Growing Chapter Networks to Widen Membership Reach

network of connected ropes December 19, 2016 By: Leann Cooper

Even as technology allows associations to more easily connect with members across distances, chapters can still provide them with a means to engage members locally and in person. For this reason, these two associations are actively growing their chapter networks to better serve their memberships.

Geographically based chapters are traditional components of many associations and can be an effective way for the association to extend its reach beyond the city or region where its headquarters is located. Having a local presence elsewhere makes recruiting members, hosting events, and offering educational programs possible in areas where the national organization is simply too far away to effectively serve.

And yet, there are so many alternative platforms for meeting, networking, and offering education, which begs the question: Are geographic chapters still relevant? And are they still an effective way for an association to grow?

While some associations are tinkering with the traditional structure—consolidating or shrinking their chapter network in order to help keep these entities relevant in an online world—two national associations have decided to grow their chapter networks. Why? They still see the value of geographic chapters for recruiting and retaining members, achieving their missions, and helping their members connect locally.

Chapters: The Extra-Special Sauce

Marilee Yorchak, CAE, executive director of the Digital Analytics Association, knows the importance that a strong chapter network can play in membership growth and retention for a national association. Before joining DAA, Yorchak served as executive director of the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Business Marketing Association. In this role, she learned firsthand how members' satisfaction levels increased when they were able to meet face to face with their colleagues.

DAA, a relatively young association with 4,000 members, seeks to advance the use of data to understand and improve the digital world. It is looking to grow and expand its reach by chartering new local chapters.

Some associations still see the value of geographic chapters for recruiting and retaining members, achieving their missions, and helping their members connect locally.

"Chapters are our lifeblood," Yorchak says. "They provide that 'extra-special sauce' that is so important to belonging to an association community: face-to-face interaction."

Currently, DAA has 14 chapters. To support those members interested in chartering a new chapter, the association provides them with a complete "Chapter in a Box" toolkit—which includes resources on how to organize and operate a chapter, sources of funding, event ideas, and DAA's chapter policies and expectations—and helps them gather the number of members needed to start the chapter.

Measured Approach to Growth

The American Student Dental Association is a national student-run organization that protects and advances the rights, interests, and welfare of dental students. Its 24,000 members include pre-doctoral, pre-dental, and international dental students. ASDA has chapters at each of the 66 dental schools in the United States and Puerto Rico and represents the interests of 92 percent of pre-doctoral students in the U.S.

By comparison, ASDA represents less than 10 percent of the 22,000 to 25,000 pre-dental students in these same regions. To target this underrepresented segment of its membership, ASDA hopes to charter new local chapters within the 250 colleges and universities offering pre-dentistry programs, says Danielle Bauer, CAE, director of membership and marketing.

At the same time, the board wanted to be sure that the association's mission of protecting and advancing the rights, interests, and welfare of dental students wouldn't suffer due to resources being extended to pre-dental students. Therefore, ASDA is taking a measured approach to growth by limiting the number of new pre-dental chapters it will officially recognize.

To date, it has approved nine pre-dental chapters to charter with the association in recent months, and it plans to open additional opportunities in the second quarter of 2017. Though there is a waitlist of more than 50 pre-dental clubs interested in becoming official chapters, ASDA will consider the clubs' size, geography, strength of leadership in place, and support from the undergraduate institution before extending a charter invitation.

"As a student organization, ASDA relies heavily on our chapters to recruit, engage, and develop our members," Bauer says. "Many members only experience ASDA at the local level. Our chapters provide those members the opportunity to get involved, lead, and make the most of their membership."

ASDA believes that by involving these students early, they will become more engaged pre-doctoral members. To support the new chapters, ASDA trains leaders on how to run a successful chapter and is creating a how-to-guide and other resources for future chapters.

Leann Cooper

Leann Cooper is senior manager of chapter services at the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, based in Lawrence, Kansas.