From Zero to Hero: Two Chapter Transformation Stories

Everyone loves a good transformation story. Cinderella or the Beast. Neo, Luke, or Katniss. Their stories rivet us to the page or screen. For association professionals, a chapter transformation story hits the spot every time.

We’re sharing a few stories we heard at the Association Component Exchange (CEX) about chapters that were on the verge of failure, but managed to pick themselves up, make changes, and become a success and model for other chapters.



After only two days on the job, Jill Murphy, Membership & Post Operations Senior Manager at the Society of American Military Engineers, was told about a tiny dying chapter she had to close. Her immediate reaction: not on my watch!

Even though the chapter held its luncheon meetings on base, they couldn’t get enough people to attend them. Jill and a few chapter leaders came up with some ideas that ended up increasing member attendance and engagement:

  • Four motivated members committed to calling people and personally inviting them to meetings. They also asked people to invite their co-workers to come along to lunch with them.
  • The chapter organized happy hours for young members on the same day as the luncheon meeting.
  • They switched to off-base meeting locations, for example, member company offices, starting with those who were corporate partners. All office staff were invited to attend.
  • And, the best idea of all… The chapter indulged in some out-of-the-box thinking and asked themselves, “What would engineers enjoy learning about? Can we combine education and social somehow?”

Their genius idea… infrastructure tours. Remember, the members are engineers. They love going behind the scenes and hearing about technical details, for example:

  • After a behind-the-scenes tour of a wastewater facility at Great Wolf Lodge, members were encouraged to stay overnight and enjoy the park with their families.
  • A presentation on transportation infrastructure issues was followed by go kart racing.
  • They also enjoyed behind-the-scene tours at breweries, wineries, and Busch Gardens, as well as one with an archaeologist for the National Park Service.

Now that the chapter goes to cool places, their events are selling out. Their innovative approach won them the top chapter award in the Society’s small chapter category. Since then, the chapter’s membership has grown so much they’re now in the medium chapter category and won that award too.



Superheroes are not so super when they’re responsible for a chapter’s doom, just ask Leisl Moriarty, CMP, Director of Affiliate Relations at the American School Counselors Association (ASCA). One of her chapter presidents was a so-called superhero plummeting to a crash landing. Some of the red flags were:

  • Registering for the annual meeting but not showing up.
  • Always making excuses.
  • Not communicating or, when she did, being the last to respond.

Once she got the chapter president on the phone, Leisl could tell she was overwhelmed and drowning. The chapter was paying the price for her incompetence. Leadership positions went unfilled and the remaining board directors, fed up with her lack of communication, were disengaged from their work.

The end of the president’s term was in sight, but Leisl couldn’t let this happen again. She helped the chapter find better leadership candidates for the short-term and establish a leadership succession plan for the long-term.

ASCA had just completed a community project in the area so she knew of a few possible leadership candidates. She helped them get nominated and into leadership roles.

But her assistance didn’t stop there. At ASCA’s annual meeting, she worked on chapter strategy with the new leaders. Throughout their term, she provided support and advice, for example, branding and messaging audits. They scheduled a bi-weekly check-in, but now touch base as needed.

The chapter had a complete turnaround. All board and committee roles are filled—an accomplishment that led to a few of the chapter leaders doing a talk at the annual meeting about leadership succession. The chapter uses a database, regularly reports their financials, hosts a successful conference, and advocates effectively at the state level. Since the chapter trusts ASCA and is willing to collaborate, they’ve become a pilot for new programs.

The moral of the story: even when a chapter’s situation looks dire, if you can find a few true heroes, you too can spark a chapter transformation. In our next post, we’ll share two more stories about chapter turnarounds.

If you liked these stories, our 2019 Chapter Benchmarking Report with Mariner Management includes more than industry data that helps you benchmark your chapter programs against others. The study also features success stories from associations who have transformed their chapter relationships.


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About the author

Mark is known for his success in helping empower non-profit organizations across the U.S. and around the world to do more, multiply their impact, and grow. He regularly walks organizations through discovery processes that uncover internal obstacles, helping them identify and implement ways to more effectively run chapter-based organizations through process improvements and the use of innovative technologies. As a sought-after industry thought leader, he often speaks at leadership conferences, and regularly hosts educational roundtables and workshops in the non-profit sector. Mark has an unrelenting passion in helping solve problems for mission-based organizations so they can better focus on their mission and expand their impact across the nation and around the world.