Want all your chapters to be successful? Consider a regional chapter management strategy

Updated: Oct. 12, 2018  |  Categories: National Perspective  


Many associations use the same management structure for all their chapters, around the country and around the globe. They have a single process and offer the same trainings, support for advocacy, web site options, etc., regardless of location.

That direction could be very shortsighted. Considering the fast pace of business and the differing norms and needs of individuals, a single management direction puts many associations at a distinct disadvantage.

What if instead, associations saw themselves as consisting of groups of chapters in specific areas? This change to account for regional differences lets associations better meet the needs of their chapters and members. Taking a regional approach can improve functions at the chapter level, including chapter operations and reputation, while minimizing the chance for financial and reputational harm to the parent organization.

How do regional management strategies apply to associations?

In “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America” Colin Woodard splits the US into 11 distinct regions (Business Insider has a quick guide to each), and explains how each has its own acceptable norms and ways of operating.

Using a regional strategy doesn’t mean that each region is run completely differently, as doing so would create countless complexities. Rather, it allows organizations to apply some of their successes to all chapters, while adapting others as needed. Perhaps one region is more familiar and comfortable with regulatory laws, while another is more accepting of diversity. The right response would be to provide tools that separately address the awareness each region lacks, not a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t completely address either.

Think about successful multinational organizations like Coca Cola, Accenture and Intel. Their success is due, in part, to understanding that each of their locations runs differently. Their locations share many characteristics, but account for differences in demographics, as well as in culture, politics and economy and regulatory requirements.  

This same dedication to adjusting processes and procedures to meet the varying needs of their employees can (and should) be applied to national associations. Take for example, the Greater Appalachia region, which, Woodard describes as southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia, parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and into Oklahoma and Texas. Here, he says, residents value independence and self-sufficiency. Knowing this, a national organization would benefit from providing guidance to Boards but giving them the freedom to deliver on their message as they see fit.

A regional strategy at work:  How PMI members benefit

A number of StarChapter customers have benefitted from implementing a regional management strategy, as they’ve adjusted their business model to one that accounts for regional differences in areas like membership, meeting topics and advocacy. PMI, the Project Management Institute, is one example. Here’s what Mike Liddy, Chapter System Support Specialist who works directly with PMI Chapter Leaders, has to say:

“I like to think of chapters of large membership associations as laboratories. Innovation at the ground and regional level can produce key results in A&R and the development of volunteer pipelines. If membership is about creating a sense of belonging, then sound regional strategies can be game changers. A great example of this, is that some of our chapters in the New England Region of the U.S. are conducting NEMO events.  NEMO is an acronym for New Member Orientation Meetings.  The NEMOs are a stellar example of outside in thinking. New members are placed in round tables with a board member acting as facilitator.  Each new member has 3 questions written out on a 3 X 5 postcard.  The 3 questions they are asked:

  1. Why did you join PMI and our chapter?
  2. What is your biggest challenge professionally?
  3. What goal would you like to accomplish professionally in the next 6 to 12 months?

These questions are asked for purposes of identifying, recruiting and developing emerging leaders in the region for the chapters. Some individuals are members of more than one chapter in the region.”

Which regional strategy will work best for your organization?

This isn’t to say that associations need to throw out everything they’ve put in place and start over. You have strategies and structures that will continue to work for your entire organization. But there is also a strong likelihood that some, or all your regions would be better served with tools geared specifically to their needs. The data you collect by surveying your boards and your membership will help you see the specific needs in each region, to identify what will continue to work and where changes and different structures would be beneficial.  

The best regional strategy for association management is one that recognizes and adapts for differences in local markets. By treating your organization as a compilation of regions, you’ll add value to your membership, strengthen your entire organization and potentially avoid costly mistakes.

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