How to Improve the Chapter & National Relationship

Once someone adopts a perspective or mindset, it’s tough to shake. In many associations, the chapter/National relationship had degenerated into an “us vs. them” pattern. How can you shift the thinking of senior management, department heads, and other staff so they see chapters as an opportunity to be leveraged, not a situation to tolerate? How can you help them understand the valuable role chapters play in the association experience?


#1 Build a Reputation & Relationships

Spend time with executives, senior staff, and department heads so you can get a better understanding of organizational and departmental goals and strategies. How do components fit into the picture? How can components help the association and departments reach their goals?

Learn about the concerns and challenges facing senior management. Find out what makes their job tough. How can you (and “your” chapters) make their job easier? Can you provide useful data, information, ideas, or perspectives?

Become known as the chapter expert, the staffer who has insight about the average member. What can you share of your chapter knowledge that will help staff around the building?


#2 Be Frank, Trustworthy, Accessible & Transparent



You tell association and chapter staff and leaders what they need to hear which won’t always be what they want to hear. You don’t deal with personal drama or historical grudges. You’re focused on improving the member experience and that means improving the chapter/National relationship.


Association leaders and staff must see you as a team player who’s driven to achieve association goals, not as a chapter yes-person. Chapter leaders must believe you’re an objective supporter and resource who believes in their value. You must have both sides’ trust and belief in your integrity. Otherwise, you’ll have trouble getting cooperation from both sides.


Make yourself available. Be a good listener and withhold judgement until you’re sure you’ve heard the whole story.


Explain how and why decisions are made. Clear up misinformation and misperceptions. Transparency is necessary to eliminate the “us vs. them” mindset so often seen between associations and their components.


#3 Collect & Share Strategically Valuable Information 

You have access to valuable chapter and member intelligence. Take advantage of your relationship with chapter leaders and the access it provides you to the diverse range of member types and perspectives. With your connections, you can tap into the needs and interests of a variety of chapters, leaders, and members.

Analyze what you learn. Identify emerging issues, trends and strategic opportunities for your association. Look for places where National and chapters can align and collaborate to achieve mutual goals.

As a component relations professional, you are a liaison between your association and its chapters. Like an ambassador, you must explain one mysterious culture to another. You can also play a huge role in aligning the interests of National and its chapters, changing relationship dynamics, and spreading the chapter value message throughout your association.

How to Bring the Chapter Value Conversation into the C-Suite

For most members, their chapter or component experience is the most significant aspect of their membership. Yet, at association headquarters, C-suite discussions rarely focus on chapters and the value they bring to the membership experience.

How can you bring the chapter value conversation into the C-suite? At the Association Component Exchange (CEX) last fall, we heard advice on this challenge from three association professionals:


Speak the Language of the C-Suite

To get your voice and opinions heard, you must speak the same language as senior management. In most associations, this means becoming fluent with data. Patrick said he never liked nor was good at math, but he had to get comfortable with numbers and data so he could be heard at the leadership table.

Patrick was a team of one. To get the help he needed to manage the growing number of chapters, committees, task forces, and advisory boards, he had to effectively “talk numbers” with senior management. The CEO wanted to see data that showed the ROI of chapters, so that’s what Patrick gave him.

He spent a good deal of time collecting and analyzing data from chapters and from around the building. His efforts paid off because he found what he needed to support his argument for more resources. His presentation to the CEO began with a slide showing an 8:1 return on the association’s investment in chapters. The CEO stopped him right there and said, “Whatever you want, just do it.”

Pay attention to what your CEO and senior management talk about during meetings. Look for clues to the type of information they want from you. Most want data, but some, like Amy, also want to hear stories or examples to support that data.


Anticipate Questions

Be proactive on issues concerning the C-suite. Amy recommended strengthening your foresight skills. The better you understand emerging and existing issues, the more effectively you’ll perform in the conference room.

Patrick advised being prepared to answer the C-suite’s questions. Anticipate their objections. But, never fudge it. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll get you an answer soon.”


Show You’re Open-Minded

Kevin said, “Never assume you know all the answers, even if you do.” Remember, your way is not necessarily the only way. There might be another way to accomplish goals, maybe even a better, more efficient way. Let senior management know you’re open-minded and strategically focused. You see issues as opportunities, not obstacles.


You receive a lot of emails…we get it. Subscribe to the content you want and we’ll do the rest! We send updates on new articles, guides, webinars, events, conferences and more. Receive awesome resources in your inbox every month >>

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.