Is member engagement at the top of your association’s strategy? Of course, it is. In the 2019 Chapter Benchmarking Report by Mariner Management, member engagement rose even higher on the list of strategic importance of chapter programs. Sixty-four percent viewed member engagement as an “absolutely essential” role for their chapters and no respondent gave this less than an important rating.

So how can associations close the gap between strategic goals and results when it comes to collaborating with chapters to drive member engagement? Let’s look at three ways to collaborate: Tapping the trickle-up, go for the win-win and tapping the hive mind.

Tapping the trickle-up
This is about taking a local idea national. What if we followed the lead of a chapter with a successful program and helped a good idea spread? If an idea is working locally, chances are it will work for other chapters. As a bonus, you build trust.

A Texas chapter sprang into action after Hurricane Harvey. They used a simple document to match schools who needed help to schools who wanted to help. The Texas chapter (and National) witnessed an incredible outpouring of help by students. Then came Hurricanes Irma and Maria along with the Northern California wildfires. The national office then scaled the Texas idea nationally. In the process, they also gained deep connections with students, the future of their association.

Another example of tapping the trickle up. Two members – a retired lieutenant colonel from the Army and US DOD employee – of a Tampa, FL chapter started a monthly lunch and learn program to introduce veterans and active military and/or their families to project management as a career. They wanted to share the career opportunities available in project management particularly to those retiring or transitioning to civilian life. National took this very small program and scaled it up for all their U.S. chapters under the name Operation: Qualify for Hire. This engaged a new group of members – and as an added bonus launched another member recruitment tool.

Go for the win-win
If you have a program that is best carried out locally or for which a local component could drive its success, you need to find the win-win to engage chapters. Maybe it’s about money or maybe it’s about adding value?

One military organization taps its local network to deliver direct assistance to military families in local communities. Through a Foundation program, councils and chapters receive grants to fund programs in nine areas of military and veteran family need. The win-win is that chapters spread the mission on the local level; meeting members at their point of need while chapters receive dollars to make a difference. The added plus is strengthening the national-chapter relationship.

World Landscape Architecture Month occurs each April and since 2017, chapters have played an important role in building the exposure and success of this outreach. The win for chapters is each has an opportunity to add member value by showcasing their members’ work on a national stage through the national organization’s popular Instagram account. In addition, chapters receive training and help in leveraging social media for their needs. For national, the program has grown the engagement and exposure of their mission.

Tap the hive mind
Marketing can sometimes be a large investment with mixed results. That’s were beta-testing comes in. One organization married the beta test idea with a chapter strategy that yielded a successful model for recruiting young members. They piloted a member recruitment campaign with chapters in which they were able to test-drive all elements before it rolled out nationally. This included feedback from chapters which shaped the program for national roll-out.

Tapping chapters to help fill in the member journey map provided an eye-opener for one professional association. They led chapter leaders through a member journey mapping process, during which national staff discovered a number of stops on the journey they had not identified – particularly around those early in their career.

A trade association held an idea fair at their annual chapter leadership program. The fair was structured to engage chapter leaders in sharing successes and ideas for boosting member recruitment. In the end, the idea fair generated new ideas for national to use and launched a new program where national provided grants to chapters willing to try – and test – new ideas.

Finding the right collaboration path can help associations deepen member engagement and growth. As you consider what might be the best path forward, keep in mind this advice from several of the associations highlighted here.

  • Begin the process by taking time to jointly work out what success looks like. It’s about identifying shared goals. 
  • Craft simple, outcome-oriented goals. 
  • Be honest throughout the collaboration. Trust is the currency of collaborations. 
  • Keep the “creators” involved. Several associations tapping the trickle-up strategy underscored the importance of engaging the local creators in the process to grow the idea. This includes giving credit to the originator. 
  • Communicate. Let’s not understate the need to stay in touch with any collaboration. Consider an online workspace to assure easy access to resources, decisions, answers and each other.  
  • Conflict will happen so expect it and accept it gracefully. 

Ready to learn more about how you can prepare your chapters for increased growth and improved ROI? Download the ebook, Evaluating the Health of 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.

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