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Clearin Up Association Chapter Confusion

hires trade assocAs I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m a member of Public Relations Society of America, and I’m actively involved in the Central Michigan Chapter of PRSA.

While I enjoy attending PRSA functions across the country – during which I can network and learn from colleagues – I more frequently attend chapter meetings and events.

Obviously, convenience plays a big factor, since venues for chapter events are within the Lansing area. But also, I feel most comfortable swapping industry stories, exchanging business cards and hearing about trends during CMPRSA events.

And so, for me, my chapter is of the utmost value.

But that’s not the case for associations across the board, according to a new benchmark report by Mariner Management and Marketing.

The report found associations rely on their chapters for member engagement, leadership development, membership recruitment, marketing communications and local resources.

Probably not surprising (at least not considering my experience), networking and education are the top services provided by chapters. At the same time, the central organization frequently offers promotion assistance for events and meetings and helps with database management.

When it comes to dues, for the most part, central organizations, rather than chapters, set dues rates and collect dues. And in most cases, members are required to belong to the central association if they choose to also belong to a chapter.

As for training for chapter leaders, the most common form is an online discussion forum, with associations providing four educational offerings on average.

77Mariner also looked at the perceived value of chapters. Associations ranked professional development and advocacy as most important. However, when ranking the effectiveness of chapters in delivering services, such as membership engagement and leadership development, there’s a gap.

So it makes sense that alignment causes the most angst among associations. In fact, 37 percent of survey respondents said their chapters are somewhat or rarely aligned. However, only 5 percent of associations measure the ROI of their chapters.

“While there is nothing explicit in the survey data, we know from open-ended comments as well as conversations with respondents that there is an undercurrent of discomfort with the status quo on chapters, and some associations are trying new things here and there,” Mariner said.

In fact, the study found only 13 percent of respondents scored their chapters in the top quintile, indicating that many associations view their chapters as rather ho-hum.

This could be because, as Mariner says, there are two major obstacles associations face:

  • The boards of most associations with geographic chapters draw many of their directors from those same chapters and these individuals are invariably reluctant to make substantive changes.
  • Much of the resistance to change also stems from lack of data due to fragmented, disconnected or non-existent systems, which make an objective assessment of chapter performance difficult at best.

So what do you think? How do you rank your chapters? Tell us here.

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