How to Help Chapters Improve Their Virtual Member Engagement Efforts

As much as we miss getting together in-person with component relations professionals (CRPs), like all of you, we’ve become seasoned denizens of Zoom. We met up on Zoom with the CRP community for a virtual workshop, Tap Chapters as a Member Engagement Channel. We co-hosted this workshop with our friends from Mariner Management, Peggy Hoffman and Peter Houstle, and the team at Community Brands.

We all thought we’d be back to “normal” by now, but this persistent pandemic has forced the issue: most chapters are going virtual to keep in touch with their members. They can’t stay dark forever or hope for in-person events to return soon. That’s likely to remain the case for a while since many associations and chapters are cancelling in-person events for the rest of the year. Even when we can meet again, many members will choose (or be forced by employers) to stay home.

The efforts put into virtual engagement now will set chapters up for success in the coming years. Virtual will remain a valuable supplement to in-person meetings by offering more opportunities for year-round engagement with all members.



Chapters have a range of digital maturity. Some chapters still don’t have a website, and others have pivoted to virtual with no issues. Chapter leader bandwidth and technical expertise varies as well. Some are one-man/woman shows, while others have a team of volunteers or even staff to support them.

Chapter leadership teams who have the bandwidth and expertise to leverage technology are seeing higher member engagement during the pandemic. At the other end of the digital maturity spectrum, many chapters who were resistant to change previously have no choice now but to experiment with new online practices.

The associations represented by our workshop participants take a variety of approaches to chapter technology. Some associations are completely hands-off and let chapters select and purchase the technology they need. Some provide advice only, and others provide financial and technical support. The approach mainly depends on the association’s legal relationship with its chapters.


Associations that share software with their chapter network find it easier to train and support chapter leaders and staff. Many of them provide a chapter portal as part of an association management system or other software. These partnerships result in more successful reporting, payment, and data management processes.

Many associations participating in the workshop provide GoToWebinar or Zoom access to chapters, or pay for licenses so their chapters can schedule and host virtual meetings themselves.


An online community for chapter leaders can help with technology adoption. Chapter leaders see how their efforts compare with others—and know where they’re falling short. Leaders share tips and success stories with their peers, and make technology recommendations to each other.

The American College of Physicians hosts weekly chapter leader Zoom meetings so volunteers can share technology advice and creative solutions to challenges.


Provide training for accidental techies (chapter leaders and volunteers) so they become more confident and less wary of new technology. A learning management system can help you provide consistent instruction and track chapter leader progress.


First things first, provide guidance on virtual chapter governance so chapter leaders become comfortable meeting and taking care of chapter business virtually. Make recommendations for web conferencing services and board management tools.

Make sure every chapter leader knows how your association will support their efforts to pivot to virtual.


Teach chapter leaders how to host virtual education and networking events. Explain the difference between managing a Zoom meeting, Zoom webinar, and virtual conference hosted on Zoom. Provide screen-share videos, tip sheets, and guides for event planners, producers, facilitators, speakers, and breakout room hosts.


Talk about the experimental mindset needed for leading during trying times. Acknowledge the risks of making mistakes and encountering the unexpected, especially with virtual events. Share the mistakes made and lessons learned by your association so they understand that a degree of failure is business as usual right now.


Encourage chapters to ask younger members to step up and help chapter leaders with the pivot to virtual. They’ll gain volunteer leadership experience and expand their professional network.


Many chapters are struggling with the idea of charging for virtual events. Virtual content and networking has value—and costs. Explain how they should educate members on that reality.


One silver lining of the pandemic is the expanded access to speakers from all over the country—or world. Create a speakers bureau or list of highly rated speakers.


Help chapters define the virtual value proposition for sponsors and exhibitors. Show how supplier members can leverage virtual events to achieve marketing goals—brand awareness, lead generation, thought leadership, and product demos—and bring value to attendees.

Explain how to work with supplier members on co-designing sponsorship and exhibiting opportunities. Provide a sample prospectus for virtual sponsors and exhibitors.


Create a toolkit with ideas on how chapters can provide virtual recognition to award winners and finalists. The North Carolina chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects hosted moderated panel discussions with their awards winners and published a video of the award-winning projects.


We heard a story about an annual chapter fundraising and educational event—a pancake breakfast—that became virtual. The chapter created a crowdfunding link through CrowdChange so attendees could share and extend the fundraising efforts.


How many associations have a digital strategy for chapters? Hmm, I’m not seeing many raised hands out there. During the workshop, we discussed creating a digital strategy for chapters. It’d have to be in collaboration with chapters, right? Would one size fit all? Probably not. You might have to create different digital strategies for different budget and bandwidth levels.

A digital strategy could have different stages that a chapter would progress through, like a maturity model. A roadmap or maturity model would help chapter leaders (and National) know where they are on the technology spectrum and what they need to do to move forward.

For example, how are chapters doing with mobile technology? Many members live on their phones. They expect to use their phone to register for events, browse the chapter website and job board, access online education, and check out the online community. Do your chapters provide this type of mobile experience?

We heard about a chapter that was seeing a decline in early-career members, so they converted their membership application from a PDF into a mobile-responsive online form. As a result of meeting members where they are—on their phone—they had a 50% increase in new members.

Most chapters would benefit from a technology consultation with National. You could start by educating chapters about the resources and tools you provide to help them reach and engage key audiences.

The American College of Physicians is educating their chapters on leveraging all the digital channels available to them. They’re helping chapters map out which channels are most useful and design a strategy for using them.

Because the pandemic threw us into virtual platforms quickly, we could witness an acceleration of the digital transformation of chapters—and associations. However, when the crisis passes, chapters may be tempted to return to old routines and the same old way of doing things. Don’t let them ignore the progress they’ve made using technology to engage members.


Quick, what’s the last extraordinary and memorable association experience you’ve had? Hmm, some of you are still trying to think of one. We co-hosted a virtual workshop, Tap Chapters as a Member Engagement Channel, with our friends from Mariner Management, Peggy Hoffman and Peter Houstle, and the team from Community Brands. If you attended, perhaps that was a memorable experience for you. The conversations were top-notch, that’s for sure.

During the workshop, we talked about memorable experiences and wondered: are the virtual experiences provided by chapters living up to member expectations?

Expectations are tricky. Your member’s last great experience sets a new expectation. Imagine what that last great virtual experience might have been. Possibly virtual Burning Man, Fortnite, Disney+, or WWE Thunderdome. How can your chapters compete with that?


Fear not, you can live up to member expectations by offering powerful moments. So just what is a powerful moment? This concept is borrowed from Chip and Dan Heath’s book, The Power of MomentsWhy Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.

  • A powerful moment elevates. You are lifted out of the ordinary and taken to another level of understanding, connectivity, or experience.
  • It brings new insight and shapes the way you see the world.
  • It creates connection and deepens your ties with others.


When in the membership journey do these powerful moments happen? Here’s a hint: we’ve seen it at Association Component Exchange (CEX) and during our virtual workshops. When people gather, in person or virtually, to learn together, something magical happens.

But chapters need your help creating these memorable virtual learning experiences. Many of the participants in our workshop help their chapters with Zoom technical training as well as facilitator and presenter training. They provide screen-share videos, tip sheets, and guides for facilitators and speakers. You could also share resources on using interactive icebreakers and breakout room exercises.

Get chapter leaders comfortable with virtual learning by hosting meetings for them based on their role, for example, finance, business development, and education. Extend invitations to these meetings beyond chapter officers to committee chairs and others. They’ll enjoy meeting their peers and you’ll deepen your connection to future leaders.


Many chapters offer tours and field trips that meet the social and educational needs of members. How about making them virtual? Lots of museums are doing that now.

Think about other participatory learning experiences you can host online, such as hackathons, hot seats, brainstorms, and ask-me-anythings.

At the Network of Executive Women, chapter virtual educational events feature timely topics, such as diversity and bias, economic outlook, and mental health. One chapter offers virtual mentoring. Many host virtual social events such as coffee connects, film screenings with discussions, cookie decorating sessions, and cooking classes.

Chapters of the Commercial Interior Design Association offer virtual yoga classes, virtual hip hop classes, DJ dance parties, and fashion shows.

The Colorado Dental Hygienists Association hosts virtual coffee breaks and happy hours with all kinds of activities: guided yoga, talent show, and discussions focusing on resources for dental teams, unemployment, wellness, and stress management.

The Las Vegas chapter of the National Association for Catering and Events hosted poolside, socially distanced yoga recently. Their space for 50 people booked up quickly.


Many members continue to have kids at home because their school systems aren’t operating as normal. Chapters could host virtual or socially-distanced in-person events involving the whole family. The chapters at the Association of Government Accountants are doing virtual walks in support of charities.

Suggest chapters look for family-friendly community service projects. For example, food banks are busier than ever during the pandemic. They rely on the help of socially-distanced volunteers and often have specific shifts for family groups.


Gather a group of chapter leaders for a Zoom meeting and talk about possible moments around which they can build powerful experiences for members. How can you assist chapters in creating those experiences? What resources, training, and/or services can you offer?

The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers is getting a better understanding of the member experience by mapping the chapter member journey. In the process, they’re teaching their chapter leaders how empathy can positively impact member engagement.

Think also about how you can share the success of one chapter with the others. Chapter leaders are more likely to listen to these stories if they come from a peer, rather than HQ.

The Grant Professionals Association encourages chapters to submit their success stories via an online form. The American College of Physicians collects success stories on their chapter awards nomination form. The form requests information about initial goals, results, lessons learned, cost, and advice on how others can replicate the program.

Host a virtual town hall where chapter leaders can share their success stories. Arrange these presentations ahead of time but also open up the discussion to others in attendance. You could also schedule a webinar to go deeper into the details with some of those chapter leaders.

Idea swaps are popular in our association community, so why not do a virtual idea swap for chapter leaders. You could also include success stories in a weekly or biweekly chapter leader newsletter.


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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.