Improve Chapters Through Engagement, Support, and Trust

a giant foot propelling a person upwards on a scale August 15, 2016 By: J. Scott Douglas

For associations working with regional chapters, figuring out how to effectively manage and support local leadership can be tricky. Here are some changes that the National Strength and Conditioning Association made to build a better working relationship with its state and regional volunteer network—and reap better results.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) began nearly 40 years ago as a group of strength coaches who came together for camaraderie and to share best practices. Fast-forward to today: We have state and Canadian province directors across nine regions and host nearly four dozen events each year run nearly completely by volunteers.

This geographic reach poses a challenge: keeping a large pool of volunteer leaders working in the same direction while protecting the integrity of NSCA’s brand and increasing accountability. After all, volunteers at the local level are our ambassadors to both existing and potential members.

I eventually realized that our members were just trying to do their best to promote the association they loved, and we weren't doing enough to support them.

Increasing Engagement With Regional Leaders

Our member volunteers lead busy lives that don't follow normal business hours, so we needed to adapt to their schedules. This meant hosting regular Sunday-evening virtual meetings with our nine regional coordinators to keep up on local issues and to build rapport. In addition, we hosted a regional leadership retreat at our headquarters in Colorado to emphasize volunteers' importance to the association, build greater awareness of their efforts, and deepen trust. Finally, it is now a growing priority for us to attend state, provincial, and regional events to both evaluate and celebrate their efforts.

Increasing Marketing Support

One of the things I least enjoyed when I served as NSCA's marketing director was being the "brand police," telling our volunteers when they used the logo incorrectly or stepped outside of brand guidelines. But I eventually realized that our members were just trying to do their best to promote the association they loved, and we weren't doing enough to support them.

As a result, we stepped up our efforts to provide volunteers with event marketing toolkits. "NSCA in a Box," for example, was a rolling crate for each region filled with banners, table drapes, resources, and marketing materials to help them effectively promote NSCA when opportunities emerged. In addition, we established regional groups on Facebook to support volunteers' desire to reach out to members and nonmembers in their regions through social media.

We still have plenty of work to do in this area, so we recently audited our current work with regional leadership to look for ways to improve and further customize our support of their marketing needs.

Enhancing Financial and Governance Standards

As in many associations, our local chapters started organically and operated with some guidelines and basic accounting oversight. Several years ago, all financial accounts were centralized at headquarters as designated accounts, and last year the accounts were brought over into the organization's standard budget. This has increased both visibility and accountability for how funds are budgeted and used.

This process hasn't been easy. It has caused some of our regional leaders to question NSCA marketing expenses and has caused some at headquarters to question volunteers' travel and gift-related costs. But these questions have ultimately brought our teams closer together as we work through the issues.

We also recently updated NSCA's volunteer handbook to clarify how our volunteer leaders are managed and define expectations. As with other growing associations, we face increasing expectations of accountability, transparency, and visibility from our members and so need to have processes in place that help us maintain high standards across our membership.

The Results Are In

Over the last two years, after implementing these changes, attendance at local events has increased more than 50 percent. Better yet, half of those attendees are nonmembers, showing that the outreach is effectively going beyond current members. Further, we have seen student membership numbers increase this year for the first time since 2013.

While many moving parts are at work to bring about positive change, it's become increasingly apparent how important and valuable NSCA's North American volunteer leadership is at a local level. And it has been personally rewarding to work with such a passionate and dedicated group of volunteers, who remind me of why we exist as an association in the first place.

J. Scott Douglas

J. Scott Douglas is senior director of membership and business development at the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Colorado Springs, Colorado.