The Call to Adventure: Two Tales of Chapter Turnarounds

The hero’s journey has been a story archetype for centuries. You know how it goes: the hero willingly or unwillingly accepts a challenge, encounters obstacles, slays the metaphorical (or not) dragon, and arrives at their destination, changed for the better.

Countless books and films, such as Lord of the RingsThe Hunger GamesFinding Nemo, and Wizard of Oz, are based on the hero’s journey. As we read or watch, we identify with the hero, feeling their highs and lows, and hopes and fears.

In our previous post, we shared two stories about heroes of chapter transformation: a chapter with poor meeting attendance that now sells out events, and a chapter with a history of struggling leaders that now has a full leadership roster and is giving presentations on leadership succession.

As association professionals, you’ll identify with the heroes in the following two stories of chapter turnarounds: two component relations professionals (CRPs) and their chapter sidekicks.



“I have nothing left to give.”

No one wants to hear that from a volunteer but that’s what Nina Holman, Chapter Administrator at the Project Management Institute (PMI), was told by one of her chapter presidents.

But it was the truth, the chapter was dying. Their financial situation was dire—in one year they lost nearly half their members. They also lost two significant board members. The chapter didn’t have a succession plan, probably because they didn’t have a committee structure to support operations.

Nina met with the chapter board and they made the decision to revitalize with PMI’s help. PMI provided templated communications that the chapter sent to members. The gist of these messages was: without you, we have no community; we need you to stand up and contribute.

The chapter board personally invited members to volunteer.. Their success with this approach corresponds with the findings of ASAE’s Decision to Volunteer study: personal invitations are the most effective volunteer recruiting method.

Meanwhile, PMI introduced new programs to help all their chapters increase membership and improve communications. Their Chapter Guest Pass program gives new PMI members who haven’t yet joined their local chapter a chance to try out chapter membership for free.

They also developed a member communication toolkit to help chapters understand PMI’s communication schedule, and when they could best fill in the gaps with their own communications.

The tale of the dying chapter has a happy ending. The chapter is meeting PMI’s core service requirements. But, even better, the number of members has grown immensely since those bad old days, but this time with a 79% retention rate and an 85% member satisfaction rate.



No one wants to be a compliance officer, but that’s what many CRPs feel like, especially when it’s time for chapters to submit annual reports. Leslie Whittet, Vice President, Chapter Operations at the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), figured out a way to empower chapters to step up their game without having to badger them into it.

Instead of submitting a report, ACG chapters do a self-assessment as part of the annual Chapter of the Year awards program. The self-assessment has four categories:

  • Leadership and governance
  • Programs and marketing
  • Membership
  • Financial operations

Each category is assigned to a different chapter board member. They assess their chapter’s performance (practices/policies) on each item in the category checklist against ACG best practices. For example, in the financial operations category, they rate their chapter on whistleblower, conflict of interest, and separation of duties policies and practices.

These self-assessments tap into the chapter leaders’ competitive nature. They want to win in their category (small, medium, large) so they make sure their chapter adheres to best practices. At the annual conference, ACG highlights the best practices and programs from award-winning chapters.

The impact of self-assessments goes beyond awards. ACG has seen increased engagement and two-way dialogue with its chapters. Instead of having to remind chapters about compliance issues, the chapters are now calling ACG to find out how they can improve their practices. The result is a total shift in chapter mindset and conversations.

Read more about ACG’s chapter self-assessments and other transformative chapter practices in our 2019 Chapter Benchmarking Study with Mariner Management, which includes industry data to help you benchmark your chapter programs against others and many examples of chapter success stories.


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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.