Chapters have had to overcome a lot of unexpected challenges since the start of COVID-19, from postponing traditional events to revenue concerns as refunds have been issued to members. On a personal level, your chapter leaders and their members could still be confronting scary health or financial situations at home. They share the same worries and anxieties as the rest of us do about social distancing, family health, and many other uncertainties including the future of their education.
You can’t solve these problems for them, but you can take steps to keep their chapter operations running as smoothly as possible during unpredictable times. This may mean running things virtually for a period of time. With little experience on how to cope with the unique challenges of running a chapter online, your organization should have a plan for chapters to adopt should they need to govern virtually.
REEMPHASIZE THE VALUE OF CHAPTER MEMBERSHIP
Running a chapter virtually may not be business as usual for your chapter leaders, but they should know that even virtually they still play a valuable role in the lives of members. Remind your chapters that they provide these critical services for members:
- Distributing critical information
- Rallying members to social action
- Providing a platform for connection
- Spreading a sense of belonging and community
Knowing their value can allow chapter leaders to confidently make decisions and allocate resources so their chapter can adjust to a new way of operating. Despite the circumstances, they can’t
ASSESS THE CHAPTER LEADERSHIP SITUATION
In times when your chapters are having to pivot to operating virtually, use your team or regional volunteers to start checking in with each chapter. This could mean sending out surveys or even better, calling to check in. What is the chapter leader’s capacity to fulfill their responsibilities? What are their biggest concerns going into the school year with all the current uncertainty? Brianne Martin, Senior Manager of Membership Relations at the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, refers to these calls as “wellness checks.”
In some cases, you may even find that chapter leaders are feeling more productive working at home and can take on more responsibility to help mentor their peers if another leader is struggling. Assessing the situation at each chapter will help you prioritize your efforts so you can assist where needed.
If a chapter does need to switch to virtual chapter governance, does your organization have the tools or structure in place for them to do so? Ask yourself these questions:
- What are your options if a chapter leader cannot fulfill their duties temporarily?
- Can leaders and/or members take votes or hold meetings online, if necessary?
- What bylaws need to be reviewed for virtual governance?
HELP CHAPTER LEADERS FOCUS
If your organization had to move operations online due to COVID-19, you already have some useful experience on how to handle these situations. Use this knowledge to help your chapters and grab the reins on complex issues like:
- Liabilities and options for upcoming events
- Revenue alternatives for lost sponsorships
- Online education events
- Virtual options for connection and discussion
- Political or social action
PROVIDE RESOURCES FOR VIRTUAL GOVERNANCE
An easy way to make a quick impact is to create a tip sheet with basic guidelines on common virtual governance challenges. Provide links to more information on issues like bylaw considerations and decision-making.
As virtual technology and security continues to advance, share updated options with chapters so that they don’t fall behind. Considering offering advice and/or support with:
- Document storage and sharing
- Collaboration platforms – Slack, Teams
- Video web-conferencing – Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype
- Online education platforms – Zoom, GoToWebinar
- Online community – Higher Logic, Breezio
Give your leaders some practice by hosting chapter leader networking sessions and idea swaps on the platforms you are recommending. They will be able to see what a difference it makes to see people’s faces during a virtual meeting.
You can also share articles and advice from these technology-focused resources:
- The 24 Best Tools and Apps for Remote Working(Ceros)
- Thinking of Bringing Slack to Your Workplace? Consider These Tips First(Associations Now)
- How to Get People to Actually Participate in Virtual Meetings(Harvard Business Review)
- 26 Easy Ways to Make Your Online Meetings, Workshops, and Programs a Success(Inc.)
- 25 Teambuilding Activities for a Remote Workforce(Event Garde LLC)
Even with advances in platform security measures, hackers continue to take full advantage of the increasingly virtual world. Remind chapter leaders about the threat of cybersecurity attacks and social engineering/phishing scams to keep the organization, the chapter leader and your members safe.
ENCOURAGE VIRTUAL VOLUNTEERING
Just like chapter leaders, members should know they can still make an impact in their local community and on the chapter experience virtually. Serving others can help bring a sense of purpose during a stressful time.
Encourage your chapter leaders to take this time to ramp up committee activities and volunteer opportunities virtually. Have each committee identify temporary volunteer jobs both within the chapter and the local community. Some with substantial time commitments and others that are microvolunteering tasks, so there is a fit for every member based on their availability.
Chapters could organize a virtual fundraiser for the national philanthropy by leveraging tools like CrowdChange or a Billhighway donation page. On a local level, they may already have a relationship with a local charity or non-profit that they can connect with on potential virtual volunteer opportunities. For example, members could help draft social media and fundraising content or help coordinate virtual events.
Examples of volunteer activities within the chapter could include:
- Member check-in calls, particularly with new chapter members
- Moderating virtual meetups
- Moderating online community or social media discussions
- Coaching members on using online platforms
The role of your chapter leaders has never been so important. They can be the catalysts for bringing their chapter together so members can learn from and support one another. Providing them with guidance and resources during a time of virtual governance will maximize the value they can bring to the virtual member experience.