Many of your members already live a virtual professional life. They work from home. They work while traveling. They communicate, research, network, learn, and interact with customers and patients online. Joining a virtual community or chapter is the natural thing to do.
In earlier posts in this series, we discussed the difference between a hybrid and virtual chapter, the benefits of a virtual chapter experience for members, and programs offered by virtual chapters.
Issues to consider when starting a virtual community or chapter
A virtual chapter should provide the same sense of belonging and community as a local chapter. A virtual chapter is at its essence a virtual community. But before you take off with this idea, consider the following issues when planning the launch of a virtual chapter.
When Jeff Dansdill, a member of NIGP – The Institute for Public Procurement, moved to Hawaii, he missed belonging to a local chapter community like he did in Illinois and wanted to start a chapter in his new state. But meeting in person would be difficult with members and industry professionals spread across several islands. He realized that members in Alaska faced the same geographic issues, so he began talking to NIGP staff about starting a virtual chapter for Hawaii and Alaska.
Jennifer Steffan, chapter relations manager at NIGP, said.
“We asked Jeff and his group of members in Hawaii and Alaska to start thinking about a mission, a purpose. What was their goal and intent with this chapter? What could a virtual chapter look like?”
Besides being clear on the purpose of your virtual chapter, you must know whether your chapter is meeting that purpose. Identify goals you’d like the chapter to reach in the first, second, and third years—and, of course, feel free to tweak those second and third year goals once you’ve assessed the first year’s performance.
- How many members will you recruit?
- How many official chapter activities will be held?
- What participation rates would you like for different types of activities?
Once you’ve identified goals, you can establish metrics or KPIs that will illustrate how well you’ve met those goals. Develop these goals and metrics in partnership with the members involved in organizing the chapter with you.
Level of service provided by National
Start with a needs assessment of prospective members to find out what they need, want, and expect from a virtual chapter. What will they participate in? What will they pay for?
Decide what level of service your association can provide to a virtual chapter. What kind of bandwidth does your staff have? How will you divide responsibilities between staff and member volunteers?
- Who will select monthly meeting or webinar topics, find speakers, work with speakers, handle registration, and assign CEUs?
- Who will handle membership applications, dues payments, and renewals?
- Who will work with corporate partners on sponsorships?
- Who will handle member service issues?
Determine what technical resources the virtual chapter will need, for example, website (CMS), webinar hosting platform, email platform, financial management/dues processing software, and membership management software (AMS). You must also budget for technology maintenance, upgrades, and training.
As they do for all their chapters, NIGP provided seed money to help their virtual chapter with technology. But they soon realized the usual several hundred dollars wouldn’t be sufficient. Jennifer said, “We decided very quickly that our seed money had to be several thousand dollars so they could have a visual presence on the web when they went live instead of having to wait until they collected dues.”
Before committing any resources (time, money, technology), you need to gain the support of your leadership—the CEO and board. “Leadership support was extremely important,” said Jeff Dansdill, past president of NIGP’s virtual chapter. “Without [the CEO’s] executive backing, we probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere, so his and Jennifer’s involvement and excitement about our idea for a virtual chapter was critical to its success.”
Jennifer said, “I think the reverse side of that is true too. You need a champion within the volunteer realm as well—somebody who is willing to put in the amount of time and effort to start not only a chapter but something brand new. As important as it was for NIGP to buy into this, we really needed a volunteer or group of volunteers who were going to drive it. We couldn’t have done it on our own.”
The virtual chapter also received support from within the NIGP chapter community. The Rocky Mountain chapter walked them through virtual meeting and video conferencing tools. The Central Florida chapter provided sample documents and financial support. Encourage your chapters to share their knowledge and experience with the new virtual chapter team. They’ll benefit from watching and learning since the chapter experience will likely become more virtual for everyone in the future.
In our next post, we’ll look at other issues to consider before launching a virtual chapter: membership, leadership, volunteering, and sponsorship.
The conversation doesn’t stop here. Get together with fellow CRPs to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by virtual and hybrid chapters. Join us April 22 in Washington DC or April 25 in Chicago for a special workshop: Virtual Chapters & Online Communities: Should We or Shouldn’t We?