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.
How associations are helping chapters overcome technology challenges
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.
Access to software
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.
Peer-to-peer technology support
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.
How to help chapters pivot to virtual engagement
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.
Virtual event pricing
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.
Virtual speakers bureau
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.
Virtual awards programs
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.
Creating a digital strategy for chapters
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.
With all this talk about virtual events, are you getting a little FOMO? Well then, download The Complete Guide to Virtual Event Creation to learn how to transition your conference or meeting to the digital realm with ease.