Why National Should Never Underestimate the Power of Chapters

Chapters can reach a unique audience for programs that might not always be reached by the national organization. This can prove highly lucrative, particularly when you consider the impact of collaborative marketing, promotions and joint membership offers on this new audience.

However, it must be said that audiences such as these are sometimes perceived as lower value, due to a lack of engagement with the national organization. The vast majority of them are knowingly self-selected and belong only at the chapter level. The remainder might not even be aware of the national organization and its value added offerings.


Collateral issues are often reported within associations that don’t have reciprocal membership. The investment level in chapter-only membership audiences is, of course, impacted. Not only that, many national organizations are wary of cooperation with chapter teams, particularly in terms of data sharing, template materials and so on.


Organizations with a large membership size and penetration employ a market-driven logic, representing the entire profession. While not all potential members will be making a payment every year, the association remains there to support them. This is important, as the association therefore has a greater reach and impact, which can only benefit it.


The importance of chapters in terms of maximizing the reach of associations should never be underestimated. One CEO reported, “We estimate that collectively we have a reach of 65-70,000 of the 100,000 people in our field. Our states reach about twice as many as we do.” Thus, even though the structure of the association might be complicated, the joint effort of the national organization and its individual chapters see its exposure doubled, with huge benefits for membership and revenue.


As with any organization with a complicated organizational structure, conflicts within the chapter-national relationship are abundant or plentiful. The research found a variety of different points of conflict, which arise often in national-chapter relationships.



  1. Whether or not to pursue standardization in the name of consistent member experiences
  2. Whether or not to allow chapters to set their own dues and pricing
  3. Collaboration on pricing and point of service communications to promote membership
  4. Dues sharing, and the ability to set appropriate levels of this
  5. Member experiences and activities which might be in competition, such as similar training courses or conferences


It may come as no surprise that many of these conflicts can be remedied through a more streamlined approach. Talk to the Billhighway team about how your chapters can work more effectively together with national.



How can you ensure a more dynamic national-chapter relationship?

  • Recruit and retain new leadership so that the chapter does not have to constantly recycle leaders.
  • The financial security of chapters varies as they go through periods of high reserves, sometimes followed by negative events.
  • Differences in leadership can also attribute to this, as each era of leaders will inevitably have their own ideas on how to spend budgets effectively. Constantly changing chapter leadership makes the organization more susceptible to fraud.
  • Segment chapter networks into categories such as strong, healthy, borderline or deficient. Tracking this information allows national to target assistance accordingly.


CEOs have a tendency to measure chapter support in terms of the following:

  1. Expense of providing chapters with adequate number of staff
  2. Related expense of maintaining chapter liaisons and staff
  3. Time & travel expenses of officers and senior staff visiting chapters
  4. Costs of face-to-face summits and related training


Generally, associations do not report the costs of servicing and supporting chapters. In cases where the driving force for planning and implementing successful changes in chapter structure can’t be seen first-hand, time spent on cost reporting can be unnecessary. In short, it’s a wasted effort.

It’s rare to find discussions surrounding opportunity cost in environments like these, too. Many associations are undergoing huge innovation right now, from changing their name and membership scope to merging with other associations in similar fields. Others might be piloting single, effective joint national-chapter strategies or new training initiatives that bring everyone together in a new, streamlined way.



In many cases, change breeds further change. And that presents a golden opportunity.

RELATIONSHIPS: It’s time to start leveraging a greater return on the time associations spend maintaining relationships with their chapters.

REVENUE: It’s time to start generating more revenue, by leveraging the advantages chapters bring to the table.

MISSION: It’s time to increase the degree to which associations and their chapters fulfill their joint mission.


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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.