Building trust through effective chapter communications

Communication. There’s that tricky concept again! We strive to have open lines of communication with our chapters yet getting and keeping our leaders’ attention is becoming more difficult by the day. Between shifting priorities, an overload of communications channels, and less time to devote to tasks, chapter leaders are zoning out. Throw in a lack of trust between HQ and chapters, and it’s no wonder many of us are feeling like we’re yelling into a void. But effective communication is important so what’s the solution?

Enter communication guru Sheri Singer of Singer Communications. Sheri joined us for the 10/18 webinar, Beyond Borders: Uniting Chapter Communications, to share how we can begin to rebuild (or build from the bottom up) trust while strengthening communications with our volunteers and chapter leaders.

Listen here to the full conversation.

Here are a few highlights.

Gaining your chapters’ trust is paramount to building a strong channel of communication. Begin with conducting a communications audit to see where you stand. Find out what your members think about your communications. What do they like and not like about the time, frequency, and/or content? One question to explore that is relevant to chapters is whether members can tell the difference between communications from the chapter vs HQ.

Also, consider the feedback you get from your communications. What are they paying attention to? What are they saying about you via social media? Are they happy, dissatisfied, or indifferent? Do they feel like you know them?

Did you know? Advocacy was the #1 reason people joined an association in the 1980s & ‘90s. Today, members say networking and connecting with peers is the top reason, giving communications a much bigger role in an association’s overall strategy.

With the data from the audit, you can begin to build your framework.

Create an open dialogue. Hold open forums, virtual town halls, coffee chats and happy hours, anything that brings chapter leaders and HQ staff together – virtually and face-to-face – and allow them to air grievances without blowback. Listen to what they have to say and then collaborate on a solution.

Provide personal support. Become an ally, not the “them.” Schedule individual check-ins and ask for personal feedback and opinions. Record and share notes internally on what you’re hearing. Bring in third-party training and coaching.

Set realistic expectations. Be clear on the roles of both you and your chapters. Take time to find out where the confusion lies so you can prevent misunderstandings and finger-pointing.

Inspire volunteers and staff. This can’t be stressed enough. Let them know you see them. Express your gratitude and thanks for the hard work they do by showing your appreciation individually and collectively. Share the impact of their contributions through stories and recognition.

Timing is everything. This goes back to the communication overload issue. Segment your audience to target specific groups so every email is relevant to your audience. Track opens and clicks to determine the best send time, frequency, and triggers.

Tip: When crafting a message, don’t use 10 words when 5 will work!

Help your chapters improve their communications. Providing the right support can go a long way. Offer communications training, a chapter communications toolkit complete with how to create a plan, messaging and branding guidelines, and samples (elevator speeches, news releases, social media posts, media pitches, etc.). Incorporate communications training into chapter leader workshops, webinars and/or meetings.

Bonus Tip: Develop an ambassador program where you train members to be consistent on messaging and brand so they can be effective ambassadors for the association. This also builds trust because you are investing in your volunteers. They feel like you care for and respect them. Plus, you can leverage all members based on their skill sets whether it be verbal or written.

Additional resources:

Finally, here’s a few questions to consider when developing a communications strategy:

  • What’s my overall strategy for engaging chapters and communities?
  • How do I provide chapters with a communications toolkit and training that allows us to move an issue or a message forward?
  • How will we train our volunteers in media relations, association messaging, and or basic communication skills?


Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash