Help Chapters with Virtual Governance during the COVID-19 Crisis

Chapters have a lot in common these days: remote work, event uncertainties, revenue worries, and chapter concerns. The level of your anxiety meter depends largely upon your members’ industry or profession.

You might have chapter leaders on the frontline right now if they’re in the healthcare, grocery, trucking, or other critical industries. Or, they’re entering recession mode with their businesses and jobs at risk, like the retail, restaurant, hotel, and travel industries.

Many of you are somewhere in between, but your chapter leaders are dealing with a whole new set of challenges. Working from home, they share the same worries and distractions the rest of us have about children, parents, social distancing, wiping surfaces, washing hands, and running out of toilet paper.

First things first, let’s ensure your chapters stay open for business.



It’s not business as usual but your association and chapters have an important role to play right now in your members’ lives.

  • Distributing critical information
  • Rallying members to political action
  • Providing a platform for social connection
  • Spreading a sense of belonging and community

No matter what’s going on, chapter leaders must make decisions, shift direction, and allocate resources so their chapters can align with a new way of operating and associating. Chapters can’t afford to lose member engagement momentum. They must continue being a valuable part of their members’ lives.



Take each chapter’s temperature. Start calling each one to learn about the leadership’s capacity to fulfill their chapter responsibilities since it may be drastically limited by their real job’s workload. Brianne Martin, Senior Manager of Membership Relations at the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, refers to these calls as “wellness checks.”

Or, you may find, since working at home can be very productive, that some leaders have more time on their hands for chapter duties. Or, they’re somewhere in between. Understanding the situation at each chapter will help you prioritize efforts and know whom you can call upon for extra assistance.

Switching to virtual chapter governance is an obvious move right now, but the rules of engagement depend upon the chapter structure (their relationship with you) and any applicable bylaws and/or state laws.

  • What are your options if a chapter leader cannot fulfill their duties temporarily? Or a board member?
  • Can leaders and/or members take votes online, if necessary?
  • What if a chapter needs to change its bylaws? Can that happen without an in-person meeting or vote?



In a situation like this, it’s best to grab the reins since you’re the association management professional and your chapter leaders are not. They need your advice on the issues that belong on their board agenda. The list includes:


  • Liabilities and options for upcoming events
  • Revenue alternatives for lost sponsorships
  • Online education events

You could provide blanket advice on different contract scenarios, but it might be better to ensure each chapter has the legal counsel they need to deal with contract disputes.



  • Business data collection to measure the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and assist state or national lobbying efforts
  • Member needs assessment, for example, career assistance, job board, do business with a member campaign, information, virtual meetups


Create a tip sheet with basic guidelines on governance issues and links to more information on:

  • Leadership changes
  • Bylaws considerations
  • Decision-making
  • Voting


Some of your chapter leaders might be familiar with virtual meetings, but others might be floundering. The extent of the technology assistance you provide to chapters depends upon their relationship with you, independent or subsidiary. Whatever the relationship, consider offering advice and/or support with:

  • Document storage and sharing
  • Collaboration platform – Slack, Teams
  • Video web-conferencing – Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype
  • Online education – learning management system (LMS) and/or webinar platform (Zoom, GoToWebinar)
  • Online community – Higher Logic, Breezio, Mighty Network, Facebook Group


Peggy Hoffman and Peter Houstle from Mariner Management hosted a virtual idea swap recently with Diana Tucker, Vice President for Membership and Chapter Relations at NAIOP. Many CRPs chimed in with advice and ideas about virtual chapter events and meetings. Peggy collected them all in this super useful blog post.

These resources can also help:


Give your chapter leaders some practice by hosting chapter leader networking sessions and idea swaps on the platforms you’re suggesting. For example, show them what a difference it makes to see people’s faces during a virtual meeting. Produce training videos for each suggested and/or subsidized platform and offer individual coaching sessions.

You may also want to pick and choose advice to share from these technology-focused resources:


Keep an eye on Ernie Smith’s columns for Associations Now. He’s written many articles about remote work recently and will likely continue to address this crisis from the technology angle.

Unfortunately, hackers are taking full advantage of raised anxiety levels. Remind chapter leaders about the threat of cybersecurity attacks and social engineering/phishing scams.



Do you know what helps in stressful times? Having a purpose, making a difference, and serving your community.

Encourage your chapter leaders to ramp up committee activities and volunteer opportunities. They should ask each committee to identify temporary volunteer jobs, both substantial time commitments and  microvolunteering tasks. Publicize these volunteering opportunities on the chapter or national website, whichever is more appropriate.

Examples of volunteering activities include:

  • Member check-in calls, particularly with new and renewing members
  • Referring prospects or recruiting members – in times of transition, the value of an association network is priceless
  • Moderating virtual meetups
  • Moderating online community or social media discussions
  • Coaching members on using online platforms – technology buddies


The role of chapter leaders—whether they’re the official leaders or members who are stepping up to help amidst this crisis—has never been so important. They are the catalysts for bringing together the community so members can learn from and support each other.

But what about you? CRPs need their community too, especially now. Hopefully you were able to join the  virtual idea swap we mentioned above. If not, please join our next CRP event. We’re posting them as soon as we schedule them on our Events page. Or, you can follow our TwitterFacebook and/or LinkedIn , or subscribe for updates.


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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.