The Secrets to Gaining Commitment From Chapter Leadership

Association chapters and components are fertile ground for member engagement, but they can often prove to be a thorny management challenge. As associations examine the value of their component networks, they’re finding that skillful investment in supporting the success of chapters will drive bigger and better returns.

We’ll take a look at some key strategies and steps to tip the chapter ROI balance with smarter investments at the central-organization level and better returns at the chapter level—and some ideas on how to measure it all, too.

You’ll hear from Dresden Farrand, MPA, MPP, CAE, Senior Director of Membership and Chapters at CoSN and Charles W.L. Deale, FASAE, CAE, Former Vice President, Membership and Chapter Relations, at Financial Executives International (FEI).



The volunteers that lead chapters often have a direct line to the association’s board of directors, which means a component relations professional is often caught in the middle. Farrand says the leadership of the central organization must be fully informed and “on board” with the component strategy.

“The trust of leadership is incredibly important,” she says. And their involvement gives more authority to component-relations decisions, as well, she adds. “All of the different policy changes that I’ve implemented have not come from me. They’ve come from my CEO in the form of a letter or e-blast, or they’ve come from the board of directors, or they’ve come from the state chapter advisory group.”



Surveys and asking for feedback help build trust as well as encourage engagement. For a survey to be useful, you need to have a direct way to measure the feedback you receive to effectively share takeaways with the organization. Here’s a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Know what your team wants to learn and what they want to get out of it to determine what questions to ask.
  • Be strategic about the questions for useful feedback.
  • Create a small pilot group before sharing with the masses.
  • Tweak or make changes to your questions based on feedback from your test pilot.
  • Ask your chapter advisory group members.
  • Share the results both internally and externally (when appropriate).
  • Utilize results to help share strategic initiatives and priorities.



The “work smarter, not harder” mantra applies at the component level, too. When operations on the ground are optimized, the member experience improves, which means everyone wins. Of course, in a setting dependent on the goodwill contributions of volunteers, maximizing the value of their work takes diligence and support. Here are some more recommendations.


Chapter leaders don’t volunteer out of a deep passion for association management. But too many associations put an administrative burden on chapter leaders, when it’s hard enough to get members to volunteer in the first place.

“One of the ways for chapters to get stronger is to allow their local officers and volunteers to get closer to their members, and the way to do that is to free up their time from some of the minutia and some of the financial components of running their chapters,” says Brent Bassett, Solution Architect at Billhighway.

Kyle Bazzy, Former Director of Growth, agrees. “Nobody wants to reconcile cash. Nobody wants to file taxes. Nobody wants to run reports and send them to different entities. Nobody wants to do that,” he says. “It’s a necessary evil, but it’s 2017. We can automate a ton of that for you.”


With all the technology, collaboration tools, and advanced database platforms available to associations in 2017, components can exist as a true network, not islands in the sea. Successes and lessons learned at one chapter can be shared and applied by others. “Sometimes the most important thing is to find out what didn’t work, which means each chapter doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel and figure out what works and what hasn’t worked,” says Bassett.

Mariner’s benchmarking study cited fragmented data systems as a root cause of many associations’ challenges with components, because foundational data like member engagement or retention isn’t shared between components and the central organization, or vice versa.

Deale says FEI, in response to requests from chapter leaders, is developing a benchmarking tool for chapters to see how they compare to others. “If Atlanta is charging $375 in dues, looks at it and says, ‘Wow, we’re way out of the ballpark in terms of other comparably sized chapters. How is it that they’re able to do it for that much less than what we’re charging?’ I think it could be valuable comparative information for the chapters to have, while at the same time being of interest to me as well,” he says.


For any national or international association, it’s difficult to connect from HQ with members spread far and wide, but an effective chapter network provides the perfect remedy. At FEI, for instance, chapter leaders bring the perspectives of members at the front lines to the central organization via their inclusion in an array of global taskforces, workgroups, and committees, says Deale. “We really make sure the voice of the chapter is heard, that we tap into them, we gather their feedback whenever and as often as possible,” he says.

That interaction works in both directions, Farrand says. CoSN’s chapters are key “soldiers on the ground” in its advocacy efforts. Meanwhile, chapters also serve as a sounding board for market analysis. “Having components is like being able to do a quick environmental scan at the drop of a hat,” Farrand says. “You can call 10 of your chapter leaders and say ‘What are the current trends in the last six months? What do you see as a major environmental shift? How does this compare to the historical information that we have?’”


With a clear vision of a strong component system in place, an association can reward its chapters for working toward that vision. CoSN’s state chapter advisory group maintains chapter “scorecards” to encourage chapters’ engagement in a variety of activities, such as hosting events and surveying members. Yearly funding from CoSN is doled out in accordance with chapters’ scores, Farrand says.

Deale, meanwhile, cites CFA Institute’s success with growth funding, grants awarded to a few chapters each year based on their proposals to adopt new, innovative ideas for their work.

“It led to some pretty good ideas being developed. And, as they were implemented, we also publicized what different societies were doing that were receiving funding under the growth funds. So it was really creating some additional momentum for other societies.”


You may be asking yourself how can you apply the “work smarter, not harder” mantra to your chapter operations. Follow these eight tips and tricks to get better return from chapters:

  1. Lessen the administrative burden on leaders
  2. Allow local officers and volunteers to engage with members
  3. Utilize technology, collaboration tools, & advanced database platforms
  4. Share insights, tools, & resources
  5. Compare data with other chapters & headquarters
  6. Create a chapter network to connect headquarters with members
  7. Include chapter leaders in taskforces, workgroups, and committees
  8. Gather feedback from other chapters


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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.