How 3 Associations Collect & Use Chapter Data

You would think starting a conference with a talk about data would be a recipe for morning snoozing, but that’s not what happened at Association Component Exchange (CEX). Peter Houstle, co-founder and CEO of Mariner Management & Marketing, shared highlights of the 2019 Chapter Benchmarking Report. Afterwards, three association execs described how they collect and use chapter data.

If you missed CEX, you can watch a replay of a recent Billhighway/Mariner webinar that covered the same content: Climbing to the Top: Chapter Data That Drives Innovation.

During the webinar, we asked participants how they collect chapter data. The most popular response was “staff outreach to chapters.” However, this method requires a lot of handholding, which could be a drain on resources. Other methods mentioned in the chat were:

  • Surveys
  • Annual reports
  • Assessment tool
  • AMS report (HQ handles chapter admin)
  • Registration platform (HQ handles chapter event registration)


Peter introduced two other methods we heard about during the benchmarking study. A popular one is a points-based chapter scorecard. HQ gives chapters a varying number of points for different activities, such as:

  • Posting meeting presentations on the chapter website
  • Percentage of members participating in the online community
  • State/local advocacy efforts
  • Percentage of members participating in committees
  • National meeting attendance


Chapters of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) do an annual self-assessment in which they rate their performance on activities in four categories—leadership and governance, programs and marketing, membership, and financial operations—against ACG best practices. The program was initially established to bring more objectivity to ACG’s chapter awards process. However, the competitive chapters now reach out to ACG to find out how they can improve their performance.


Our first chapter data success story comes from Samantha Herman, Senior Project Manager, Chapter Services, at the Association for Talent Development (ATD). ATD’s 100 chapters must comply with Chapter Affiliation Requirements (CARE), performance guidelines designed to ensure chapters deliver a consistent level of benefits to members.

The chapter data ATD collects each year helps them measure chapter performance and understand chapters’ business practices. They use two tools: an Annual Update and an Annual CARE Survey.

The Annual Update collects information the chapters want to know about each other, for example, membership numbers, financial performance, and progress toward goals. Because they value this information, chapter leaders believe it’s worth taking the time to complete the Update.

The Annual CARE Survey is a self-reported annual assessment. ATC releases the survey every November on a web-based platform. Chapters have 2-1/2 months to complete it. The survey requirements include financial documents, an activity report, membership and board roster, and more.

ATD provides resources to help chapters with the survey, such as a CARE planning workbook and planning tool. They believe in keeping chapter resources on a public chapter leader site because this transparency allows prospective members and leaders to see how chapters and ATD operate.

In February, ATD sends out what every chapter leader is waiting for: a with all the information sent in by chapters, including the Annual Update information plus achievement data for the five CARE elements: administration, financial, membership, professional development, and communication.

Leaders can see what’s going on at other chapters:

  • Membership growth
  • Descriptions of chapter activities
  • Types of conferences, seminars, and other large events
  • Community service events and projects
  • Organizational partners
  • Special interest groups
  • Activities supporting Employee Learning Week


Recently, ATD invited chapter leaders to participate in a review of the CARE process. They plan to develop more CARE resources and teach chapter leaders how to better leverage the survey data.

At CEX, Samantha shared advice for collecting chapter data: break out of the CRP silo. Find the value of chapter data for other departments, like membership, since chapter performance impacts their work.


Sometimes chapter data tools are right under your nose, but you haven’t considered them in that light. Kari Zick, Manager, Component Relations, at the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) found a way to use an AMS report as a chapter intel tool.

ENA has 166 chapters that are part of 50 state councils. Members become eligible to participate in chapter and state council activities immediately upon joining ENA.

Each month, ENA provides a membership report to state councils. This report tracks the month-to-month and year-to-year membership growth (or decline) for all state councils. Chapter leaders can go to the AMS portal to review and compare their chapter’s performance.

Meanwhile, Kari pulls an AMS report showing which chapter leaders are (and are not) accessing the monthly membership report. She’s learned that chapters who frequently access the report have higher membership growth. She contacts them to see what they’re doing to grow their membership.

She also identifies which chapter leaders are not looking at the report—leaders who are not as engaged and attentive as they should be. The report gives her an excuse to talk to them about their chapter.


John Bellotti, Chapter Program Manager, at the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) has an answer to the age old question: are chapters worth it? At NATP, chapter membership is included in national membership.

Through the Chapter of the Year awards program and chapter event registration (chapters use NATP’s AMS for registration), John collects data that helps him prove the ROI of chapters to NATP. He also shows chapter leaders the dollar value of high-performing chapters vs. low-performing ones.

John has nailed down some indicators of high performance, for example, chapter events. When chapters hold too many events, the quality declines. But if they have too few, member engagement declines because the chapter isn’t visible enough in the professional community.

  • Small chapters (under 500 members) with 3 events had 21% higher engagement than chapters with less events.
  • Medium chapters (500-999) with 5-6 events had 16% higher engagement.
  • Large chapters (1000+) with 7 events had 12% higher engagement.


He also found a positive correlation between communications and member participation. The frequency and content of communications make a difference. Early and often is key, but chapters can’t just repeat the same message. Every message must focus on a core value proposition for members. For example, event promotions must show how that value proposition relates to event attendance.

Chapter communications can’t just promote. They must share valuable information and updates to prove they’re in the know. One of NATP’s best chapters always communicates something important about tax changes in addition to promoting their events.

John has also discovered the secret sauce for chapters: meeting topic differentiation. Only NATP chapters are offering these topics. Members can’t get the same type of event anywhere else.

John’s goal is to help chapters see the dollar value of chapter best practices. Each year, 15% of chapter event registrations are from new NATP members. Those registrations have generated more than $125,000 and provided a pool of potential new chapter leaders and volunteers.

He also shows the value of chapters for NATP, particularly high-performing chapters. Chapters are the pipeline for new, engaged members. 67% of NATP’s membership growth came from top chapters. They contributed $89,000 in new membership dues and $122,000 in additional new member spend.

Like John, you can come up with hard numbers for the value chapters contribute to your association. Mariner’s ROI Valuation Matrix will help you justify the resources your association invests in your chapters. You can see how the matrix works in the e-book, Evaluating the Health of Your Association’s Chapter Program.


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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.