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Associations Now

Replacing a Rogue Chapter with a Virtual Presence

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, May/June 2014 The A List

By: Rob Stott

Summary: When its L.A. affiliate fell off course, the Council of Better Business Bureaus was forced to shut the group down, but business had to continue for one of CBBB's largest regions. A virtual chapter helped them continue to serve businesses and consumers.

As one of the most recognizable nonprofits in the country, the Council of Better Business Bureaus relies on the honest and transparent work of its more than 100 local BBBs to achieve its mission of advancing marketplace trust. To help them, CBBB established a set of accreditation standards for the local groups to follow.

So when the Greater Los Angeles chapter was publicly accused of shortcutting the accreditation process and essentially going rogue, CBBB leadership was forced to step in. After an investigation, they determined that the only solution was to expel the chapter.

"BBB is a close-knit organization, so this was a very painful decision for everyone involved," says CBBB President and CEO Mary E. Power, FASAE, CAE. "It was helped by the fact that we have strong standards and policies in place, so that insured a fair and deliberate process."

But there was still work to do. The L.A. chapter had served the largest population of any BBB, and accreditation requests and consumer complaints were rolling in. Before expelling the local chapter, CBBB developed a contingency plan that involved establishing a virtual presence that could manage the workload and prevent a void in the council's service to the area.

CBBB recruited experienced leaders from other local BBBs and assembled teams to process consumer complaints and review requests for accreditation, says Steve Silter, CBBB vice president of standards and service, who served as staff manager for the virtual BBB team. "The transition to the new BBB website and the virtual team took place over a weekend, so consumers and businesses were able to obtain information almost seamlessly, with almost no interruption in service. Most people probably didn't even notice that a different team was in place."

With the help of more than 100 volunteers from across the U.S. and Canada, the virtual chapter—honored with a Summit Award in ASAE's 2013 Power of A competition—handled roughly 55,000 complaints, reaccredited more than 1,900 businesses, and answered over 25,000 phone calls and emails over a nine-month period.

In December, CBBB announced that the region would be divided up and assigned to three existing BBBs in the Greater Los Angeles area and that the virtual chapter would be disbanded.

"One of BBB's great values is that we are made up of local nonprofits with local businesses serving on their boards of directors. We are very active in our communities," says Power. "But it's gratifying to know that we have this option should we ever face a similar situation. In the internet age, no entity exists in a bubble."

Rob Stott is assistant editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email:

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Better Business, Virtually."]

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