Four Reasons Why Chapters Fail

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

why chapters fail

The first thing to keep in mind when analyzing the success of the local chapters of your association is that they are run by volunteers.  There is a delicate balance between providing motivational goals and overtaxing volunteers.  Even if they have paid staff or admins, the direction, goals and objectives are still defined by the elected volunteer board members.  Obviously, the success of the chapters is highly dependent on how well the board manages it.  Since leadership changes year over year, it can be hard to continue positive momentum of the past.  It can also be difficult to identify and correct what’s not working.

The majority of chapter leaders do the best they can with the best intentions.  Their challenges are wrapped up in time, available resources, leadership experience and outside influences.  Here’s how these challenges, when not overcome, lead a chapter to fail:


Time is a precious commodity. The volunteer leaders wouldn’t be in their positions if they didn’t care about the association and their industry or profession.  But, they also have a regular job and responsibilities that can shift over time and often. Clearly, when challenges arise in their careers they must focus on their job first and their chapter second.  If the chapter is set up so that things only run well when everyone has the time to put into fulfilling their volunteer roles and responsibilities, it can lead to big problems.  A chapter needs to have a plan to deal with a temporary situation or a vacancy of an important leadership role.  The chapter should look at what management tasks take too much time to complete and work to reduce them by adding committees and technology options where applicable.

Available Resources

When time is at a premium having the right resources available is critical. Chapters who fail do not solve their resource problem. They need to have the right tools at their disposal.  Resources include a well-funded budget and an efficient technology solution.  Chapters need a strong budget that is well funded with meeting revenue and other non-dues revenue.  Non-dues revenue is the easiest and quickest source to tap at the local level.  There are many local businesses that would spend tax deductible money on advertisements and sponsorship of their local chapter.  Most of the time the chapter just needs to ask.  From a national perspective, it might be possible for some national business partners to offer assistance at the local level (beyond discounts).   The efficient technology solution will be a valuable resource and will help eliminate the time challenge. The core functionality within the efficient technology solution should include: website, email, event registration, surveys, and membership management.  Having the right tools like an all-in-one member friendly software that is affordable, can make a huge difference.

Leadership Experience

Leadership experience is typically a little harder to control.  Often, the chapter is limited to whoever is showing up or “volun-forced” to serve on the board.   Best intentions aside, not everyone is suited for their roles. One out of place board member is manageable, but if there are numerous positions being filled with ill-suited volunteers the chapter is set up for failure even before they start.  Identifying these situations early is important and being able to provide training quickly is the only solution.  Training existing boards to recruit, vet, and groom new leaders properly can help avoid the situation all together.

Outside Influences

Outside influences can also affect a chapter and cause it to fail.  In 2008, we saw a lot of chapters struggle when the economy took a turn.  Businesses and corporations stopped membership dues payments.  Meetings seemed too expensive for members and attendance suffered.  These were very real outside influences that the chapter could not control.  However, many organizations not only weathered the economic downturn, they flourished. 

There are a lot of chapter myths regarding low membership or attendance at meetings.  Some chapters think that a wide geographic area impedes their growth. Others believe that they can’t connect with the younger generation and won’t even try to get them to join. It’s a bit of a self-fulling prophecy. These beliefs that everyone l nods their heads to in agreement and refuses to fault the leadership for don’t get resolved. Ultimately, it is the leadership’s responsibility to see a way through the challenge and overcome it.  They need training and support with what will work and what has worked for other chapters. 

National can help chapters with education and webinars from trusted sources with years of experience (like StarChapter).  A forum of best practices supporting the chapter with new ideas, methods, and technology can keep them from falling and get them on the right track towards growth and success.

Failure doesn’t have to be an option.  It is very detrimental for the industry or profession when a local chapter closes.  It leaves a lot of people unable to gain access to the benefits of membership at the local level.  Without regular chapter meetings, it’s not just the association that feels the impact it’s the community.  There is less opportunity to develop leadership skills in that entire city or location, to network, to give back to that community, so much is lost.  Identifying steps to ensure time, available resources, leadership experience and outside influences are managed properly is important for chapters to be successful. It is the best position for national to take in order to support their local chapters. 

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