What People Think CRPs Do—and What CRPs Really Do

Everyone attending the Association Component Exchange (CEX) certainly knew what component relations professionals (CRPs) do. You wouldn’t expect anything different at the one-day conference for CRPs that we co-host with Peggy Hoffman and Peter Houstle of Mariner Management.

Several CRPs in attendance enjoyed talking about their role with our resident association chatter, KiKi L’Italien. You might know KiKi as the host of Association Chat or consultant at Tecker International. But did you know she was once a CRP at the Optical Society of America and the Parenteral Drug Association?

We recorded KiKi’s conversations with CRPs and captured the highlights in this five-part series of posts, starting with the perennial question:

  1. What people think CRPs do and what CRPs really do
  2. What CRPs love about their work
  3. Challenges faced and impact made by CRPs
  4. The CRP secret sauce: necessary skills and traits
  5. Advice for future CRPs and the future CRP role


What People Think CRPs Do—and What CRPs Really Do

Back in 2012, a funny meme went around. You might remember it:

  • What my friends think I do
  • What my mom thinks I do
  • What society thinks I do
  • What I think I do
  • What I actually do


What would that meme look like for CRPs? The association profession remains a mystery for people outside our community, never mind the even more enigmatic component relations specialty.

KiKi said, “When I was a CRP, no one knew what that was, ever. Not only did they not understand what an association did, they didn’t know what a component relations professional did.”

“What they think I do? I don’t really know because nobody even understands the association world outside of the association world,” said Scott Wilson, CAE, former CRP and now Director of Strategic Initiatives at the American Payroll Association (APA).

Isn’t that the truth? I’m sure many of you have heard something like this too: “You work for a trade association? So, exports and imports?”

Sigh. Let me just import this glass of wine and I’ll tell you all about it.

“It’s always a challenge,” said Amanda Scharff, Manager of Chapters and Partner Relations at the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE). “My in-laws always ask me, ‘What do you do?’ I say something like, ‘I support an industry. I help them connect the dots, whether it’s issues with their websites, with membership, within a board. I’m there to support, to listen, and to find solutions.”

There it is! That’s a big job. I’m surprised people don’t ask you to come solve their company’s problems.

Patrick Algyer was a chapter member and president before becoming a CRP, and now he’s the Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Apartment Association (NVAA). “Even back then, my mom didn’t understand what I did. So now, we’re talking 15 years later, she still doesn’t understand what I do. Whenever we’re with family or friends, she’s like, he does something with members, volunteers and associations.”

At least she’s on the right track. Patrick rolls with it.

“You try to explain, but people don’t really understand until I start asking them about their profession and whether they have professional certifications. Do you have a local group that you hang out with? I try to make the connection that way.”

Relating your work to something a person already knows—like a membership organization they belong to, a nonprofit they support, or a franchise they’ve worked for—seems to be the best way to help someone understand what a CRP does.


What Component Relations Professionals (CRP) Do – Straight From the Source

It’s more than herding cats, which is one of the ways Scott described his job as a CRP. Here’s what our CRP interviews revealed.



When Scott’s explaining his work to others, he says: “I help chapters provide learning and support, so members don’t have to travel to do their jobs better.”

What makes a CRP “completely unique and incredibly special is their understanding of what it means to engage people and meet their needs,” said Peggy, who is the executive director of a few chapters herself. “They find pockets for people to collect in. They make a large association small and personal.”



Emily Jennings, worked at a chapter before she became the Manager of Chapter Support & Development at the Community Associations Institute (CAI), so she has firsthand experience from both sides. She describes the CRP’s role as “encouragers of people.” Chapters are “the ones out there doing the work and carrying our vision forward… they are the boots on the ground.” She empowers chapters to carry out CAI’s mission.

Ann Dorough, CAE, Director of Component Development at The American Institute of Architects (AIA), described CRPs as “a unifying force… We’re trying to get our chapters engaged and in alignment with what we’re doing, but we’re also trying to make sure our national organization is learning from the locals. It’s a two-way communication street.”



KiKi said, “You have an overview that many people don’t get to have. They don’t act as diplomats, as in-between people who hear the stories at the local level and relate those stories back to the organization.”

CRPs are translators, according to Ann.

“You take what’s happening at the face-to-face member level and explain what’s really going on to your national organization. We also help translate what’s going on at the national level to our local and state units.”

Ann likens the CRP to “a voltage converter or transformer… We’re making that connection so the whole organization can work in better unity. It doesn’t always work, but we try to facilitate that.”

Voltage converter, unifying force, translator, personalizer, encourager, communicator, relationship builder, hand-holder, herder of cats, and learning facilitator—that’s a big job description.


Have You Ever…?

Have you sat down and documented all the things you do for chapters and their leaders? Have you described the impact your work makes? Don’t assume anyone else understands the critical role you play and the difference you make for organizations and people. Write it down and share it!

If you need help explaining the vital role of chapters:


Patrick’s not the only CRP who landed in the C-suite. Former CRPs Sharon Kneebone, CAE, Executive Director at the National Society for Histotechnology, and Amy Lestition Burke, MA, CAE, Executive Director at the Special Libraries Association and Vice President of Member Engagement at MCI USA, both shared advice at CEX 2018 that helped us put together this post: 5 Skills You Need to Go from CRP to CEO.


Component Relations Professionals (CRPs) Reveal Their Secret to Happiness

Tanya McAdory-Coogan, former CRP and now Vice President of Programs & Engagement at the U.S. Navy Memorial, told a story that illustrates why she loves being a CRP. She was sitting on a plane “sharing pleasantries” with the man next to her.

“I asked him, ‘What do you do?’ He introduced himself as a board member for a local ALS chapter. That was amazing to me because… I’ve never had someone lead with their volunteer role.”

This trip was around the time of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, so his answer sparked a conversation about board leadership. “Come to find out, this guy was a pretty high-level executive at Northrop Grumman. To be so inspired by your volunteer leadership and believe in an organization’s mission and vision that you introduce yourself with your volunteer leader role—that has influenced the way I’ve engaged with volunteer leaders ever since.”


Making a Difference

“What I love about being a CRP is serving others,” said Patrick Algyer, former CRP and now Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Apartment Association (NVAA). “I love getting the email or call… ‘Oh my gosh, I get it now.’ Hearing that from a volunteer is as important to me as my paycheck. That’s what keeps me going, keeps me motivated.”

Ann Dorough, CAE, Director of Component Development at The American Institute of Architects (AIA),  agreed. “I really love it when a struggling chapter takes advantage of our resources and guidance and then says, ‘Oh, wow, we’re actually a good little chapter.’ That’s the most rewarding.”

Scott Wilson, CAE, former CRP and now Director of Strategic Initiatives at the American Payroll Association (APA), said he loves “seeing how [chapter leaders] light up when they talk about their careers and what they’re doing at a chapter level.”

He gave an example: “They’re not the head of their department or running a team, but they’re the president of the [chapter] board. They’re getting a leadership experience that will propel their careers. When they say they got a promotion or did something at their job because of what they learned at their chapter, I know I had a part in some sort of little way. That’s exciting. It’s a way you can give back to people without being in their day-to-day lives. It’s satisfying and inspirational for me.”

KiKi understood what Scott meant: “You’re watching and actively helping people grow in their careers and live better lives.”


Solving Problems & Learning Something New Every Day

“You’re dealing with a lot of the same issues, but because of the human aspect, it’s really never the same day twice,” said Scott.

“I think being a CRP, you have to be a risk taker. You can’t do the same thing every day, at every conference or on every webinar because people won’t remain engaged—and engagement is what it’s all about,” said Patrick. He said patience is a necessary trait for CRPs since their job involves “managing different personalities and being pulled in multiple directions.”

A chapter leader might call looking for help with a report or they might just want to vent. “You have to be ready and prepared for whatever happens on the other end of the phone. You don’t know what their need is going to be,” he said, which is why he believes CRPs must be “nimble and agile on a day-to-day basis.”

KiKi agreed, “You’re asked to be a creative problem solver all the time in many different ways.”


What Kind of Dragons Are You Taming?

To close this post on the joys , we have another story from Tanya. “When map makers didn’t know what was beyond an island, they’d say, ‘Dragons live here’ because they really were clueless and didn’t know.”

“I feel like affiliates, chapters, and components are dragons. Nobody really knows what to do with them. They’re pesky. They’re hard to communicate with. It’s hard to collect dues. There are all these misconceptions about chapters. But I so love being where dragons live.”

“I love being that conduit between the national office and folks in the field and making sure the national office is getting the message about what’s happening in the field, that we’re leveraging our chapters in the correct way. I joke about the dragons living here, but it’s because a lot of people don’t understand component relations at all. I love it because it is uncharted to some extent.”

An “uncharted” area of expertise is exciting—so much to learn! It’s even better to discover new ideas and tactics alongside your fellow CRPs.


Overcoming CRP Challenges & Making an Impact Every Day

Despite the importance of the work you do, the life of a CRP is not all wine and roses. KiKi asked the CRPs about their challenges.


For Amanda Scharff, Manager of Chapters and Partner Relations at the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE), one challenge is working with different chapter sizes. “We have large and small chapters. Trying to do a one-size-fits-all does not work for us. So, I’m trying to figure out what the needs are for their different sizes and how we can assist.”


As Associate Executive Director at the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA), David Bond leads a team of CRPs. Their biggest challenge is the time it takes to travel, connect with members in the field, and “take the time to listen… We don’t want to rush conversations, but we have to get around to everybody who has needs, issues, questions, or problems and provide services to them.”

“Time is always a constraint for us,” said Amanda. “We’re always working against the clock to find solutions.”


David’s team also has to support other MSTA departments. “They’re the mouthpiece of the organization. Another challenge for them is taking the whole organization out to members. We’re trying to give them as many resources as we can so they can go out and fix problems. I’ve encouraged them to be the experts, yet I understand they cannot be the experts on absolutely everything and that it’s okay to say, ‘You know what, I’ll get back to you.’”

KiKi can relate. “When I used to work for associations, it was very difficult to explain how important it was for me to know what is happening with the organization, new programs, anything. You want your members to know, you need me to know.”


For Emily Jennings, Manager of Chapter Support & Development at the Community Associations Institute (CAI), her challenge is “helping [chapters] build different skills when they think they know and have all those skills. You want it to be a good cohesive relationship. You don’t want to just come in and say, ‘Oh, you need to do this, this, and this.’ It’s really about creating a partnership between us and them, and helping them build skills.”


The root cause of many CRP challenges? “They’re still siloed,” said Peggy. That’s why the holistic approach to chapters discussed at CEX by Rick Grimm, CEO of NIGP—The Institute for Public Procurement, is so important.

“Most CRPs have meager budgets and can’t shoulder the whole thing… We have to spend as much time building partnerships within the staff as we do with our own [chapter] leaders. That takes an incredible amount of time.” Peggy said.

She’s frustrated by the idea that “as a CRP, I’m only allowed to talk about the chapters. I’m not supposed to think bigger or think forward. I don’t find my voice with that.” She agreed with Rick that CRPs need to be at the table when associations discuss workforce development and leadership. She encourages CRPs to “find your voice, be in all the conversations, and become the collaborator.”

KiKi brought up a related point. “Things that make a CRP successful—being inclusive by bringing people together—probably prevent them from thinking in their own self-interest about how to raise themselves up. They’re so focused on bringing others in, not about elevating themselves up.”

Why CRPs Matter

If you ever need to remind anyone about the importance of the work you do or prove you deserve a raise, you can make a case with these arguments from your fellow CRPs.


At MSTA, David leads a team of 15 CRPs. They “create and cultivate relationships with our members… by calling on schools and meeting people face to face. There’s a lot of personal engagement involved in their work.”


KiKi spoke about the member desire to feel a sense of belonging and togetherness. She said CRPs help chapters “bring people together and make them feel like they belong.”


Chapter leaders don’t have time to find resources and innovate. Emily said, “They’re so inundated with the day to day of what’s going on in their chapter that we have to be the visionaries.”

She said CRPs help chapters understand the big picture and what’s going on in the association, industry, and beyond. “We bring those things back to the chapters.”


Tanya McAdory-Coogan, former CRP and now Vice President of Programs & Engagement at the U.S. Navy Memorial, described chapter leaders as “folks who have raised their hands and said, this mission, this vision of the organization is so important to me that I’m going to give up some of my precious free time to devote it to you. As a CRP, it’s upon me to make good use of their time, to feed them in a meaningful way, and give them the tools and resources they need to move the mission of the organization forward.”

CRPs make a difference every day by helping their associations and chapters solve the challenges in front of them. But where do you turn for help?

Some of the issues that keep you up at night might also be shared by other CRPs, and some might be unique to your association but would benefit from the objective perspective and insight of a fellow CRP. 


The CRP Secret Sauce: Valuable Component Relations Skills & Traits

CRPs are the true Renaissance men and women of the association world. The portfolio of skills they need to succeed is astounding. No wonder so many CRPs end up in the C-suite. Although, given how much they love their work, it’s not surprising that many of them are CRPs for life. KiKi asked them about the skills and traits they need to do their job.


Nimble Jugglers & Chameleons Who Wear Many Hats

I dare you to put that on your resume!

Emily Jennings, Manager of Chapter Support & Development at the Community Associations Institute (CAI) said, “I look at myself as a chameleon… I have to adapt to whatever situation I’m going into. I may have to put on my authoritative hat, brainstormer hat, or strategist hat. I fit into whatever scenario the chapters need.”

David Bond, Associate Executive Director at the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA), talked about having to balance the needs of different stakeholders. For example, if a member (teacher) calls with a problem, “Sometimes we have to work with school district leaders to help that teacher resolve the issue or address the concern.”

This common scenario requires a good relationship with district leaders, but, David said, “Our allegiance is to our members, the teachers, and that’s where sometimes the worlds collide. We have to be clear about whom we’re advocating for and why. But we also have to foster relationships with school district leaders so we can help them solve problems and help our members solve problems.”

KiKi recalled working with different personalities in situations where a CRP has to be “part diplomat, part educator, part representative, where you have to wear all of these hats and dance a very delicate dance.”

She said CRPs must “understand internal politics, external politics, communication, how to interact with different people, power dynamics and hierarchies—that’s a lot for someone to understand and apply. With all these different aspects of being a CRP at play, it can be frustrating to feel like that role is undervalued or underappreciated.”


People Person

David said the most successful CRPs organize their time well but are people people too. “Sometimes the highly organized people aren’t the people people and vice versa. But we want people who can make a quick connection with others and understand their needs. They must be able to compare what they’re hearing against the services we provide and connect those dots pretty quickly.”

Amanda Scharff, Manager of Chapters and Partner Relations at the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE), said team-building is a valuable trait. “You have to figure out who has the best skill set in the room. So, if my skill set is bringing everyone together, is someone better at analytics? Is someone better at membership? Whom do I need to talk to if I want to get everyone together and on the same page?”

Emily said,

“You have to be a people person. It’s all about relationships in this industry, building relationships, learning how people tick so you can motivate them to do the things you need them to do. Encouraging people is a big piece of it as well.”

KiKi described the “secret magic of what CRPs do” as “a lot of relationship building, handholding, and training and development.”


Good Listener Who Can Connect the Dots – And People

Amanda also believes listening is huge. “Listening to challenges, listening to success stories, listening to everything in between and trying to figure out how to put all these professionals together who are on different sides of the country. Some of our members are in Seattle, some are in Hawaii, some are in DC—they’re all having similar challenges. How do I connect the dots and show them, ‘Hey, this is what Seattle’s doing. This is what another chapter’s doing.’ It’s about connecting the dots.”


Communicator & Trust Builder

“Communication is number one,” said Patrick Algyer, former CRP and now Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Apartment Association (NVAA). “Diversify your communication strategy and tactics—not everybody communicates or learns the same way. You have to find a middle ground. You may not get 100% connection, but you can try to disseminate information in a way so everyone can digest it or find out more.”

Amanda added, “CRPs must be transparent with members and association staff when discussing issues.” Frequent, candid communication with chapter leaders is necessary if you want to build trust.

“The trust issue is so important because people are doubting institutions that have been in place for years—Boy Scouts, police departments, governments, journalism,” said KiKi. “Now they’re looking to associations and their local chapters to provide something they can believe in.”


Your Personal Benchmark Report

As you look over this list of essential CRP traits, how do you compare? Where are you strong? Where do you need to improve? Now, the important question: How are you going to acquire and improve those skills?

Change like this isn’t easy. First, you have to find resources to help you develop new competencies. Ask your boss or fellow CRPs what they would suggest. A few options come to mind:

  • Volunteer opportunities that provide training and experience
  • Coaching sessions
  • Virtual or in-person educational programs


Then, you have to put yourself in situations where you can practice these new skills—and be kind to yourself when you don’t always measure up to your expectations. Stretching can hurt but it’s a good kind of hurt as long as you don’t snap anything in the process.

Speaking of benchmarks, have you seen our 2019 Chapter Benchmarking Report? Another co-production with Mariner Management, this report helps your association benchmark your chapter programs against others.


What CRPs See in the Future for Component Relations

There’s no better job for understanding all aspects of an association’s work than being a CRP. KiKi asked CRPs at CEX what advice they would give someone who’s considering that role.

“If you let things get to you and take them personally, then maybe it’s not for you,” said Emily Jennings, Manager of Chapter Support & Development at the Community Associations Institute (CAI).

That advice is in line with what Patrick Algyer, former CRP and now Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Apartment Association (NVAA), said: “You must always be willing and ready to accept criticism from any point-of-view and take it with a grain of salt.”

Emily added,

“But if you like something different every day and you like being a jack-of-all-trades, then I think a CRP would be a perfect position for you.”

“It’s a place for people to not only learn about their career and profession, but also a place for them to build other skills—leadership, planning, strategic planning, event planning,” said Scott Wilson, CAE, former CRP and now Director of Strategic Initiatives at the American Payroll Association (APA).

“You might not be able to do these things every day, you might not even know you had the capacity or capabilities to do them. But you put yourself out there and it benefits your organization and industry. It really is a personal give-back to yourself that you don’t normally get in other places in your life.”


What’s In the Future For Component Relations?

Last year at CEX, none of us could have predicted the pandemic and its impact on the CRP’s role. But David Bond, Associate Executive Director at the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA), was already wrestling with the question of in-person vs. virtual relationships with their chapters and members.

David said, “A big part of our job is to be out in front of our members… We put so much emphasis on relationships, but there’s such a strong movement in social media that no one can deny. What we’re doing works for us right now, but I’ve wondered about that. As people retire and leave our employment and we hire other generations that are more drawn to social media and less face-to-face contact, maybe that creates an opportunity.”

“We always have to evolve and change, and technology is a huge piece of that,” said Emily. “Instead of doing the things that I do now, creating things, a lot of it’s already out there… I’ll find and present the tools to them rather than having to create the tools.” Many associations do that now by providing technology that makes it easier for chapters to share data and dues with National, submit reports, and handle financial reconciliation­.

“We’re seeing more and more titles popping up around ‘engagement’ or ‘stakeholder engagement,’…which I think is pretty exciting,” said Peggy. “If we’re smart, the CRPs, that’s the role we’re going to own, because we’re going to own the fact that people want to get together in smaller communities, smaller peer-to-peers. How do we facilitate that and enable the organization that facilitates that?”

Peggy was also pretty prescient since “small” seems to be the only way for people to get together in the near future—and that’s the chapter advantage.


What Does the Future Hold?

The CRP profession is evolving in interesting yet exciting ways. While new challenges continue to arise (now that’s an understatement!), new opportunities to improve your relationship with chapters emerge as well.


Virtual or in-person, nothing beats meeting your peers. Tanya said, “Until CEX, component folks have never really had a place to be. We’ve been lucky to have slices and slivers here and there at other association events, but we’ve never had a home. There’s never been a room filled with people with ‘chapter’ or ‘component’ in their title. CEX gives us all confidence when we go back to work. It gives us strength and it gives us a community.”


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About the author

Charlotte Muylaert is the former Marketing Leader at Billhighway and greekbill. She oversaw the marketing and branding strategies for 10 years in the fraternal and association markets.