“Our role is to make sure chapters are successful in delivering member services at the local level because that’s where the connection occurs,” said Rick Grimm, CEO of the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP). “Chapters are where the knowledge sharing and networking happens.”
Rick should know. Long ago, he started out on his NIGP journey as a chapter member, then a chapter leader, an NIGP board member, and now its CEO. NIGP has 72 chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada. The chapters are legally separate entities with separate memberships and dues. Nearly all of them are run by volunteers.
In our last post, we described how NIGP developed a chapter ambassador program. Ambassadors visit each chapter in their geographic region every two years to educate their leaders and members about NIGP services. They also learn about any struggles chapter leaders are having, and suggest advice and resources that might help them solve those problems.
NIGP’s chapter leader resources
“We must provide chapters not only financial resources, but also ongoing resources that help their leaders thrive,” Rick said. After their visit, ambassadors report back to NIGP about what they learned. Sometimes chapters don’t know about existing resources, so NIGP puts more emphasis on them in their regular communication with chapters. Or, the NIGP team decides what new resources they need to develop for chapter leaders.
Chapter resource library
NIGP has a comprehensive resource library for chapter leaders on their website. It provides information about revenue programs, financial management, membership, marketing, governance, contracts and other resources, along with sample policies, forms, and agreements. A handy tool is the Chapter Year-at-a-Glance calendar, a two-page summary of events, deadlines, and other dates of significance to chapter leaders.
In NIGP’s online community, chapter leaders and chapter ambassadors have their own private discussion groups where they can ask each other questions, and share advice and success stories. Rick described a typical scenario: “A chapter ambassador can go in and say, ‘I just did a presentation in Kansas City. Here’s what I learned.’ And people will reply, ‘Can you share that presentation with me? Because that’s a piece of information I need when I go talk to my people in Oregon.’”
Quarterly conference calls
Jennifer Steffan, NIGP’s chapter relations manager, holds quarterly conference calls with chapter presidents and chapter ambassadors. “We’re constantly working on communication, asking our chapter leaders what they’re struggling with, what we can help them with, and telling them about new tools we’ve developed for them,” said Rick.
Chapter leadership development symposium
Every year, NIGP hosts a leadership development symposium specifically for rising chapter presidents, although other chapter officers are encouraged to attend as well. This three-day intensive event helps chapter leaders acquire the skills and knowledge they’ll need as they assume their presidency.
Chapter ambassadors also attend the symposium. “We’re creating connections between the chapter ambassadors, chapter leaders, NIGP officers, and my team—the folks who are working for NIGP,” said Rick.
- Does your association offer these type of resources—library, online community, regular conference calls, and leadership event—to your chapter leaders?
- If not, which one would be most valued by your chapter leaders? How are you going to find out? Do you have a chapter advisory group that can provide counsel?
- What are the first baby steps to getting that project going?
Experiment with new ways to deliver value to chapter members
“We should never stop learning and thinking about how we can better deliver products and services to our members,” said Rick. In that spirit, when NIGP sees an unmet member need, even at the chapter level, they’re willing to give new ideas a try.
Serving members in remote areas with virtual chapters
We’ve been hearing more about virtual chapters, for example, the American Society of Appraisers has members in China, Australia and Europe thanks to virtual chapters. “We have professionals in locations that are really difficult to reach—rural environments or places where people are spread out, like Alaska and Hawaii,” said Rick. “Hawaii is a unique situation—imagine going from island to island for a lunch meeting.”
Seeing a need, NIGP worked with procurement professionals in Alaska and Hawaii to create a virtual chapter. The Alaska/Hawaii virtual chapter is now two years strong. Its 90 members have never met in person. “They bring everyone together using WebEx,” said Rick.
“They’re doing a number of webinars, podcasts, and other learning events. And, so far, they’ve been very excited about it because they love getting that opportunity to learn from each other.”
As they do for all their start-up chapters, NIGP provided seed money to help the chapter with technology. The only hitch they’ve had is the firewall issue. Because many public agencies have strong firewalls, some members couldn’t use WebEx at first. But members worked with their IT departments to resolve that problem.
- Do you have members or prospective members in unserved areas of the U.S. or globe? Would a virtual chapter be an option for providing educational and networking opportunities?
- Think beyond geographic components. What about virtual member groups in specialized niches or with specialized interests? What about member Mastermind groups?
Address challenges from the mission and member perspective
A challenge that isn’t unique to NIGP is the dual membership issue. “You can be a member of an NIGP chapter without being a member of NIGP,” said Rick. “It gets confusing for the chapter member who thinks they’re a member of NIGP and is trying to figure out how to get services from both NIGP and the chapter, when in fact they’re just a member of the chapter.”
“Ideally, I would love to see some kind of dual membership or a singular membership that integrates your chapter dues with your Institute [NIGP] dues,” said Rick. However, when considering new membership and dues structures, Rick believes you have to think about what’s best for the chapter and its members, not just what’s convenient for National.
A complicating factor in coming up with a new approach for NIGP is the variation in chapter dues—from $25 to $200—and what those dues include, for example, some chapters include luncheons in their dues. Rick said, “When the existing situation works well for a chapter, the last thing you want to do is say, ‘Well, listen, we’re clearing the slate, and we’re all going to approach membership dues this way.’ That’s not being sensitive to chapter culture or diversity.”
Rick keeps the NIGP mission in mind when dealing with the dues challenge:
“A standard set of consistent practices make association management a lot easier, but it’s not all about what we’redoing. You want to think about the member. What do they need to help them with their career path? How do you provide educational resources to them? We can’t allow membership dues to be the barrier because that’s not our purpose. Our purpose is to deliver quality services to them.”
Here’s the bottom line, according to Rick: “It’s our responsibility on the association side to figure out the dues challenge because it should not become a burden for the member.”
NIGP is looking at testing a new membership dues structure. “We never thought about how we would integrate the two types of memberships, but we are dipping our toes in that water and looking at creating a significant agency discount, a kind of pilot test of the Institute dues,” he said.
- Were any of your traditional practices, policies or procedures developed for the convenience of National, but maybe aren’t all that convenient for members or chapters?
- Who’s involved in developing new approaches to membership and dues? Are chapters and their members at the table?
- Is it easy to lose sight of your association’s mission when solving problems? How can you keep that front and center?
In his conversation with us, Rick brought up several principles worth reemphasizing, for example, the importance of establishing a regular feedback loop with chapter leaders, so they understand the value you bring while you learn how to better support them. Be willing to try new things. And, most importantly, when you look at challenges, keep your mission and members firmly in mind.