Planning Chapter Events That Get Members Involved Again

Event planner is the third most stressful job in the world—and your local chapter leaders do it for free in their spare time! It’s not only event logistics that wear them down. Dave Lutz of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting says event costs are 20% higher than 2019 and revenue is 15% percent lower.

The impact of lower attendance has a compound effect. One of the most valuable benefits of membership is feeling like part of a supportive community. But how do members become part of the chapter community if they don’t attend events? Members who rarely attend events are less likely to volunteer or take on leadership roles.

Chapters must design an attendee experience that draws members out of their homes and offices. They need events that people talk about and that cause the best kind of FOMO—events that attendees believe were well worth their time and money.

Get reacquainted with your target audience

In the post-pandemic world, chapters must understand the current desires, needs, and interests of members and non-members. They can start by building strategies based on surveying different segments of their audience and market, such as:

  • Past attendees and never (or rare) attendees
  • Highly involved and barely involved members
  • Different membership tenures, career stages, business sizes, and demographics

In these surveys, find out:

  • Why do people attend or don’t attend events in general and chapter events specifically?
  • What bothers them and what do they love about events?
  • Whom do they want to meet at events?
  • What topics, problems, challenges, and personal interests would they like to discuss at events? What great ideas or success stories do they have to share?
  • How do they want events to make them feel?

And don’t forget to scour that engagement data too! It can tell you who’s attending and not attending events.

At chapter leader conferences, help them think deeply about events by mapping out the typical attendee journey for each market segment. This exercise helps chapter leaders understand what attendees feel and think during the event experience—from first hearing about the event to registering and attending to post-event interactions. They’ll have a better sense of what makes an event a rewarding experience.

Reflection time

Chapter leaders keep doing events the same old way because it’s easier to copy and paste an old design than start fresh. Change takes time—a scarce resource for volunteers. But finding the time leads to a reward that keeps on giving. Membership growth depends on converting attendees into members. And member retention depends on converting inactive members into active members. Events play a significant role in both those goals.

Time is scarce for members too, which is why chapters must figure out how to make events worth their members’ time and effort. What will get members out of their sweats and slippers and into business casual and back to events?

Attendees are registering later and on site more than they did before the pandemic. People are less willing to commit time in advance unless they’re sure it will pay off. How can chapters acknowledge the value of their members’ time and demonstrate their event is worth every minute of that time?

Co-creation, collaboration, connections, and content

Since the pandemic, people’s perspectives on events have changed. This is an opportunity for chapters to think about the event experience—content, conversations, connections, and the emotions that go along with them. What can their events offer that members and nonmembers can’t get elsewhere?


Chapter events are planned the same way now in 2023 as they were in 1993: a committee chooses topics and speakers, sometimes with board or staff input. When the event is announced, members often have no idea how the topics and speakers were chosen and may have differing opinions about their relevance.

If the event design process is more transparent and inclusive, members might feel differently. Give members the opportunity—individually or in focus groups—to suggest locations, topics, speakers, and activities and to provide other event feedback.

Add polls to newsletters about problems to solve, knowledge gaps, worrisome issues on the horizon, or desired skills. Find new resident experts by asking members for a story, challenge, or solution related to a specific topic. Who can share their success at an upcoming event?



Chapters don’t have to take on the heavy event workload alone. Encourage them to collaborate on events with other chapters and local membership organizations. A chapter of the Risk Management Association collaborated with local Bar, CPA, and Marketing chapters to plan and host a young professionals gathering.

Your association and chapters can each leverage your strengths in a hybrid event collaboration. After HQ hosts a virtual event, chapters can host in-person events on the same day or the next day. Provide a chapter activity and discussion guide to help them continue the conversation, dive deeper, and share related success stories.

We’re taking a similar approach with CEX 2.0 this spring. First, we hosted in-person workshops in DC and Chicago. Then, during a follow-up virtual event on May 25th, we’ll share recordings and continue the chapter conversation.


Events are the best opportunity for members to feel like they’re part of a community and build relationships. But you can’t expect this to happen naturally. Chapters must build structured networking experiences into the event design.

Ask attendees to opt in to sharing their name on the attendee list. People are more likely to attend an event if they see friends attending.

Start the event with meaningful icebreakers and group exercises that give attendees an excuse to make a few new connections. Schedule time for informal discussions on hot industry or career topics—one topic per table. Reserve a few tables for personal interests. People are more likely to bond with someone over a love of Italian cooking, dogs, fishing, or homeschooling—things they do (not just like) in common.

On table stanchions, post provocative or unconventional work-related questions to get a lively conversation going during the meal. Help attendees find solutions via stickers on their badge or in a central area: “I’m looking for an X” or “I need help with Y” or “Do you know anyone who’s done Z?”

Sell sponsorships to conversation circles around the venue where people can hang out, enjoy a beverage and snack, and chat.

Networking works best when it’s small and specific:

  • Interactive table exercises during education sessions—require them!
  • Meetups for affinity groups or birds of a feather
  • Solution room sessions
  • Ideation sessions or hackathons
  • Community service projects—choose an activity attendees can do together in groups, talking while they work

Keep connections going between events by hosting an online community, Slack channel, or virtual meetups. Host small virtual and in-person meetups throughout the year, for example, quarterly meetups for different membership segments, such as career stage or position. In these regular meetups, people start to see familiar faces and get to know each other. Ask a group of members to plan these because the workload can be too much for one volunteer.

For virtual events, open the Zoom or event platform 15 minutes before the start and leave it open 15 minutes after, so attendees have a chance to chat without distraction.


Content is everywhere online. Many members don’t need the chapter for information and education; they can easily find that elsewhere. But some members don’t dedicate time to professional development and rely on chapter events to earn CE credits. Give them content, yes, but make it an effective and enjoyable learning experience.

Teach chapters about the principles of adult learning so they know what to ask and expect of speakers. A “train the trainer” video can help speakers shape the best sessions possible—a skill that many members and speakers can also apply in their day job. Every session should give attendees the chance to recall, discuss, and apply what they’re learning. They should always take away something they can apply at work in the coming days.

Encourage chapters to experiment with new session formats: talk show style, fish bowl, or ask-me-anything. Ask chapter leaders to share their event successes with you so you can share them with others.

People make registration decisions based on whether they see themselves represented in the speaker selection. Chapters can show their commitment to diversity by the speakers they choose.

Members are excited to get back to in-person events, but virtual is still important. Some people would rather stay home and earn credits online than drive across town or state for a chapter event. But what would get them onto Zoom if they already have several other virtual meetings that day?

Gather resources on virtual event design so chapters don’t simply try to replicate an in-person event. Instead of a full day of education, think in terms of two-hour blocks on a series of days. Virtual events are not the same as in-person, but they can provide compelling learning experiences and opportunities to connect with others.

Maya Angelou famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” A chapter member’s event experience has a big impact on their membership experience. They want to learn something, enjoy the company of others, and, most of all, feel seen and heard, appreciated, and like they belong.

We know chapter leaders are not professional event planners, but you can maximize the success of chapter events by leveraging Billhighway’s integrated event solution. We seamlessly handle event registrations, automate the financial management of event revenue, and allow you to optimize member and non-member registrant data. Transform chapter events into an engaging experience with Billhighway.

 Let’s Talk!


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About the author

Sarah has a soft-spot for component relations professionals (CRPs), creating amazing experiences, and having a good laugh. She focuses her time at Billhighway on building and delivering chapter-focused resources, creating unique experiences for CRPs through webinars, events and the one-of-a-kind Component Exchange (CEX). Sarah is passionate about exploring new ideas and trying new things. What we really want to say is Sarah is a component bad@$$ who is sure to put a smile on your face.