Help Chapters Facilitate Social Connections During the Coronavirus Crisis

Chapters have always had one advantage over their HQ associations—regular opportunities for members to get together in person to:

  • Hug and shake hands.
  • Sit together to eat lunch and talk shop.
  • Stand together at receptions and tabletop exhibits.

Remember those good old days? With social distancing, what we took for granted is no longer possible. “Social distancing” is the wrong phrase for this new way of life. We should really call it “physical distancing” because social connections are needed now more than ever. Chapters can help alleviate the isolation that everyone is feeling.

During the first weeks of this crisis, you’ve probably been communicating regularly with chapter leaders and helping them adapt to virtual governance. Once you have that going, help them use online platforms to facilitate social connections for members.

Even members who haven’t been that active are probably craving connection right now. This is a good opportunity to deepen every member’s connection to their chapter and other chapter members.

5 Tips For Chapters Doing Virtual Meetings #NoFear


Many chapters host monthly, bimonthly or quarterly education programs. You can still host these meetings and lunches—just take them online.

Ann Dorough, CAE, director of component development at The American Institute of Architects, explained in a recent Collaborate discussion how one of their components “came up with a clever way to combat the professional and personal isolation members are experiencing due to coronavirus.”

The Mississippi chapter (AIA-MS) launched “a weekly noontime series called In Lieu of Lunch. Using a virtual meeting app, member firms talk about what they’re doing and post discussion questions to the group. Guests are asked to each get takeout from a local restaurant, and the component posts the logos on their social channels to let local businesses know architects are supporting them.”

Along with humorous, upbeat copy on their lunch website, AIA-MS posts discussion questions too. Think of ways you could use web conferencing platforms to host meetings like this or mentoring, coaching, mastermind, or “pick your brain” sessions.

Still stuck on which meeting app to use? AIA-MS has you covered. Their site has a list of meeting apps along with the pros, cons, and costs for each.

How to Help Chapters Improve Their Virtual Member Engagement Efforts


If only we had bought stock in Zoom before all this happened! You’ve probably seen Zoom happy hours mentioned all over the place. The Japanese even coined a term for them: “on-nomi,” which means “drinking online with friends.”

Encourage chapters to host virtual happy hours, coffee breaks, breakfasts, or lunches. AIA-MS has it right: members would love a “dose of optimism as [they] break bread together (virtually).”

Other virtual hangout ideas we’ve seen:

  • Book clubs
  • Whisky tastings
  • Trivia or game night—beer bingo anyone?
  • Watch parties

Kristin Bailey, senior manager of chapter development at LPGA Amateur Golf Association, put together a tip sheet full of virtual meetup ideas for her chapters: Helping to Keep Members Connected.

Computing Association Offers Virtual Meetings Best Practices Guide


Virtual meetings and meetups might be new territory for many members so suggest chapters adopt “Rules of Virtual Engagement.” These guidelines help create the right conditions for interaction and community-building, for example:

  • Be willing to try unfamiliar technology.
  • Be present—turn off distractions, like email.
  • Be a conscientious participant—step up if you don’t hear yourself participating, and step back if you hear yourself talking a lot.
  • Accept that some things are out of your control.

Provide technical tips or requirements before virtual meetings so no one has to deal with speaker phone echo or listen to someone chewing their food or yelling at their dog. Advise members on the best web-conferencing set up—webcam position, audio preferences, best lighting, etc.

Every virtual event should have a leader, facilitator, or host—someone who can keep the conversation moving, ask people to mute their microphones, and get quiet participants involved in the conversation. It also helps to have someone behind the scenes who can deal with technical issues. Adrian Segar, founder of Conferences That Work, shared advice for supporting a community online during COVID-19 and tips for hosting virtual meetups.

When marketing these events, stress the importance of networking in an uncertain economic climate. It’s a good time for members to deepen and extend professional networks.

Talk to supplier members about sponsorship opportunities. How can they leverage these virtual meetups and meetings to achieve their marketing goals? We’ll share sponsorship ideas in an upcoming post.

Let’s Reboot Volunteer Training


The extent of technology assistance you provide to chapters may depend on their relationship with your association—independent or subsidiary. Even if you can’t subsidize or share technology, you can do the legwork for them and suggest some options.



In an online community, chapter members can discuss hot topics, ask questions, give advice, share resources, and chat about anything else on their minds. The American Institute of Graphic Arts uses Slack for its chapters but many other options are geared to the association market. Higher Logic is perhaps the most well-known, but there’s also Breezio, Mighty Network, Mobilize, and many more.



Think about your goals before choosing technology. You could use one platform for educational events if you expect a large crowd, and another for smaller virtual meetups.

Zoom seems to be the most popular choice right now, but it’s not the only choice. You also have Microsoft Teams, Slack, GoToMeeting or Webinar, Adobe Connect, and Houseparty—a popular app in Canada, Australia, and the UK.

The web has exploded with articles about web-conferencing platforms. Here are some that caught our eye.

In social meetups, it’s best to see people’s faces. A voice without a face doesn’t convey a sense of connection. Depending on your event goals, you may want a platform that offers breakout rooms, chat feature, polling, whiteboards, and/or screen sharing.

Before the event, help members learn how to use the platform. These days, you can find all kinds of how-to articles for the most popular platforms, but a few brief training videos with screenshots might be more effective.


Take good care of your chapter leaders during these stressful times. It’s fitting that National Volunteer Week is April 19th-25th. But don’t you think chapter leaders deserve a month of celebration, not just one week? To get some ideas going, we’re hosting a webinar—Driving Member Engagement by Showing #VolunteerLove—on April 9th with our friends at Mariner Management. Come join the conversation—our webinars are always conversations, not just presentations.

Keep an eye on our Events page so you can join upcoming CRP virtual meetups, subscribe to updates, or follow us on TwitterFacebook and/or LinkedIn. And, please, take good care of yourselves. If we can be of support in any way, you know where to find us.


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About the author

Sarah has a soft-spot for component relations professionals (CRPs), creating amazing experiences, and having a good laugh. She focuses her time at Billhighway on building and delivering chapter-focused resources, creating unique experiences for CRPs through webinars, events and the one-of-a-kind Component Exchange (CEX). Sarah is passionate about exploring new ideas and trying new things. What we really want to say is Sarah is a component bad@$$ who is sure to put a smile on your face.