Updated: Oct. 12, 2018 | Categories: National Perspective
If you think it’s time to add more chapters, what’s your strategy?
A strong chapter presence is essential to the success of your national organization, and the benefits they provide include:
- Advancing your mission
- Increasing your membership
- Preparing your members for leadership roles
But, before you add chapters because you “think” your membership will appreciate them, make sure you’re clear on:
- Why you want to expand,
- Where adding chapters makes the most sense, and
- How to go about expanding.
A clear, documented strategy helps ensure expansions go as planned and provide consistency from one new chapter to the next, while delivering the benefits you and your members need and want.
How do you know it’s time to expand?
Are members asking for new chapters? Or are you considering adding chapters because you see a geographic hole? Perhaps you’re hearing that members in a specific region only participate in national events, and it’s not because they don’t want to meet locally. Perhaps they’re not participating as much as they’d like because it takes too long to get to chapter meetings and events. (You’ll know this by keeping a pulse on your members’ needs.) You might think a single chapter can effectively cover an area, but your members know better. Consider a metropolitan area like Atlanta. It could take members living on the outskirts of Atlanta 45 minutes to an hour to get to meetings downtown.
Here are some questions to ask yourself, your staff, and your chapter leaders that will allow you to make a more informed decision. Research the area you’re considering. Would it be a new or growing area for your organization? Is it underserved or un-served by existing chapters? If you don’t already have chapters in the area, research key data like the number of members and prospects with an appropriate distance of an area, drivability between existing chapters, etc.
- What needs will a new chapter address?
- Identify the chapters that would support your efforts to form a new chapter.
- Talk to chapter leadership and members in that area. If you have honest, strong relationships with your chapters, they’ll tell you if/when a specific area would be better served with two chapters rather than one, and they may even recommend splitting a chapter into two, rather than starting a new one.
What’s your strategy?
You’ve done your research and you believe adding a chapter, or several chapters, is the way to go. Do you:
- Own the chapter expansion plan and do all the work at the national level?
- Wait for members to approach you when they see a need and give them the tools to do it themselves?
National owns these new chapters
When the national organization makes all the decisions and completes all the steps to add a new chapter, they maintain complete control over the process, and they do all the work. This includes finding a suitable location, completing the necessary paperwork, and marketing to members and prospects, etc. If your association has the time and staff necessary, this may be the way to go.
Members request the expansion
When members drive new chapter openings, those chapters come into existence only when members believe there’s a need. They’re not waiting for the association to open a new chapter.
With the proper guidance and direction, chapters can open successfully on their own. This direction includes explaining how the process works at each step and providing the necessary forms and procedures, like applications, charters, and bylaws, and the marketing tools that will help them get, and keep, new members. This shift requires less of a time and manpower commitment at the national level while still allowing new chapters to meet the association’s mission and maintain the right level of branding and your reputation.