Member Engagement: The Best Engagement Program For Your Chapters

What sounds like a great chapter member engagement idea to you might not always be a good fit for your chapters. Instead of taking the usual -down approach to new chapter programs, why not do the exact opposite? Identify a program that is already successful at one of your chapters and trickle it up to the rest of your chapters.

We’re sharing the experience and advice of three associations who had success with trickling up new chapter member engagement programs:



Local chapters are the membership heartbeat of an association. They have more opportunities to see what members want and need. It can be tricky for National to introduce a new program to chapters. You won’t always know in advance if your great idea will be adopted or even work.

However, programs that trickle up from chapters to National attention give you a head start. The challenge is scaling these programs across the chapter network because what works for one chapter won’t necessarily work for another.



Ask your team these questions before investing too much time and money in chapter program ideas.

  1. Is there a wider need for this program? Look for data (surveys or polls) that support the need for this program across the chapter network.
  2. Does it fit into National’s strategy? Any new program must be aligned with your association’s strategic plan and goals.
  3. Will other chapters be willing to participate in this new program? Chapter collaboration and adoption depends on your relationship and their level of trust in National. Will they welcome or resent your involvement? Chapters may be more receptive to another chapter’s idea since they can see it has already worked in their world. But bear in mind: chapters with limited resources may not welcome an idea from a big-budget chapter. They may think anything coming from one of their richer brethren couldn’t possibly be feasible for them. However, with some tweaking, some of these ideas could work.
  4. What is National’s role—driver or facilitator? Consider whether your association has the resources and/or bandwidth necessary to take a leadership role. For example, NAIOP was the driver of their new program. They had the resources to recraft the original chapter program. On the other hand, EdTA was the facilitator of their new program. They acted simply as the connecting point for chapters who wanted to participate.

  5. How will you track and improve program performance? Have a plan for staying on top of what is and isn’t working, and making tweaks when necessary. Decide ahead of time how you will measure success.



NAIOP, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, has 51 chapters with 19,000 members. Their chapters are independent but operate under an affiliation agreement with NAIOP.

We’ve discussed NAIOP’s chapter mentoring program before on this blog. The mentoring program originated at their Toronto chapter—NAIOP’s second largest chapter with more than 1,500 members plus several staff.

NAIOP was intrigued by Toronto’s software that matched mentors with mentees. They knew from a survey of NAIOP’s young (35 and under) members that mentoring and career advice was their number one need. NAIOP decided to refashion the Toronto program in a way that would work for a 100-member chapter as well as a 1500-member chapter, and let chapters use it at no cost. They drew up a licensing agreement with Toronto and hired software engineers to tweak the software for a better overall chapter fit.



In this case, NAIOP is the program driver because they:

  • Paid for the software ($13-15,000 annually).
  • Provided a survey template that minimizes the work for chapters.
  • Developed a Do’s and Don’ts document for mentors and mentees.
  • Distributed a program survey to identify what did and didn’t work.



NAIOP opted for a soft rollout with 14 chapters. They offered program training suitable for busy volunteer leaders:

  • Webinars for chapter leaders who wanted to participate live as well as recordings for those who didn’t.
  • Individual coaching for chapter leaders.
  • Presentations at local chapter board meetings.

NAIOP helps each chapter customize the program according to their members’ needs. The chapter decides how many members will participate in the program and what member commitment looks like, for example, the program length and number of hours.

NAIOP staff consult a dashboard that tracks how the program is doing at each chapter. They can check in with the chapter if progress stalls and offer help without taking over.



  1. COLLABORATE: NAIOP didn’t want to take software developed by the Toronto chapter and make it theirs. Throughout this project, they’ve given full credit to Toronto. This approach encourages additional collaboration because chapters see you giving credit to another chapter. When they see you as a partner, they’re more willing to bring their ideas to you.
  2. KNOW WHAT YOUR CHAPTERS WANT: Because of what they learned from their survey of young members, NAIOP knew a good idea when they saw one. They also surveyed chapters with mentoring programs and found that mentors preferred a six- to eight-month commitment rather than a one-year commitment, and wanted flexibility on how they offered their time.
  3. KEEP OPEN CHANNELS OF COMMUNICATION: NAIOP built communication into every stage of this project. When they saw a chapter struggling with the program, they offered help by coaching chapter leaders, not taking over. They realized the program wasn’t going to be a good fit for every chapter, but perhaps elements of the program could work. They talked to those chapters about ways they could help them with mentoring, even if they weren’t going to use the software. This continual communication loop meant that chapters who didn’t adopt the program still felt the care and commitment from National.


The Project Management Institute (PMI) has around 500,000 members in more than 300 chapters around the world with 162 of them in North America. PMI took a very small program from one chapter and scaled it up for all their U.S. chapters.

Operation: Qualify for Hire helps veterans, active military and/or their families make the transition back into the civilian world and into a new professional community. It assists them in becoming qualified for project management certification and helps them secure employment in that profession.



Two members from the Tampa, FL chapter started the program. One was a certified project manager working for the U.S. Department of Defense, and the other was retired lieutenant colonel from the Army who had transitioned to project management.

  • They believed project management was a good fit for the military mindset and skill set, and had seen many veterans succeeding in the project management profession.
  • To help other veterans learn about this career, they started holding monthly educational Lunch & Learn sessions at a local Air Force base where they talked about project management and how to get certified.
  • These two members encouraged other PMI chapters near military bases in the region to adopt the program.
  • Tampa and other chapters created a military liaison volunteer role to assist with the program. This member is someone who has already transitioned from the military to a civilian role in project management.



The Tampa chapter created a LinkedIn group where chapters and members can ask questions and get advice about adopting the program. Local volunteers created and shared educational materials about the program.

  • PMI heard about the success and contacted the two original volunteers to see if they would help scale the program into Operation: Qualify for Hire. National staff worked with the volunteers to develop a more robust handbook with information about networking, education, and certification.
  • PMI shares program best practices through a newsletter, quarterly webinars for chapter military liaisons, and chapter leadership conferences.
  • So far, 72 U.S. chapters are participating. 10,000 service members, veterans, and active military have been part of the program. Here’s the best part: 60 percent of these participants are now PMI members, and 40 percent are PMI certification holders.



  1. Keep creators involved. Continue to collaborate with the people who started the chapter program. By keeping them involved and engaged, they’ll become your biggest champions. Allow the creators and early adopters to help co-create the program as you move forward and they will continue to feel a sense of ownership.
  2. Recognize program leaders. Put a spotlight on the program’s creators and early adopters. Give them an opportunity to talk about their part in the program. PMI embraced and honored those leaders. Now when PMI staff travel around the country, they hear other chapters talking about those two guys. The upcoming leaders see that and remain committed to the program.
  3. Communicate constantly. Keep an open channel of communication with chapters who have rolled out the program. Find out what’s working and address any issues.
  4. Create an advisory group. Create an informal focus or advisory group who review ideas for new program features. You can find out what resonates and tweak things before introducing them to the larger group.


The Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) started as a national honor society for high school students in theatre. Now EdTA has 47 state chapters, two international chapters, plus Thespian Troupes (high school groups) all over the world. They have 100,000 active junior and high school members and 5,000 professional members (teachers and industry professionals).

The idea for EdTA’s Disaster Relief Matchmaking Program was initiated in Texas after Hurricane Harvey. The state chapter used a Google Doc to match schools who needed help to schools who wanted to help. The Texas chapter (and National) witnessed an incredible outpouring of help by students. This next generation wants to engage, get involved, and connect in a meaningful way.



Then Hurricane Irma affected FL schools, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and the Northern California wildfires happened. EdTA knew there would always be a need for help. They wanted to take the Texas idea and scale it so it could spread nationally. But EdTA decided to facilitate, not drive, this new program.

EdTA didn’t want to be the “bank.” They didn’t want to collect and distribute funds. Instead, if a school says they need help, and another school wants to help, EdTA puts them together.



These connections between chapters are made on EdTA’s online Higher Logic community. With 9,000 active users in the community, it’s the go-to place for #ThespiansHelpingThespians (the program’s social media hashtag) as well as the place where chapter leaders are reading association news and finding resources.

It’s not up to National to define a disaster. A disaster could be a water main break that floods a theater. If one school needs help and another wants to help, EdTA is happy to play the facilitator role.

So far, 22 schools have requested help, and 174 schools have pledged to support them. Students are also allowing local businesses to get involved by pledging to help.



  1. Collaborate. EdTA kept an open dialogue with the Texas chapter as the program developed. What’s working? How do we adapt it? National shared these early lessons with other chapters. As a result, the chapters’ level of trust and rapport with National increased.
  2. Understand your bandwidth. Know what you can realistically support at a National level. EdTA knew they didn’t have the bandwidth to be the bank, but they could facilitate peer-to-peer connections, which is a huge value for chapters.
  3. Communicate. Having strong connections between National and chapters is critical for ensuring that National continues to meet chapter and member needs.


Upon reviewing the key takeaways from these three associations—takeaways that were provided by their staff—we were surprised to see some of the same lessons popping up. Here are some ways to get chapters to share their success stories and to provide feedback on new program ideas:

  • Send out chapter leader surveys.
  • Invite chapter leaders to share success stories at chapter leadership meetings.
  • Hold a poster session at a conference. Ask chapters to display information about one of their successful programs.
  • Host an online community, Slack channel, or other platform where chapter leaders can share ideas.
  • Highlight success stories in a chapter leader newsletter.
  • Encourage chapters to enter their programs into an awards competition with financial rewards.
  • Appoint an advisory group that provides feedback about new ideas.


Understand your chapters’ pain points and needs. Then elicit chapter success stories to see if you can find a program that addresses those pain points and needs. Once you do, invite chapter leaders to a deeper conversation and brainstorming session about taking the program to the next level.


When you engage chapters in conversations about scaling up and sharing one of their programs, they hear your message: you believe in and trust chapters. Other chapters see what you’re doing. They know you want to help and support them. Even when a program doesn’t get the full traction you want, the silver lining is building a stronger collaborative mindset in your chapters.


You must have regular two-way communication with your chapters to learn about their needs, hear success stories, develop relationships that lead to collaboration, find out how to scale programs, and learn what to tweak and how to improve programs.

The National/chapter relationship is a partnership. You both have valuable ideas and information to share with the other. And whether you’re a driver or facilitator of new chapter programs, your value to chapters will increase enormously when you identify, scale up, and share programs that improve chapter member engagement.


Does the idea fit into your strategy and priorities?

Do you have the bandwidth?

What’s your role: driver or facilitator? Maybe you have to be the driver for the program to get the resources it needs to be successful. Or, if it’s a low-resource program, you may only need to be the facilitator.


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.