Looking at the value chapters can bring to associations.

“Show me the money!” This is often the response in one way or the other to any budget request for an investment in technology. “What’s the return? What additional value will our association get out of the dollars it has to spend?”

You can often justify an expense for technology if it benefits the association or its members. But mention it’s for the association’s chapters and eyes start to roll. And rightfully so. According to the 2018 Chapter Benchmarking Report, 29 percent of associations track measurable data in a formal way that answers the question “Are chapters contributing to the association’s strategic plan and the bottom line?”.

That statistic points to the expectations associations have for their chapter network. While all of the associations responding to the survey in the report say chapters are a key channel for member engagement, retention, and acquisition, they also report that chapters are underperforming in those areas.

Something we know from working with more than 50 associations with chapters is that these local and state groups often struggle with low volunteerism, inefficient technology and processes, and a mismatch in skills and knowledge. In fact, chapter leaders typically have a strong understanding about their trade or profession but often lack the know-how to run a successful nonprofit membership organization. They need support.

A case in point

Patrick is a savvy association exec who figured that tracking the return on investment (ROI) of his chapters would allow him to justify an investment in more support to chapters so they could deliver more value for the association. The result: His association is getting an 8:1 return on their dollars. He secured the investment.

How did he do it? He looked at the value chapters provide around member engagement (e.g., registrations) and volunteer activities such as leadership service on boards and committees, speakers, writers, and participants in Capitol Hill meetings. As Patrick said, “While there’s no direct financial return from a chapter volunteer’s activity, there is a potential replacement cost for it because without volunteers, what’s your option? You’d have to hire staff to replace them.”

Using this approach, the association valued chapter member engagement alone at $1.5 million. Patrick shared his story in a webinar with Peter Houstle from Mariner Management: Chapters: Are They Worth the Effort? where they provided a look at an ROI tool and the value of knowing the ROI of chapters.

The exercise also helped the association zero in on where chapters could and should provide value. This in turn allows for effective decision making about staff and financial resources.

Take the next step

If your ROI numbers don’t pan out, that might indicate the need for a critical conversation on the future of chapters for your organization. Or it might be a catalyst for restructuring or piloting a shift in how you support chapters.

So are chapters worth it for your association? Download the ebook, Evaluating the Health of your Association’s Chapter Program, to learn how to evaluate the health of your association’s chapter program.


Peggy M. Hoffman is president and Mariner’s resident expert on communication, marketing and building community. Learn more about Peggy Hoffman, here.