Setting Up a Virtual Chapter Structure that Delivers for Your Association
Updated: Jun. 2, 2020 | Categories: Meetings/Events
In 2018, the Interior Design Society (IDS) added a virtual chapter to accommodate members not close enough to one of their 21 physical chapters. Their goal was to give these members the same opportunities as those who belong to their physical chapters. Based on positive feedback from their entire organization, they opened membership in the virtual chapter to all IDS members, regardless of location.
We asked Maddie Landers, IDS marketing and communications manager, to discuss some of what they believe make the virtual chapter so successful. In addition to just giving all members the same opportunities, it provides another channel for reaching more members and offering more to the entire organization; here Maddie discusses some specifics around pricing, programming, structure, and marketing.
Membership in the IDS virtual chapter costs the same as membership in a local IDS chapter. They considered making virtual memberships cheaper than membership in a physical chapter but decided against it, feeling that doing so would devalue the virtual chapter. All virtual IDS events are free for members, and as with their physical chapters, non-members can attend one meeting at no charge.
IDS structures its virtual events to ensure they’re interactive experiences. This includes building in opportunities to interact and ask questions, share stories, and get to know each other. They also work hard to include the tangible content their members want to learn about, including topics like business coaching for interior designers and web design for small business owners.
Board members from the IDS virtual chapter are always at these events. They typically kick of the meeting with a few words, and behind the scenes they keep everything on track, including managing questions and time, like when it’s time to wrap up.
They also oversee the chat, reading questions and asking for feedback, using prompts when they’re needed like “tell us your thoughts on X” or something as simple as “type your name and where you’re from,” to get things started (and ensure the technology is working). Board members also help manage session question and answer periods, which can occur during a session and after the speaker has finished. Only the presenter and the board see the questions, and the board member chooses the order to present the questions to the speaker. Typically, they’re able to remain online to answer all the questions they receive.
Sponsors: ensuring events stay educational and not too salesy
IDS sponsors often present at virtual chapter meetings. IDS has put guidelines in place to ensure these presentations provide value and remain educational and engaging, which includes requesting a copy of their presentation ahead of time. Sponsors also provide an item with a value of $500 or more to raffle off during the meeting, like a rug, a chair, or a light fixture. Members love this benefit because they’re always interested in learning about, and testing out, new brands and manufacturers to share with their customers.
Currently, IDS virtual events are held via Zoom. As with physical chapter meetings, these are scheduled in advance and the chapter sends registration links in email several times before an event.
To keep members feeling connected to each other and the speaker, the IDS board encourages attendees use their cameras instead of just audio.
Post meeting virtual Happy Hours & Networking
A virtual community is a great place for members to continue knowledge sharing and relationship building. After many of their virtual meetings, IDS members stay online for happy hour or a happy half hour, to network with those from the meeting. Feedback from IDS members about these events includes feeling just as connected to those in the “room” as if they had attended in-person.
The happy hour, which they also hold in Zoom, is a great way to connect and create a core network of other industry professionals to share ideas, strengths, and learnings. Networking in person tends to be more organic than when it occurs virtually, so IDS often has someone ask questions to start the conversation and they ask attendees to talk instead of typing in the chat.
Marketing & promotion
Marketing for their virtual chapter is done via the same channels they use for their physical chapters, primarily email and social media. The virtual board is highly effective when it comes to promoting whatever is relevant at the time, like their IDS national awards program, a yearly program with over 30 categories for members to submit nominations to. To drive interest and participation, during virtual meetings the board gives updates on the status of the program, encourages submissions, and reminds members how much longer the submission period will be open.
IDS has found their virtual chapter to be a benefit that greatly improves the membership of their entire membership. Consider how you could expand your benefits and your engagement by adding a virtual aspect to your chapter to draw in and keep more members.