How to Increase Member Engagement Within a Multi-Chapter Organization

Have you noticed an increase or decrease in chapter member engagement within your association over the last two years? We’re here to break down the data and unpack the current state of chapter performance.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought global changes to how people engage at work. While online meetings used to be a rarity, they have become a driving factor in business. By far the most popular online meeting platform, Zoom logged an average of 10 million meetings a day in 2019. By April 2020, only a month after the pandemic started, that number had grown to 300 million daily meetings, demonstrating an incredible 30x meeting growth in terms of the number of daily participants.

Outside the world of work, this shift to digital has been echoed. Many chapter members that never showed up before for in-person events are now attending virtual programs. This positively signals virtual meetings as a way to extend the reach of chapters. Chapters’ ability to move online has boosted membership engagement and overall member value.

Yet, despite these changes to how organizations work, one thing has remained the same – good chapter leadership is critical. Leaders that had the foresight to adapt to this new world, using flexibility and problem-solving to move online, have reaped the benefits of this virtual system and seen an increase in member satisfaction.


Associations lack valid chapter performance data

The Mariner & Billhighway Chapter Performance report makes it clear that there is difficulty in gaining valid chapter performance data. While this was a pre-pandemic problem, the blurred lines of communication during this period have done nothing to alleviate the issue.

Based on our research, only 22% of associations reported having direct access to a full range of chapter data. An even higher percentage, 39% of associations, reported absolutely no access to chapter data. 

Due to a lack of hard evidence, many associations rely on anecdotal information, which is often full of inconsistencies or fails to consider anything other than personal experiences.

CEOs and component relations professionals (CRPs) have urged associations to take up a local presence regarding advocacy, education, and networking. Yet, as most associations lack the information that affirms the value of chapter performance in these areas, they are often at a dead end when it comes to self-management.

To solve this, organizations need a more effective data management system, allowing national to use data when making their case and significantly boosting their chapter programs’ effectiveness.


The chapter training paradox

Part of the challenge with chapters is how volunteers are (or aren’t) prepared for their role. Over 75% of CRPs stated that their association allocates substantial resources toward training new chapter leaders. Yet, this training process, which takes place over webinars and conferences, is focused on teaching logistical skills. Training focuses on skills related to running a chapter, from finance and communications to event management.

While this has its benefits, the lack of focus on strategy leads chapter leaders to disconnect from providing member value. The process of developing chapter management skills often takes so long that when mastered, it tends to be time for a new leader to take over.

Instead of wasting resources on this continual process, associations should place more focus on technology like Billhighway’s chapter management solution that can cover the operational functions of chapters. With this automation in place, leaders can focus their limited time on strategic planning, member services, and program design.


Modern Member Engagement and Leadership

When it comes to the construction of a chapter, the members themselves vary in levels of engagement. While 10% of current members are highly engaged, usually those that actively serve on a committee, a more significant figure of 47% report being completely unengaged.

One of the main ways to improve engagement rates is by introducing more accessible participation options. By meeting members where they’re at, chapter leaders can better satisfy member needs.


The difficulty of filling leadership positions

From our survey, only 21% of respondents reported filling all of their board seats. Over half said this is a continual issue, which equates to a huge struggle to fill leadership seats. These facts bring to light a flaw and need to re-examine the volunteer system at hand.

Chapter leaders reported dissatisfaction with their ability to attract new volunteers. A large percentage of leaders (65%) considered that this stemmed from a lack of qualified applicants. Yet, it’s often the case that chapters try to fill roles that don’t have any meaningful purpose. If the scope or capacity needed for the role exceeds the level of interest that a volunteer has, then the job often falls through the cracks.

It seems clear that volunteers would like to see a shift from traditional roles toward more flexible and meaningful positions, which could drastically increase community engagement and member satisfaction. 


How do chapters communicate?

Unsurprisingly in our digital age, most chapters communicate with their members through digital means. 50% send emails in the form of e-newsletters every month, keeping their current members in the loop with what’s going on in the organization. For the chapters that use it, social media provided another valuable method of communication.

Yet, an equal number, 28% of all chapters surveyed, reported absolutely no social media use at all. The smallest quantity of media communications came directly through mail, with 35% of all organizations reporting that they never do this.


Membership recruitment

With these roadblocks preventing recruitment, we explored membership recruitment statistics. Considering that the vast majority of chapters actively participate in recruitment, these statistics are some of the most important ones that we examined.

The majority, 66%, of chapters have a membership chair or a committee. 45% of these organizations share HQ membership materials and messaging amongst themselves.

A smaller amount falls under a third (30%) with a membership plan including recruitment goals. With 70% not having recruitment goals, it’s no wonder that recruiting new members can be such a challenge. 

Typically, without a plan, most chapters rely directly on personal outreach, asking their active members to get in touch with new potential members through word-of-mouth recruiting.


Relationship with HQ

The majority of chapters reported a very strong or fairly good relationship with their HQ, with 99% of organizations falling into these categories. Only 1% reported a dysfunctional relationship, demonstrating the outstandingly positive relationship with HQ that most chapters feel.

Most chapters saw their relationship with HQ as ‘trusting’ (4.2/5) or as a ‘partner with HQ’ (4.1/5). Only very few 1.9/5 and 2.0/5 suggested that they should be independent of HQ or feel that they are a competitor with HQ.

Over recent years, chapters have struggled with member engagement. While CEOs see chapters as the best route to bolster local connections and member engagement, chapter leaders have found it increasingly difficult to deliver through traditional methods. It’s clear that over the coming years, there needs to be a shift in how chapters engage their members if they’re going to live up to the expectations of CEOs and start recruiting members that are more engaged, connected, and passionate about their organization.

For further information about engaging your chapter members, read the full report here.


Use Chapters to Increase Member Engagement

Local is where it’s at for many members. Chapters are the face of association membership, the boots on the ground. Your association needs to leverage them more, not less, to help you deliver membership value and see a positive impact on retention, reach, and revenue. Chapters with engaged members help your association achieve its goals by:

  • Recruiting members
  • Saving memberships by delivering value on the local or state level
  • Spreading awareness of HQ benefits
  • Increasing the audience for HQ programs
  • Strengthening member loyalty


How to Use Chapters to Increase Member Engagement

By tapping your chapters as a membership channel, you can capture local stories, provide community, and expand your ability to connect with members. So how do you use your chapters to increase member engagement? 


#1 Fix your sign-up process

Where’s the first place a new potential member goes? The chapter or affiliate website. It’s the chapter’s virtual membership brochure and front door. Unfortunately, components don’t always have enough time to update their website, so it’s full of outdated information or lackluster copy. Show chapters how to streamline the joining process. The easier it is for members to join or renew online via the chapter website, the easier it will be to increase member retention.


#2 Create a superior onboarding process

Chapters put a friendly face to join your association locally. A new member onboarding program isn’t only about show-and-tell; it’s about listening too. To meet a new member’s expectations, you must learn enough about them to show them how to best navigate the chapter and association experience. Transform your new member outreach from an association-centric approach to a member-centric approach. Instead of barraging them with information, use chapters to learn more about new members so you can better shape their onboarding experience. New member outreach is an excellent micro-volunteering opportunity to get time-conscious members involved.


#3 Create memorable experiences

One of the main reasons members join local chapters is to attend educational events where they can spend time with their peers. Help chapters understand the need to provide what members seek interaction, connections, and community. Consider memorable learning experiences and think more creatively about the event experience. With the right tools and a roadmap from national, chapters can host events that wow.


#4 Engage members at every stage of their career

Membership benefits change throughout a person’s career. Members join for networking and socializing but tend to value these benefits less over time. Think through what’s important to members at each stage of their journey and which engagement opportunities stand out to them. If you’re unaware of what your members care about, consider asking for feedback. Use that to help chapters design and promote relevant membership benefits for each career stage.


#5 Use chapters to beta test

Get chapters involved in member recruitment and engagement programs! Pilot new member recruitment campaigns with chapters first. They can test-drive all elements before rolling out the program nationally. Don’t be afraid to use incentives to reward top chapter recruiters. In reality, chapters contribute to your association’s bottom line. They bring in new members and deliver value through educational events, volunteering, and networking activities that increase member engagement and retention.


Billhighway provides the tools to measure chapter engagement

With greater visibility, you can help your chapters and your members where it’s needed most. With chapter member engagement data, you can make the business case for more HQ attention and investment in chapters. Engagement data shows the positive impact of chapters on association revenue when they’re empowered to serve members better.

How do you know if a chapter is offering fewer programs during the pandemic and if member engagement is declining? If you wait for chapters to submit a report, it might be too late; the damage to membership value has already been done. You need access to chapter data like registrations for virtual meetups, webinars, and virtual conferences that reveal declining member engagement in real-time.

With the data Billhighway collects, you can help chapters identify members who aren’t attending chapter meetings (virtual or in-person) and develop a proactive retention strategy. This intel enables you to direct your focus to chapters that need help with re-engagement campaigns. For example, you can show chapters how to learn more about member needs and remind members about relevant opportunities and benefits. This type of intervention will increase retention and revenue.

You can identify non-members attending chapter events and add them to membership marketing campaigns. If you can help chapters convert these attendees into members, you’ll see increased revenue in the years ahead.

Let Billhighway help you create an effective chapter member engagement strategy today!


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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.