Remember when you had to coax members to register online for events? Now, everyone spends most of the day online for work, entertainment, shopping, and socializing. The online community is the most valuable benefit for many members, especially those who don’t regularly attend in-person events.
In local chapters, where the face-to-face aspect of membership is strongest, members want to connect with other members and participate in association activities in between events. A hybrid chapter offers both the online and in-person experiences that members seek.
What’s the difference between a virtual and a hybrid chapter?
A virtual chapter delivers an online membership experience for members who don’t have a local chapter, or don’t belong to a local chapter because they can’t participate in its face-to-face activities. A virtual chapter attempts to replicate a local chapter experience but delivers that experience online instead of in-person.
A hybrid chapter is a local chapter that provides both an in-person and virtual membership experience. For example, members can participate in an online community, online learning, and online volunteering opportunities. It extends the membership experience beyond infrequent in-person events. A hybrid chapter delivers a more rewarding chapter experience for everyone, not only the small percentage of chapter members who can attend every event.
Why provide a hybrid chapter experience?
More people work remotely now. A study from workspace company IWG found that 70 percent of employees around the world work remotely at least once a week, and 50 percent work remotely half the week. As more of your members start working remotely, the virtual elements of a membership experience will feel completely natural. But their desire for face-to-face connections will remain.
Hybrid chapters solve the engagement gap problem. They supplement the membership experience by providing engagement opportunities in between in-person events. A hybrid chapter is more appealing for chapter members who can’t regularly participate in face-to-face activities and events. If chapters don’t include a virtual element in the membership experience, many members will miss out—and perhaps drop out.
70 percent of employees around the world work remotely at least once a week, and 50 percent work remotely half the week.
Why offer a virtual chapter to members?
Virtual chapters solve a geographic problem, for example, in remote, rural areas where members are too spread out to participate in a traditional local chapter. NIGP – The Institute for Public Procurement created a virtual chapter to meet the needs of members and professionals in Alaska and Hawaii. The Alaska-Hawaii Governmental Procurement Association (AHGPA) is an online chapter with 77 members.
AHGPA’s past president Jeff Dansdill said:
“I talked with a couple of people from Alaska and found out they had many of the same issues we experienced in Hawaii. We’re both separated from the United States mainland so we have the same shipping issues, the same transportation issues. For Hawaii, it’s island to island. In Alaska, towns are separated geographically—there are no roads between Juneau and Anchorage, a couple of the largest cities.”
Dansdill said to his Alaskan counterparts, “We have a lot in common. Why don’t we both get together and be that much stronger.” The Hawaii/Alaska virtual chapter has been such a success that now NIGP is talking to members in Montana about establishing one there too.
Virtual (online) chapters also fill a need in areas where chapters have disbanded or where the association hasn’t attracted enough interest to form a local chapter.
Associations use the virtual chapter model not only as a replacement for geographic chapters, but as a membership structure for special interest groups. PASS, a membership organization for data professionals using the Microsoft data platform, has Virtual Groups for many interests, such as database administration, business intelligence, and training in Spanish, Portuguese, and other languages.
The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) has virtual chapters for different job functions and communities, such as nurse advocates and surviving spouses.
Know first what problem you want to solve or opportunity you want to offer—that will guide the type of chapter experience you should provide.
Is an online community just as good as a virtual or hybrid chapter?
Virtual chapters mimic elements of the local chapter experience. They must go beyond the opportunities offered by your online community. For example, they must provide volunteering and leadership opportunities, education, and a sense of belonging. Successful virtual chapters have a purpose—something for members to do beyond just listening to a speaker or reading a discussion thread.
Members stay engaged in a virtual chapter if they can get involved in a vibrant project that helps them learn while connecting with peers. The International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) started a virtual chapter to run long-term (12-18 months) community service projects in the Richmond VA area. Members primarily meet and work virtually but do meet occasionally in person.
Successful virtual chapters have a purpose—something for members to do beyond just listening to a speaker or reading a discussion thread.
Are virtual and hybrid chapters the future of membership?
NIGP’s virtual chapter for members in Hawaii and Alaska is the new kid on the block but is already helping its “sister chapters” learn how to hybridize the chapter membership experience, for example, by providing video conferencing assistance.
Jennifer Steffan, chapter relations manager at NIGP, said many of their local chapters are using tools like Zoom for board meetings. “We’re seeing our regular chapters start to use the virtual world—it’s naturally happening.”
In many industries and professions, members no longer have access to employer travel budgets if they want to participate in volunteer leadership and professional development. Virtual and hybrid chapters are leading the way as members increasingly experience their chapter and association through a screen instead of in-person. Associations must learn how to support virtual teams working together to develop opportunities for member engagement, and create vibrant, engaging virtual communities.
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?