Closing Thoughts on the 2019 Chapter Benchmarking Report
When we completed the first benchmarking Report in 2016, we found that the survey raised important questions largely around the value chapters bring to an association and how best to leverage that value.
Most associations were running traditional chapter programs with little or no data to tell the value and ROI story. This survey suggests there is change afoot.
#1 Chapter Membership Models
First, associations are taking a more flexible approach to chapter membership models and organizational structures. A number of associations have created informal groups as an alternative to traditional chapter structures.
#2 Tracking Chapter Performance
Second, we saw greater emphasis on tracking performance, particularly around member engagement. This may suggest a shift to seeing the chapter program as a strategy vs. “something we’ve always offered.” Or, it may simply suggest that as associations become more sophisticated in tracking and using data, they are applying that tracking process to chapters.
#3 Training & Support
Third, we saw small shifts in the variety of training and support provided to chapters. This increased investment will likely require associations to do a better job of tracking the return on their investment.
Room For Improvement
As a counter to the optimism, only 29% of respondents scored their chapter system in the top two quintiles with respect to quality while the majority offered a middling score or less. There is obviously lots of room for improvement and need for innovation. Our experience suggests, however, two primary obstacles to change:
The boards of most associations with geographic chapters draw many of their directors from those same chapters and these individuals are often reluctant to make substantive changes.
Lack of Data
Resistance to change often stems from a lack of data—a result of fragmented, disconnected, or non-existent unified systems—which makes an objective assessment of chapter performance difficult at best.
The Importance of Chapter ROI
An observation from the 2016 report bears repeating. Associations can easily identify the direct expenses associated with the management of their chapter network. However, identifying chapter ROI is another story.
Two factors contribute to this difficulty—and the consequential persistence of a questionable business model:
- A lack of data about member engagement and transactions.
- Uncertainty about the value of subjective factors such as brand awareness and loyalty.
Two changes are required for chapters to provide membership value, deliver a financial ROI, and help associations fulfill their mission:
- A more robust integration of shared data platforms.
- A more flexible organizational structure that allows chapters the autonomy needed to build around local purpose, rather than mandated process.
One Membership Experience
Members rarely differentiate their association experience by “chapter” vs. “national.” Instead, they think of it as one membership experience. Bottom line, if we’re going to have chapters, we should do what we can to ensure they deliver a consistent, high quality experience to our members, wherever they are.
Download The Report
Mariner Management, in collaboration with Billhighway, launched this second edition of the Chapter Benchmarking Report. The report was designed to gather industry data that helps associations benchmark their chapter programs against others. We also wanted to fuel the dialogue on what makes an effective chapter—and an effective chapter/association relationship.