This three-part series looks at seven challenges with chapter and national dues processing and provides advice and action steps for solving them.
We suggest you read Part 1: How to Decrease the Time Spent on Chapter Dues Processing and Part 2: How to Solve the Financial Challenges of Chapter Dues Processing prior to this post.
Sharing member data and dues payments between a national association and its chapters presents many challenges. Member data and dues payments arrive late, information is missing, data isn’t formatted properly, processing fees aren’t shared equitably, and chapter staff and volunteer leaders don’t always know what they should be doing.
Despite these issues, each side tolerates the existing process because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” We both know that’s a lousy reason to put up with laborious inefficiencies. If you work with your chapters to find a way to improve data and dues processing, you’ll wind up improving your relationship too.
Challenge #6: Missing Chapter Data & Information
You need data to help you (and your chapters) understand members and prospects so you can make better marketing, membership, program, and budget decisions. But, for many of you, this isn’t so easy because your chapters don’t share the member data you need.
For example, if chapters don’t send the data fields related to age or career experience, you can’t compare the behavior of younger members or early career professionals to that of older or more experienced members. You don’t have the data you need to develop and market programs that speak to this crucial demographic.
National associations sometimes have problems getting information from chapters about their activities and finances. Without this information, it’s difficult to assess chapter performance, address the problems of at-risk chapters, and share the best practices of successful chapters.
Why do chapters cause these issues for you?
- One reason: chapters simply don’t collect the data you need. An effort to educate chapters about the value of this data could solve that problem as long as it’s easy for them to share the data. Remember, you may be dealing with busy volunteer leaders who have difficulty finding time for chapter work.
- Another reason for the problem: chapters do collect the data but don’t share it with you. You need to find out if the real problem is your relationship with chapters, or simply a logistical issue that can be solved by improving the process.
Many chapter dues processing and data-sharing problems persist because the national association and its chapters have communication and trust issues. The relationship settles into an ‘us vs. them’ pattern. If you experience this in your relationship with some of your chapters, we shared some advice and tips for building trust in our two posts on creating data-sharing partnerships with chapters.
- Your first task is to repair your relationship with chapters by committing to common goals, acknowledging the value each partner brings to the relationship, establishing regular communication, and building trust.
- Then, organize a National/chapter working group on data governance and analytics.
- Identify the member data that National and chapters will use.
- Develop a plan to collect and share that data.
- Identify chapter metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) that will measure chapter performance and help you distinguish between successful chapters and struggling chapters.
- Develop a standard chapter reports so you have “a single version of the truth.”
- Give chapters access to a National-hosted system to facilitate data sharing and reporting.
“It takes more than words to build trust. To build stronger relationships with their chapters, the CEO and component relations professional (CRP) at the Association of Corporate Growth went on a chapter listening tour. They made calls and onsite visits to chapters so they could hear about their problems and their ideas for growing membership. The chapters appreciated the personal outreach.”
Challenge #7: Administrative Burden on Volunteer Leaders
When chapter members step up into leadership positions, they don’t always know what they’re in for. Even if they do, the demands of the ‘job’ are often more than they can handle.
For example, volunteer leaders may not have financial or bookkeeping experience so they don’t know how to manage incoming funds, allocate funds, and ensure National gets their fair share. Even if you provide the training they need, a new crop of leaders (and their steep learning curve) will come along next year or the year after.
Always treat these volunteer leaders as an endangered resource because they have a high risk of burning out on the job. They don’t have enough extra time in their life to run the chapter and take care of administrative tasks like dues processing and reporting in a timely and accurate manner. And, truthfully, they should focus their limited time on delivering value to members, not dealing with tedious administrative processes.
- Talk to chapter leaders to find out what type of support would be most helpful. Which aspects of the tasks required by National cause the most pain? What would alleviate that pressure
- Research solutions that could solve these challenges—solutions you could potentially endorse or subsidize.
- Provide a standard chapter accounting system hosted by National, or provide integrations for chapter systems with the National AMS. This option provides additional oversight and better positions you to provide training and support.
- Offer an integrated payment solution that automates dues processing and reduces time spent on data entry and reconciliation.
The “next steps” and “solutions” for the seven challenges discussed in this series of posts have a common theme: National and chapters must solve these problems together. You can’t push a solution down onto chapters. Without their participation in developing a solution, you won’t identify the real problem and you won’t earn their buy-in and cooperation.
When you gather your working group of chapter representatives, look for a diverse mix of:
- Chapter staff and volunteer leaders
- Large and small memberships
- Basic and advanced technology users
- Supporters and nay-sayers
Appoint National representatives from:
- Component relations
Any project requiring an investment in technology must also have the support of an executive sponsor at National. The executive sponsor is the project’s champion and advocate. They ensure you get the budget you need as well as other resources, such as staff cooperation, by running interference with department heads.
Your National/chapter working group must be guided by these principles:
- Agree upon common goals.
- Acknowledge the value each partner brings to the relationship and to your mutual members.
- Discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly—especially the ugly.
- Understand the reasons people resist change because you will encounter resistance. Develop your empathy muscle—put yourself in their shoes.
- Listen and communicate frequently. Create channels for chapter feedback and send out regular updates.
The dues and data sharing process can be a huge impediment to improving the relationship between national associations and their chapters. Chapters put up with challenging processes because they don’t see any other choice. But you can give them a choice and a break by creating a dues and data sharing process that works for both of you.