A member of the American Society of Association Executives LinkedIn group recently posted a question for discussion:
Where have all the local chapters gone and what will fill the void?
As reluctant, yet long-tenured, treasurer turned defacto president for a struggling local chapter of a larger national association, this question is personally relevant, but also professionally engaging.
Local chapters are not disappearing. On the contrary, many of my peers see growth opportunities for local chapters in delivering localized content, networking opportunities and face-to-face social connections.
Donna Dunn, CAE, President of the Association of YMCA Professionals: "We are actually moving in the opposite direction. Our chapters are finding new energy and new members. We have a focus on support from the national level. We encourage our chapters to be unique to their area and provide programming that fits where they are. We spend the time and money to bring our chapter leaders together annually where they exchange ideas and get new focus. So our chapters are not going away. They are getting stronger."
Tammy Dillard-Steels: "Chapters play a very important role of local involvement, I do not think they are going away. They need to be redefined and evolve to become partners."
Sharon Kneebone, CAE: "Our sections who are embracing our younger leaders are seeing the most revitalization - especially when we see a mix of generational leaders. We are seeing them infuse our sections with new ideas and new vitality."
Kevin Jackson: "I have seen one or two cases where the National body starts to deliver services that overlap with the chapter. This jeopardizes the survival of the chapter, or as mentioned above, drives them into a different type of existence.
Allen Liff: "Guiding questions to help sort this out: What is it that ONLY the chapters can/should do? What is it that ONLY National can/should do? What are the critical areas where chapters AND national must COLLABORATE?"
Cindy Simpson, M,Ed, CAE: "We provide our struggling chapters with the option to transition to an Affiliate Group (like a social club) that is less formal than chapter status. This decision allows us to focus our efforts on the larger chapters - with a staff of six full-time equivalents we can only provide so much support. The decision was well received by our chapters and also provides a mechanism for small groups of individuals who are interested in affiliating with our association without going through a formalized process."
Key to local chapter success in these comments seems to be:
- Defined roles and value propositions for the national organization and local chapters
- Focused support from the national association staff
- Openness to new ideas and new leadership