Gathering and sending benchmarking data to your association is a big ask of chapter leaders, especially when they’re volunteers or a staff of one or two. But if they understand the benefits of participating in this project, they will be more likely to cooperate.
We spoke with Peter Houstle, CEO of Mariner Management, and Christi Beatty, vice president of chapter services and member engagement at the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), about the chapter benchmarking project they’re working on together. Our previous post described the self-assessment tool used last year by 75% of AGC chapters, a great participation rate for the new tool’s launch.
In this post, we’re returning to AGC and the remaining three phases of a successful chapter benchmarking project: sharing that data with your chapters, providing resources to help them improve performance, and supporting their growth with chapter leader training and development.
Sharing chapter benchmarking data
The reason for AGC’s high participation rate can be traced back to a project prerequisite we discussed in a previous post: chapter ownership. In rolling out the self-assessment, the board members of AGC’s Executive Leadership Council (ELC)—the dues-paying membership group for AGC’s 89 chapter staff executives—spread the message that “your peers developed this tool and put together this scorecard and guidebook for you.”
The ELC purchased software from Dynamic Benchmarking that gave chapter leaders access to benchmarking data and reports. They can go onto the platform and compare their practices and performance to similar chapters. For example, they can see anonymized data for chapters in a metropolitan area with a $2M budget and observe how different activities led to different results. The WIIFM was clear. However, only chapters that completed the self-assessment had access to the results.
Peter said one of the biggest barriers to taking on a chapter benchmarking project is the logistical challenge of collecting chapter data. Usually, the HQ’s AMS/CRM isn’t integrated with the databases and accounting software used by chapters. However, as you can see from AGC’s example, even if data isn’t integrated, you can find solutions like Dynamic Benchmarking.
Billhighway is another solution. Because a chapter’s financial activity (including payments, dues, registrations, and purchases) flows through our software, you can capture all the chapter performance, financial, and member engagement data you need.
HQ’s relationship with chapter leaders and the level of trust that chapter leaders have in your association is another common barrier. Timing worked in AGC’s favor here. In the last five years, half the chapter executives retired. Christi said the new generation of executives is willing to seek information and ask for help.
AGC is using the self-assessment tool to find the bright spots in high-performing chapters, for example, a membership recruitment or retention strategy, safety program, or PR program. They’re helping these bright spot chapters tell their story so other chapters can copy their success.
These stories along with the best practices described in the scorecard’s guidebook are helping the chapters with middling scores to improve their performance. Christi is helping some of the lowest-performing chapters, the ones who were brave enough to be transparent, find the resources they need.
Christi noted that benchmarking brings about a time of uncomfortable reckoning for many chapters when they see where they don’t measure up. For example, many chapters don’t measure market penetration and they don’t want to measure it because the news won’t be good. A metric like this touches a nerve, one that’s attached to pride and ego.
AGC doesn’t push them one way or the other. This is the chapter executive’s tool; they decide what they want to do with it, and that decision is the chapter leader’s business. They could throw the results out or share them with staff and figure out together how they’ll improve. Or they could be brave enough to share the results with their board, showing them where they’re doing well and where they could use some work—a handy business case for an investment in technology or additional staff.
Providing a chapter resource library
AGC provides resources on their website for chapter leaders to turn to after doing the self-assessment. The resources are organized by and aligned with the topics discussed in the scorecard and guidebook. They’re using a WordPress taxonomy plugin that follows the benchmarking tool topics.
In the future, Christi imagines the library including links to resources from the association industry (like this blog), ASAE, and BoardSource; session recordings; LinkedIn Learning; ideas from other chapters and associations; and even applicable case studies from the corporate world. However, the library is a work in progress right now. Resource collection, creation, cataloging, and curation takes time.
Because it’s part of their strategic plan, an ELC work group is identifying gaps in the existing library and figuring out what they have available at AGC and what they need to find elsewhere. The ELC is responsible for collecting, creating, cataloging, and curating the library’s resources. AGC staff cannot develop or search for resources, but they will upload them.
The ELC hasn’t yet built up the volunteer muscle required for this project because it’s always been Christi’s job to do all these things, but that’s not a sustainable approach. This work is not for AGC; it’s for the chapters and ELC volunteers must do the work.
Chapter leader training and development
An annual self-assessment and scorecard/guidebook review isn’t going to transform chapters on its own. Chapter staff and volunteer leaders must develop the muscle memory for high performance. High-performing chapters have high-performing leaders, either executives or volunteers, so you start there. AGC plans to rely on the help of Mariner Management to develop the leadership skills, association management expertise, and financial acumen of their chapter executives.
AGC also has a mentoring program for new chapter executives. Christi talks to the new exec to learn what they’re looking for in a mentor and finds a good match for them, someone who has the bandwidth and knowledge needed by the new exec.
AGC had remarkable success with a new coaching program last year. They offered chapter executives a deeply discounted executive coach or a peer group coaching arrangement. If they chose both services, they received an even deeper discount. Last year, 7 chapter executives worked individually with a coach and 13 execs took part in the facilitated peer groups—one was a group of 7 and one was a group of 6. This year, 8 execs chose individual coaching and 22 execs are participating in the peer groups.
A chapter self-assessment that measures what matters—performance—is the first step in a transformative journey for you and your chapters. With the insight gleaned from chapter benchmarking data and the resources and training facilitated by your association, your chapters will become more effective partners in delivering value to your members.
It’s worth repeating: you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Billhighway allows you to capture the chapter financial, engagement, and performance data you need, while providing a healthy balance of autonomy for your chapters and visibility for your association. Contact us if you’d like a peek behind the curtain to see how our software works.