We’re floored by the range of challenges and issues that component relations professionals (CRPs) must address every day. During the Association Component Exchange (CEX), we asked our resident association chatter, KiKi L’Italien, to talk with attendees about overcoming CRP challenges and making an impact on their members, chapters, association, and industry.
You might know KiKi from her role as host of Association Chat or consultant at Tecker International, but did you know she was once a CRP at two associations too? She put her CRP hat back on at CEX, the one-day conference for CRPs we co-host with Peggy Hoffman and Peter Houstle of Mariner Management. We recorded KiKi’s conversations and captured the highlights in this five-part series of posts.
- What people think CRPs do and what CRPs really do
- What CRPs love about their work
- Challenges faced and impact made by CRPs
- The CRP secret sauce: necessary skills and traits
- Advice for future CRPs and the future CRP role
Despite the importance of the work you do, the life of a CRP is not all wine and roses. KiKi asked the CRPs about their challenges.
Meeting diverse chapter needs
For Amanda Scharff, Manager of Chapters and Partner Relations at the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE), one challenge is working with different chapter sizes. “We have large and small chapters. Trying to do a one-size-fits-all does not work for us. So, I’m trying to figure out what the needs are for their different sizes and how we can assist.”
Finding time for everyone and everything
As Associate Executive Director at the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA), David Bond leads a team of CRPs. Their biggest challenge is the time it takes to travel, connect with members in the field, and “take the time to listen… We don’t want to rush conversations, but we have to get around to everybody who has needs, issues, questions, or problems and provide services to them.”
“Time is always a constraint for us,” said Amanda. “We’re always working against the clock to find solutions.”
Representing the entire association and portfolio of benefits
David’s team also has to support other MSTA departments. “They’re the mouthpiece of the organization. Another challenge for them is taking the whole organization out to members. We’re trying to give them as many resources as we can so they can go out and fix problems. I’ve encouraged them to be the experts, yet I understand they cannot be the experts on absolutely everything and that it’s okay to say, ‘You know what, I’ll get back to you.’”
KiKi can relate. “When I used to work for associations, it was very difficult to explain how important it was for me to know what is happening with the organization, new programs, anything. You want your members to know, you need me to know.”
Building productive partnerships with chapters
For Emily Jennings, Manager of Chapter Support & Development at the Community Associations Institute (CAI), her challenge is “helping [chapters] build different skills when they think they know and have all those skills. You want it to be a good cohesive relationship. You don’t want to just come in and say, ‘Oh, you need to do this, this, and this.’ It’s really about creating a partnership between us and them, and helping them build skills.”
Elevating the chapter conversation within the association
The root cause of many CRP challenges? “They’re still siloed,” said Peggy. That’s why the holistic approach to chapters discussed at CEX by Rick Grimm, CEO of NIGP—The Institute for Public Procurement, is so important.
“Most CRPs have meager budgets and can’t shoulder the whole thing… We have to spend as much time building partnerships within the staff as we do with our own [chapter] leaders. That takes an incredible amount of time.”
She’s frustrated by the idea that “as a CRP, I’m only allowed to talk about the chapters. I’m not supposed to think bigger or think forward. I don’t find my voice with that.” She agreed with Rick that CRPs need to be at the table when associations discuss workforce development and leadership. She encourages CRPs to “find your voice, be in all the conversations, and become the collaborator.”
KiKi brought up a related point. “Things that make a CRP successful—being inclusive by bringing people together—probably prevent them from thinking in their own self-interest about how to raise themselves up. They’re so focused on bringing others in, not about elevating themselves up.”
Why CRPs matter
If you ever need to remind anyone about the importance of the work you do or prove you deserve a raise, you can make a case with these arguments from your fellow CRPs.
Build relationships and engage members
At MSTA, David leads a team of 15 CRPs. They “create and cultivate relationships with our members… by calling on schools and meeting people face to face. There’s a lot of personal engagement involved in their work.”
Nurture a sense of belonging and community
KiKi spoke about the member desire to feel a sense of belonging and togetherness. She said CRPs help chapters “bring people together and make them feel like they belong.”
Provide strategic perspective to chapters
Chapter leaders don’t have time to find resources and innovate. Emily said, “They’re so inundated with the day to day of what’s going on in their chapter that we have to be the visionaries.”
She said CRPs help chapters understand the big picture and what’s going on in the association, industry, and beyond. “We bring those things back to the chapters.”
Support chapter leaders in fulfilling the association’s mission
Tanya McAdory-Coogan, former CRP and now Vice President of Programs & Engagement at the U.S. Navy Memorial, described chapter leaders as “folks who have raised their hands and said, this mission, this vision of the organization is so important to me that I’m going to give up some of my precious free time to devote it to you. As a CRP, it’s upon me to make good use of their time, to feed them in a meaningful way, and give them the tools and resources they need to move the mission of the organization forward.”
CRPs make a difference every day by helping their associations and chapters solve the challenges in front of them. But where do you turn for help?
Some of the issues that keep you up at night might also be shared by other CRPs, and some might be unique to your association but would benefit from the objective perspective and insight of a fellow CRP. At CEX 2020, you’ll have the opportunity to pick the brains of dozens of other CRPs. Save the date: Monday, October 26, 2020. Until then, check out our event page for upcoming webinars and other CRP meetups.
In our next post, CRPs describe the skills and traits they rely upon to succeed at their job.