. With 9,000 active users in the community, it’s the go-to place for #ThespiansHelpingThespians (the program’s social media hashtag) as well as the place where chapter leaders are reading association news and finding resources.

It’s not up to National to define a disaster. A disaster could be a water main break that floods a theater. If one school needs help and another wants to help, EdTA is happy to play the facilitator role.

So far, 22 schools have requested help, and 174 schools have pledged to support them. Students are also allowing local businesses to get involved by pledging to help.


Key takeaways from EdTA

  1. Collaborate. EdTA kept an open dialogue with the Texas chapter as the program developed. What’s working? How do we adapt it? National shared these early lessons with other chapters. As a result, the chapters’ level of trust and rapport with National increased.
  2. Understand your bandwidth. Know what you can realistically support at a National level. EdTA knew they didn’t have the bandwidth to be the bank, but they could facilitate peer-to-peer connections, which is a huge value for chapters.
  3. Communicate. Having strong connections between National and chapters is critical for ensuring that National continues to meet chapter and member needs.
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Turn ideas into action

Upon reviewing the key takeaways from these three associations—takeaways that were provided by their staff—we were surprised to see some of the same lessons popping up. Here are some ways to get chapters to share their success stories and to provide feedback on new program ideas:

  • Send out chapter leader surveys.
  • Invite chapter leaders to share success stories at chapter leadership meetings.
  • Hold a poster session at a conference. Ask chapters to display information about one of their successful programs.
  • Host an online community, Slack channel, or other platform where chapter leaders can share ideas.
  • Highlight success stories in a chapter leader newsletter.
  • Encourage chapters to enter their programs into an awards competition with financial rewards.
  • Appoint an advisory group that provides feedback about new ideas.

Listen and learn.

Understand your chapters’ pain points and needs. Then elicit chapter success stories to see if you can find a program that addresses those pain points and needs. Once you do, invite chapter leaders to a deeper conversation and brainstorming session about taking the program to the next level.

Ask yourself these key questions.

Does the idea fit into your strategy and priorities?

Do you have the bandwidth?

What’s your role: driver or facilitator? Maybe you have to be the driver for the program to get the resources it needs to be successful. Or, if it’s a low-resource program, you may only need to be the facilitator.


When you engage chapters in conversations about scaling up and sharing one of their programs, they hear your message: you believe in and trust chapters. Other chapters see what you’re doing. They know you want to help and support them. Even when a program doesn’t get the full traction you want, the silver lining is building a stronger collaborative mindset in your chapters.


You must have regular two-way communication with your chapters to learn about their needs, hear success stories, develop relationships that lead to collaboration, find out how to scale programs, and learn what to tweak and how to improve programs.

The National/chapter relationship is a partnership. You both have valuable ideas and information to share with the other. And whether you’re a driver or facilitator of new chapter programs, your value to chapters will increase enormously when you identify, scale up, and share programs that improve chapter member engagement.

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