5 Tips for Creating a Better Chapter Program

The email subject line caught my eye: Just Released: Area Ambassador Program. I clicked through and explored, and perhaps more importantly, I moved this email to my fitness folder with a follow-up flag. A sure sign that this message resonated.

Only later did I realize that this was yet another great example of how we can re-imagine our “chapters” and our volunteer cultivation to meet the new generation of members. (We’ve found other models in “unlikely” places.) The Area Ambassador program is all about raising your hand to curate routes, lead rides and build local community. It connects “members” while also building knowledge base for the main organization. And, it provided 5 tips for those of us in associations.

1) Designing with the member in mind. I am a “member” of RidewithGPS.com.  As cycling is largely a local activity, it is natural for a company that wants to drives customer engagement to want to connect people locally. There are plenty of traditional cycling groups – which by the way offer another model for chapters – but you
still have a structure to maintain. This Ambassador Program addresses that by focusing on the activity and outcome rather than an entity. And as they connected the WIIFM and the greater good motivations: great cycling with friends that curates great rides to build our collective database of routes. All this without an entity, bylaws, charter, officers, meetings and meeting minutes. The invite says

“Today we are unveiling the Area Ambassador Program. Our objective with this program is to inspire you as a rider to go on great new rides.”

2) Making it easy to raise a hand. They did in this two ways. First, it’s an easy application – check it out. Second, they provide a clear description of the job and a suite of exclusive tools.

3) Leaving the door open. This program is currently in pilot mode (see note below) so while they are actively seeking Area Ambassadors, they offer an option to just sign up to find out when someone in your area opts in to the program. You can also search to find Ambassadors.

4) Piloting out in the open. Sometimes associations’ fear of failure keeps them from innovating and that’s where piloting can be a safer option. Ride with GPS began working in their home state in October and five
months later invited all us to see what they tested and to raise your hand. They are honest in their messaging that this just getting underway which projects a sense that we’re all part of building the program (that’s a great nod to our
collaborative, crowdsourcing younger members!).

5) Beginning with mission. What I really honed in on was this paragraph from their announcement:

“The Area Ambassador Program is a long-term strategic bet for Ride with GPS. Since it was founded in 2007, the company has maintained a focus on having the best route planner for bicycling, and is considered the preferred route planning software by cycling clubs and events throughout the world. Reflecting on the origins of this program, Ham commented, “Companies like ours tend to celebrate big numbers – millions of users, routes, miles – but we have always believed that a million subpar routes was just a subpar experience. We want to see the best routes, presented in the best way, because that is what creates great cycling experiences.” 

They remind us to pause in the conversation about how to deal with our chapters to ask if there is an intrinsic role for local groups in our mission. If so, what is their role – specifically? Then, is the current model fulfilling that role and moving the mission?

Ready to ride?