Chapter Rescue: Combat these Three Common Chapter Leader Succession Issues

College students are up against competing demands from work, school and family. In a recent report, more than 45% of college students surveyed reported feeling more stress than average, and nearly 13% felt tremendous stress. Meanwhile, the expectations of chapter officer roles are only evolving in sophistication. It’s the perfect recipe for an unfortunate scenario – an empty chapter officer position.

In the last post of our Chapter Rescue series, we introduced strategies to prevent chapter leaders from having to face unnecessary challenges. But how do you handle a situation where no one steps up in the first place?



While some of your chapters are bursting at the seams with potential leaders, others may find it hard to incentivize members to step-up. Without succession planning in place, even the most prepared chapters can find themselves with one of the following voids:



Chapters may think it will never happen to them, but for a variety of reasons, a leadership role is left empty. The outgoing officer is graduating and underclassmen are not stepping up to fill the role.



The chapter has filled the role, but over the summer the leader has become unresponsive. No one can seem to get a hold of them. The chapter is hesitant to unseat them, but time is winding down.



Due to illness, death, personal emergency, move, or removal from office, the chapter is faced with finding a new leader.



It can be awkward for the remaining chapter leaders to handle the leadership vacancy. They need help with the responsibilities left unattended by the vacant position, but they don’t want to put pressure on chapter members to step up. If the chapter can’t get one person to take on the role, they can divide up the responsibilities among a group or committee of capable volunteers.

In the case of a missing or unresponsive chapter leader, maybe they are overwhelmed or facing a personal crisis. Contact them to express your concern. Can you help in any way? Can you arrange help for them? Do they need a break or to even step down? Work together to resolve the situation and put an action plan in place with a deadline for them to be back in their role.

If the leader has truly departed the chapter, be prepared to provide coaching and support. Ask the chapter for patience as you work through a transition plan.

Finally, take a hard look at the position that is vacant. Is this a systematic issue? Why isn’t there interest in the position? If possible, have confidential conversations with past leaders to see if the position is asking too much.



Leadership opportunities are critical for college students, making it all the more puzzling when chapters find themselves with an open position. Establishing the foundation for a stable leadership culture within your chapters can keep their leader pipeline full for years to come. Invest time into the following areas to lay the groundwork for a strong leadership foundation:



Chapters must dedicate resources to provide leadership training, not only for incoming officers, but for members as well. National could also run programs for emerging leaders. This is a natural way to develop and identify talent for the leader pipeline.



Looking for new leaders should be a continual activity. During member onboarding, interview new members about their leadership experience and goals. Open up advisory board and task force positions to provide temporary leadership development opportunities and note who gets involved.



Encourage chapters to build a culture that shares the benefits of leadership service, like the opportunity to make a difference. Create a culture that amplifies the importance of ad hoc volunteering and microvolunteering. Ad hoc or microvolunteering involves short stints of volunteering, perhaps 30 minutes to an hour or two. It’s a great way for members to engage with their chapter—and is often the first step toward deeper involvement.



Preventing panic when a leader unexpectedly departs comes down to sound policy and procedure. In the first post of this series, we discussed financial management best practices that will set the chapter up for success. Invest in a virtual banking solution, where if a chapter leader departs, you don’t have to stress about transferring check signatories or recovering credentials for a physical bank account. National can step in to quickly access and seamlessly transfer duties to the next chapter leader.


You can’t control chapter leaders, but with succession planning measures in place, your chapters are less likely to have to deal with vacant leadership positions. In the next post in our Chapter Rescue series, we look into scenarios that can easily spin out of control – outsourcing and hiring decisions.


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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.