Tim Ebner is communications director and press secretary at the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, DC. He is a member of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council and a former Associations Now senior editor.
In managing components, staff in the parent organization can play an active role to ensure that every chapter reaches its full potential.
When it comes to volunteering, Michael Rosenberg, senior manager for member engagement at the Special Libraries Association, has seen it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly. The latter two were the focus of a recent conversation among leaders of SLA and its 81 geographic- and discipline-based chapters.
“We talked about all aspects of volunteering, in a very open and real way,” Rosenberg says. “We focused on questions like: What do I do if I need to remove a chapter leader? Or what do I do if my chapter is struggling to grow?”
Talking candidly about such challenges is an important element of an ongoing dialogue, facilitated by monthly webinars, that SLA maintains with its network of more than 500 volunteers. The conversations, led by SLA board members who serve as chapter liaisons, give SLA a better understanding of which chapters are struggling and which ones are performing well.
“Some chapters are naturally larger or stronger than others, which is why we rely on chapter liaisons to report back to us with data that speaks to growth potential,” Rosenberg says. “We keep that data in a dashboard view that allows us to monitor progress in real time.”
The goal is to get every chapter to a point of sustainable growth, Rosenberg says, attained when the chapter’s volunteering rate, number of events and programs, and financials are trending up year over year.
If you have one or two people doing everything, then that’s probably not a good sign for long-term health and sustainability.
“High-potential chapters are the ones that tap into buzz, excitement, and energy that comes from a dedicated group of volunteer leaders,” Rosenberg says. “If you have one or two people doing everything, then that’s probably not a good sign for long-term health and sustainability.”
To ensure that more volunteers are added over time, SLA has opened the door to microvolunteering, and this year it began onboarding volunteers with a two-day leadership symposium.
Of course, not all chapters achieve their full potential. When a chapter continues to struggle, Rosenberg reaches out directly.
“We ask what they need help with and follow up on those requests,” he says. “Then, we equip them with easy-to-use resources, things like member toolkits, email templates, phone scripts, and recommended practices for member engagement.”
Rosenberg also considers whether there are other chapters that might be able and willing to merge with one that’s struggling to perform on its own. In the last few years, SLA has reduced its number of chapters from 88 to 81.
“As some chapters struggle, they’ve been able to talk more and come together under a merger to reach a new and higher potential,” he says. “It’s about finding the right leaders in the right places, so that they can work collectively together.”
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled “Membership Memo: Peak Performance."]