Solving Chapter Challenges at the #ASAE18 Component Hackathon

The #ASAE18 Component Hackathon goal was to come up with solutions for component challenges shared by CRPs. This article shares the ideas from that session.
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The room was abuzz with energy. Upbeat music played from someone’s phone. Rows of chairs soon became circles. The first ever Component Hackathon was about to begin at ASAE Annual.

The hackathon’s goal was to come up with solutions for component challenges shared by CRPs—ideas the CRP community can further refine and collectively “take to market.” Peggy Hoffman, FASAE, CAE, president and co-founder of Mariner Management & Marketing LLC, got us started by describing the four challenges we were going to tackle that day.

Each participant selected a challenge and grabbed a chair in that discussion circle. The brainstorming and conversations began. The next day, many of us met again in the conference’s Open Space—a lounge set aside for pop-up sessions—to discuss our circle’s ideas.

#1: The Ultimate Component Management Tool for Association Staff

Two groups took on the challenge of designing a tool to help streamline chapter management. Think chapter management in a box. One group called it TOPS, a Tool for Optimization and Performance Streaming. Granted, this is a long list of requirements, but that’s not surprising given all the issues CRPs juggle.

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TOPS’ objectives

What did CRPs want this new tool to do?

  • Encourage chapter engagement with National so they’re more aware of National’s resources, and national staff can provide better support and consultation to chapters.
  • Build unity within the chapter network and between chapters and National.
  • Streamline reporting and information sharing.

Encourage chapter ownership so the tool isn’t seen as being imposed from the top.

TOPS’ features and functions

This was a “Yes, and…” exercise so CRPs asked for the moon.

Chapter Management & Assessment

This “Executive Director in a Box” tool provides resources that help chapters stay in compliance, including financial management tools, dashboards allowing chapters to compare their performance to others, and KPIs and report card functionality.


The tool provides two-way communication between National and chapters, and communication between chapters, including a video conferencing tool that allows chapter leaders and national staff to connect whenever and wherever via a single sign-on. The tool brings a human element to conversations and allows for more accountability and relationship building. TOPS 2.0 will include voice and facial recognition technology, of course.

Chapter Leadership

It provides tools and resources to help with governance, officer election, strategic planning, leadership development and training, leadership succession, and chapter leader engagement.

Membership Management

TOPS includes templates for member prospecting, onboarding, renewal, and recognition, event reminders, thank you emails, follow up emails, and certification reminders. The technology provides the ability for National and chapters to coordinate on these initiatives.

Additional Chapter Support

Other resources include documents, samples, templates, and a list of available IT tools from National. Chapter leaders can upload (share), print, and download resources. Reward them for accessing the tool’s resource page—gamification is baked into TOPS. It also includes change management resources, for example, instructions on how to convert to a standardized membership tracking spreadsheet.

The tool facilitates chapter leader peer-to-peer mentoring and sharing. Because National wants to include chapters in new decisions and directives, and have a mechanism to easily communicate and push out questions, the tool also hosts chapter advisory board meetings and resources.

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Technical details

Chapters pick the tool modules they need. TOPS includes single sign-on and integrates with the website and other systems holding chapter and member data. There’s even an app version with access and content determined by the member’s chapter role.

System training includes embedded tutorials (videos, recordings, or webinars) and step-by-step wizards.


Your turn

  • Which of these component management functions would you prioritize for your association?
  • What would make the biggest difference in your work with components?
  • Which of these functions is “low hanging fruit?”
  • Which idea can you immediately run with and bring to fruition?
  • Which of these functions do you already have?
  • Which technology providers do pieces of this well today?
  • Do you wish you could consolidate functions by integration or some other method?
  • Who can help you with this?
  • Which of these ideas strongly resonates with you?
  • Does reading this provide some clarity?
  • Would you like to discuss this idea with other CRPs and find a solution together?
  • How will you do that? On ASAE Collaborate or another online forum?
  • At a Billhighway roundtable or another meetup?
  • At Association Component Exchange (CEX) or another association event?

#2: The Un-Chapter Solution (a Chapter Design without Traditional Structure)

I noticed something different at ASAE Annual this year. When I asked attendees whether their association had chapters, many said not yet but they were thinking about it. They’re seeing a desire among their members for connections at the local level.

People crave community. Chapters and other geographic-based groups provide the opportunity for face-to-face interactions that lead to relationships. But, the traditional chapter structure requires a level of volunteer commitment and organizational dollars that’s outside the reach of many groups. What about an informal alternative—an un-chapter that delivers meaningful activities and value with minimal infrastructure?


An “un-chapter” framework doesn’t require a heavy volunteer lift

The goal of this challenge is to provide members with community connections and educational benefits without a resource-intensive structure that requires management by a critical mass of volunteers. Ideally, we empower members to establish their own culture. They connect, share, and benefit from each other’s expertise and knowledge.

CRPs want to give members permission to break away from the legacy chapter model and host their own hackathon to come up with a new organically formed model. Maybe it looks something like:

  • com’s model.
  • Virtual un-chapters that deliver products (like high-level speakers) to smaller markets or dispersed members with common interests.
  • Market-based sub-groups where members self-select activities.
  • Groups formed around outcomes, like Indivisible.
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Membership might not even be required, especially if the cost of membership is already prohibiting engagement. Other revenue sources could include:

  • Sponsors and/or content partners.
  • Event registration: the revenue could go directly to National if it’s coordinating events.
  • Up-selling other association products, such as certification or e-learning.

National could support these un-chapters with funding, although it’s okay to ask people to invest in their own activities. Or, National could establish an overall grants pool of money. If the un-chapter sells events and/or membership, National may need to assist so the un-chapter doesn’t have to incorporate to manage its finances and doesn’t expose National to risk.


Un-chapter volunteers take responsibility and ownership

Give un-chapters a charge or mission. National can present a problem and ask un-chapters to solve it. Or, these groups submit solutions, and the winner gets recognition and funding. They then have to report to National about how they’re moving that mission forward.

Check-in phone calls with un-chapter volunteers help with accountability, or an app check-in tool helps to track their performance.


Make-or-break elements for un-chapter success

Make guardrails, not guidelines, for un-chapters.

This model requires working toward an outcome, providing meaningful activities for “members,” and having fun around a common purpose. A clear mission, purpose, and sense of community is important, especially for younger generations.

Highlight the achievements of volunteer leaders. Help them see the career benefits of volunteer leadership.


Your turn

  • What would an un-chapter look like at your association?
  • What value would it deliver?
  • What’s the minimal infrastructure you could get away with?
  • Pick an area where you have many members. Do informal professional groups already exist for members in that area? What do they offer?
  • Have a conversation (web-based) with a diverse selection of members in that area.
  • What’s missing locally?
  • How can you help them provide that? Let them be the drivers and you be the facilitator and supporter—see if that works.

#3: The Ultimate Component Leader Portal

Volunteers are often each other’s best resource, so the goal of this challenge is to provide a platform for chapter leaders to share their experience and feedback with peers. This tool embraces the concepts of just-in-time learning, 24/7 access, and collaboration. Think Alexa for chapter questions. Or, just call it FLEX, a strong, flexible, and configurable chapter solution.

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Functions of FLEX








FLEX provides everything chapter leaders and staff need in one spot. It’s not tied to a platform owned by others, like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Slack. These public platforms don’t give associations any control over data, features, and functions.

FLEX is a tool developed and used by the entire association community. It has its own app store where associations can download the FLEX modules they need.

You can push out content through multiple channels. It provides moderated content sharing, auto-archiving, recommendations tool (like Amazon), text notifications, and a Slack-like capacity for instant discussions.

FLEX integrates with AMS/CRM, learning management systems, web conferencing tools, and other software. Naturally, it’s GDPR-compliant, mobile responsive, and provides security breach protection.

It includes document sharing and editing, like Google Docs with real-time updates, electronic approval, and track changes. It has an integrated collaborative calendar with alert notifications. Voting and polling tools are included, and many elements are gamified.

FLEX has Alexa-like properties: voice-activated with personalized updates and language flexibility. It’s AI-powered with predictive analytics capabilities and automation rules based on actions. The system “learns” so when a question has already been asked, it can quickly find the answer. Chapter leaders are flagged as experts in different topic areas and are notified when a question needing their expertise comes up.

National and chapter leaders have their own dashboards. National staff can monitor chapter performanceChapter dashboards and training content are personalized by chapter role/position. Permissions to access different features and content are based on terms and expiration dates.

Your turn

  • Which of these functions would you prioritize for your association?
  • What would make the biggest difference in your work with component leaders?
  • Which of these functions is “low hanging fruit?”
  • Which idea can you immediately run with and bring to fruition?
  • Which of these functions do you already have?
  • Which technology providers do pieces of this well today?
  • Do you wish you could consolidate functions by integration or some other method?
  • Who can help you with this?
  • Which of these ideas strongly resonates with you?
  • Does reading this provide some clarity?
  • Would you like to discuss this solution with other CRPs and see if you can bring this idea to market?
  • How will you do that? On ASAE Collaborate or another online forum? At a Billhighway roundtable or another meetup? At Association Component Exchange (CEX) or another association event?

#4: Components as Incubators for Innovation

The goal was to create a model that leverages components as innovation incubators for their profession or industry. Think the in-house innovation lab.

That’s one slant, here’s another: Instead of taking a trickle down approach where National pushes new programs onto chapters, think about a trickle up approach: components build and test programs that, if successful, are shared with the rest of the component network.


What components need to become innovation labs

A mindset shift like this doesn’t just happen overnight. National must encourage and support their components in this new work. Volunteers must be empowered and given the freedom to ideate and experiment.

The culture at National and at your chapters must support the freedom to try new things. You must give yourselves and your chapters permission to experiment and fail strategically. A chapter advisory group can provide insight into what would incentivize chapters to take risks.

You need a way to regularly communicate with chapters, and your chapters need a way to share success stories and lessons learned with each other. Don’t push a communication platform onto them, instead find out what they prefer or what they’re willing to try. It’d be nice to have an online portal integrated with existing email platforms so no new login required, just sayin’.

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The component kickstarter

Provide incentives—scholarships, sponsorships, or innovation grants—that encourage chapters to present new ideas or business models to National, and help fund the implementation of new ideas.

One of the hackathon ideas was a component kickstarter. Chapter judges (peers) vote on ideas submitted by chapters for new business models or programs. National gives the winning chapters a budget to pilot these programs. But here’s the crowdfunding element: other chapters can also buy into these programs.

After six months, the program’s ROI is evaluated. If it’s performing well, they receive a second grant.


Chapter idea and program sharing

Some other ideas to promote innovation and collaboration:

  • Chapter program of the year awards by chapter size: Celebrate and share the most exciting and effective new chapter programs. Chapters can see what chapters of their size are doing and emulate their success.
  • Chapter buddy program: Send a successful leader from one chapter to other chapters needing guidance.
  • Event broadcasts: Larger chapters make a broadcast of event sessions or keynotes available to smaller chapters.


Your turn

  • Do any of your chapters experiment with or pilot new programs? Were any of them successful? How did you share these successes and lessons learned with other chapters?
  • If you haven’t shared chapter success stories, how can you start helping chapter leaders share their new ideas and achievements?
  • How can you support their innovation efforts? What aspects of your association and/or chapter culture would you need to work on to encourage people to take risks—and possibly fail?
  • What baby steps can you take to start shifting your existing culture into a more open, experimental one?
  • Which of these ideas can you steal or tweak? How would you start working on it—what are your first steps? What obstacles might you face and how will you overcome those obstacles?
  • Would you like our help piloting the component kickstarter idea at your association? Just say the word!
Component Hackathon Takeaways

In a webinar on Thursday, September 13, the discussion leaders will share some of their favorite takeaways of the Component Hackathon and explain how your association can put on your own hackathon. To whet your appetite for ideation and innovation, here’s a selection of hackathon ideas to think about, steal and tweak, and questions to get your mind churning.

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