How do you feel when someone on staff or a board member asks, “Are chapters worth it?”
It’s a valid question. But do you have a good answer? You may intuitively know they’re “worth it,” but can you prove it? Can you prove your chapters are worth the time and money your association invests in them?
Patrick Algyer can.
About the GBTA
Patrick’s the Senior Manager of Volunteer Relations at the Global Business Travel Association(GBTA) which has 39 chapters in the U.S. A few years ago, a group of GBTA staff and chapter members worked with Mariner Management to look at new membership models.
They already had a GBTA-only, global membership (Industry Membership) and a chapter-only membership (Community Membership). As a result of their work with Mariner, they added a new joint global and chapter membership, All Access Membership. Since it was launched, the number of All Access members has more than doubled.
GBTA wanted to invest in additional technology so the GBTA and chapter membership databases would synchronize fluidly. Because of their fiduciary responsibility for the association, the board naturally asked, “What are we getting in return for this investment in our chapter network?”
Patrick knew he had to demonstrate this ROI in numbers.
“You can’t argue with data. If you can prove the benefit of chapters or the benefit of the investment you’re making, there should be no question about having chapters.”
The chapter ROI project
Patrick and his boss ended up spending a month on the ROI project.
“When you talk about ROI, you look at hard dollars,” said Patrick. “That’s the easiest way to measure something, so that’s where we started.” They pulled the registration lists for events in the past 12 months to look at event revenue.
They also looked at volunteer activities such as leadership service on boards and committees, speakers, writers, and participants in Capitol Hill meetings. Patrick explained why:
“While there’s no direct financial return from a volunteer’s activity, there is a potential replacement cost for it because without your volunteers, what’s your option? You’d have to hire staff to replace them.”
Out of the total number of members participating in each of these activities, whether as part of a direct financial return for an event or indirectly as a volunteer, they determined the number of each type of member: global (Industry), chapter (Community) and joint (All Access).
Everything ended up in a spreadsheet.
They came up with a list of the different returns categorized into financial and indirect. “The financial return represented the hard dollars received by GBTA,” said Patrick. “The indirect return represented the replacement cost we’re getting by having volunteers do various activities for us—generating education, white papers, things like that. We chose a dollar figure for the salary and benefits that volunteer activity replaces.”
Patrick said it took a bit more thought and work to calculate the indirect return. “Everything we did was literally starting from scratch,” he said. “Thankfully we didn’t have to involve chapters in information-gathering because I had access to it through the event registration system and membership database. Otherwise, it might have been more of a struggle to get the data I needed.”
Results: chapters ARE worth it
First, Patrick learned that 30 percent of their global (Industry) membership participates in a chapter in some way.
“I was surprised we have 30 percent of our global membership engaged in the chapters,” he said. “The exciting part for me and where I kind of get nerdy is, how do I grow that? How do I bring more people into the fold and increase that engagement from 30 percent to 50 percent to 70 percent? That’s the long-term plan.”
The big question was…
For every dollar GBTA invests into the chapter network, were they getting a $5 return? A $10 return? Or, were they getting a $0 return? Patrick says:
“I have to say, we are getting an incredible return. I’m not able to share the exact dollar amount, but, essentially, it’s an 8:1 return.”
Yes, chapters at GBTA are worth it.
Now that Patrick has an ROI baseline, when budget time comes around, he has evidence of the type of return GBTA can expect if they continue to invest in their chapter network. “We can be more strategic about what we’re doing,” he said. “We have a huge opportunity to grow our membership through our chapter network.”
To encourage that growth, Patrick is establishing a baseline for each of the chapters on member acquisition, retention, and event attendance. They hired someone to train chapters on best practices in member recruitment, retention, and event marketing and will track each chapter’s progress going forward.
Advice for CRPs who want to start their own ROI project
Patrick shared some advice for fellow CRPs who want to figure out the ROI of their association’s chapters:
- Define your goal and work backwards from there. Give yourself an achievable goal. Start slow, start small.
- Start documenting everything. Any data point could be relevant down the road.
- Work smarter, not harder. Don’t overthink the process because that’s when you’re going to end up running in circles. Once you start digging into it, it’s a lot easier than you imagine. But it is going to take some time.
- Don’t think if you don’t have an 8:1 return, you’re a failure. That’s not what this is about. It’s about knowing where you are today, then figuring out what to do that will benefit the association and members, and increase that return.
Focus on member experience.
“Being a CRP is a balancing act. You have to be fiscally responsible by ensuring your association is wisely investing its members money, while also creating the best possible experience for members.”
He said. “As CRPs, we sometimes lose sight of that second part. It’s not just about what’s happening at HQ or enforcing the rules. You have to really focus on the member and volunteer experience because the better experience they have, the more time, energy, and money they’ll invest in your association.”
That’s why you have chapters.
Each side of that association/chapter equation brings value to the other. You know the value your association provides to chapter members, but when you have an ROI metric like Patrick’s, you can prove the value chapters bring to your association.