How healthy is your association’s chapter program?

How can you ensure your association’s chapters are at their best? 

Read on for tips on how to assess chapter health and make improvements. 

If your association has a chapter program, it’s there for a reason. It’s part of your organization’s strategy for attracting and engaging members and achieving the overall mission. So, it’s important to ensure that it’s always doing its job and operating at peak performance.  

Learn how to how to assess the health of your association’s chapters Get the guide

But how do you know if it’s truly doing well? How do you find areas that could use improvement? 

A good place to start is to consider what a healthy chapter program looks like. 

Elements of a healthy association chapter program

A successful chapter program typically has four key elements: 

  1. Sustainable leadership
  2. A supportive administrative structure 
  3. Strong member involvement 
  4. Excellent member value 

Let’s look at each of these elements in more detail. 

1. Sustainable leadership 

Strong chapters need an ongoing supply of leaders. The Dashboard Indicators for Chapter Success report from Mariner Management & Marketing shows that chapters that continuously recycle leaders and fail to develop new leaders may struggle over time. The takeaway: Developing upcoming leaders is just as important as supporting current leaders.  

2. Supportive administrative structure 

An effective administrative structure establishes and implements policies and procedures, provides software tools to support chapter functions, maintains the chapter identity, and assures continuity through leadership changes. 

3. Strong member involvement 

A strong indicator of a healthy chapter program is not so much about the number of members in each chapter as it is about how actively engaged members are in the chapter by doing things such as:

Heart with a cardiac pulse representing keeping a pulse on your heart, your chapters

  • Attending meetings and events  
  • Talking to other members formally and informally  
  • Stepping up as presenters or facilitators  
  • Participating on committees

4. Excellent member value 

Many associations’ chapter programs require a set of member services. Yet the Dashboard Indicators for Chapter Success report found that when these same associations share what makes their chapters successful, most name three or fewer services that make the difference.

In short, it’s less about the number of services provided and more about the chapters serving the members’ most important needs. The list of valuable member services varies for each organization, but the report found that the most often noted services are networking, education/training, and legislative/public affairs.

The 2022 Association Trends Study by Community Brands found that these same services top the list of most important benefits: 

Determining the health of your chapter program 

With a clear picture of a healthy chapter program in mind, it’s time to assess how well your chapters are doing. You can do this in two ways: 

1. Measure the return on investment (ROI) from your chapters.

This can be accomplished by considering the direct value your chapters provide (for example, direct income to your association) and their indirect value (for example, the influence of chapter activity on your association’s mission and organizational metrics). Low ROI might indicate the need to improve one or more of the elements of a healthy chapter program.

2. Identify areas that need improvement.

Consider indicators that your key elements of chapter success might be in jeopardy. For example: 

  • Vacant chapter volunteer positions might show a need for more leadership development.
  • If chapters are having difficulty completing annual reports, your association might need to support them with better software tools for viewing and managing chapter data and reports.
  • Declining chapter membership levels and event registrations might indicate that membership benefits and engagement programs need work. 

Learn more 

Your chapter program has the potential to deliver big value to your organization. Keeping it in top condition will help ensure your association is getting the most out of it.

Learn more tips and insights on how to assess chapter health and improve your chapter program. Read the how-to guide, Evaluating the Health of Your Association’s Chapter Program.   

Don't lose your chapters

Discover the elements of a healthy association chapter program and tips on how to assess the health of your association’s chapters and make improvements.

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