You give national staff and volunteer leaders the opportunity to develop and deepen relationships with chapter leaders. The conference also serves as a training camp. Your ‘scouts’ (national staff and leaders) can spot leadership recruits who could move from the minors (chapters) to the major league (national).
At the conference, you can listen to the stories of chapter leaders and better understand their strengths and weaknesses. You can identify how to better support chapters in delivering value to members, and how chapters can help your association achieve its goals.
REMOVE THE OBSTACLES TO CONFERENCE PARTICIPATION
Chapter leaders may not have sufficient funds (their chapter’s or their own) to attend the conference. Consider these options:
- Full subsidy: National covers conference, travel, and hotel expenses.
- Partial subsidy: National covers conference and hotel expenses, and chapters pay for travel and other expenses.
- Matching funds: National matches what the chapter allocates.
- Scholarships: National provides full or partial scholarships based on ability to pay or other criteria.
- Sponsorships: Affiliate/associate members pay expenses for one or more chapter leaders.
DESIGN THE CHAPTER LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE EXPERIENCE
Before putting together your conference program, first identify learner outcomes: what do chapter leaders need to know how to do when they get back to ‘work.’ Keep these goals firmly in mind while planning the educational program.
ALIGN CONTENT WITH PAIN POINTS
Session content should align with chapter and national critical pain points. A survey will help you uncover chapter priorities. Ask chapter leaders to self-identify as a new or veteran chapter leader and to rate a selection of possible session topics on a scale of 1 to 5 or “n/a.”
DON’T ASSUME YOU’VE IDENTIFIED EVERY TOPIC
Give leaders the opportunity to describe their most critical chapter pain points. What prevents their chapter from growing? What’s causing members to not renew? What gets in the way of them doing their best job as leaders? Keep the survey brief and focused on conference content. If you need feedback on other issues, save those requests for another day.
CREATE A CONFERENCE ADVISORY BOARD
A conference advisory board made up of former and existing chapter leaders can also help you understand what chapter leaders need to succeed. Make sure some of those board members have also been involved in national leadership so that perspective is part of the discussion.
PLAN FOR 2 EDUCATIONAL TRACKS
One for new and one for veteran chapter leaders. New leaders need to know the basics, for example, how to develop budgets, create and understand financial reports, and comply with federal and state regulations. Veteran leaders may have mastered those financial responsibilities, but don’t assume they have—their survey responses will reveal their needs.
FOCUS ON TOPICS TO LEARN TOGETHER
And please, don’t spend valuable conference time on passive, informational sessions. For example, don’t dedicate an hour to a review of legislative and regulatory issues. Chapter leaders can read, watch videos, or participate in webcasts about those issues at home on their own time. Focus on topics chapter leaders can actively learn together in person.
To ensure you cover the essentials, take a cue from the National Speakers Association. Their conference focused on the “Five Ms” of chapter leadership: management, marketing, meetings, membership, and money. Here’s a sampling of topics from other chapter leadership conferences:
- Budgeting basics
- Chapter dashboards
- Event contracts
- Business partnerships (sponsorship/exhibitor sales)
- Marketing 101
- Chapter website must-haves
- Leadership development
- Diversity and inclusion
- Educational program development
- Member onboarding and engagement
- High-performing boards and board self-evaluation
And, a topic near and dear to our heart: technology strategy.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS AND PARTNERS
When it’s time to find speakers, don’t forget industry partners. We’ve presented our Chapter Secret Sauce session on technology strategy at several chapter leadership conferences. This session addresses chapter pain points, prompts lively discussions, and leads to changed behavior and processes.