How to Lead on Improving Chapters

The relationship between associations and their components can be a fraught one. Learn more you can create a culture of trust and communication.
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Guest Author: Mark Athitakis, Associations Now

The relationship between associations and their components can be a fraught one. Creating a culture of trust and communication can make a difference.

In the association world, members get all the good metaphors: They’re champions, they’re leaders, they’re the most important piece in the puzzle. Chapters? Not so much. They are the children for whom the word “unruly” applies. They are the cats that will not be herded.

The distinction says something not just about how leaders perceive members, but also about how members wish to perceive themselves. They want to find common cause with their association’s mission but don’t want to be treated like (to pick another metaphor) cogs in a machine.

Peggy Hoffman, FASAE, CAE, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, has been thinking about how to address that problem. It starts, she says, with a hard look at the chapter model that associations have gotten used to.

“In the past, components were like Mini-Mes. They ran like a national organization, just at a smaller scale. They oftentimes mirrored the governance structure of the national organization, meaning that they would have a full-fledged board and an IRS designation, and they would try to run the same set of programs and services. And national organizations haven’t done a particularly good job of figuring out how to make the groups true collaborative partners.”

What does a healthy, communicative chapter relationship look like? Hoffman is one of the content leaders looking at that question at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition today in the Learning Lab “Association Hackathon: Retrofit for the 21st Century.” (A pop-up session on Tuesday will explore some of the products from the discussion.)

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