Chapter Lite: Building Local Community without the Bylaws

Jamie DeSimone, CAE, Director Membership & Chapter Relations for Independent Electrical Contractors led a off-the-beaten path conversation at ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting last month which looked at what could be considered the “chapter-lite” model and even went a little further and talked about what is probably more appropriately consider the “anti-chapter” (meant as a compliment!). The session was titled Creating Local Community for
Yourself and Your Association.

They started by offering a definition of “chapter” (formal structure) vs. “local community” (a group drawn together) drawing from Associapedia. It can be likened to the difference between a bricks and mortar association and the LinkedIn version thereof. Yes there can be a place for both but increasingly, we’re finding that individuals want less structure and more focus on content in their local communities. Jamie’s session provided three examples of varying size and shape.

The first two feel more like a “chapter-lite” but offer good examples of how you can provide a loosely structured community within a formal structure: Greater Washington Network and Association Forum of Chicagoland‘s Community Outside the Beltway. The first, represented by Frances Reimers, Network manager at ASAE & The Center, grew out of the merger between ASAE and the Greater Washington Society for Association Executives, provides a look at how a formal association lets members gather informally. The second, represented by Pamela Schroeder, CAE, Association Forum’s VP/COO,  is a successful look at building community through a combination of taking the meetings and events to the member while offering vibrant special interests groups. Both have support from paid staff and count many “members” and volunteers. 

The most innovative model — The Alexandria (VA) Brown Bag — was shared by Talisa Thomas-Hall, Director of Membership & Affiliate Relations for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. This is a group, which is not related to Talisa’s association or a function of her job there, that grew out of a desire by local association professionals, primarily membership and marketing professionals and association service providers to gather monthly and share ideas. Talisa basically stepped up as a coordinator for her colleagues – this is building community for yourself. What makes this group work is their focus on the individuals, building an inclusive community and keeping the structure light. They have a program planning team that gets a calendar and they draw on participants as speakers and luncheon hosts. Talisa offers more details in their session. 

Almost six years ago, a small like-minded group in Columbia, MD, started a similar group which we call Association Network Exchange. Like the Alexandria group, we don’t have officers, dues and bylaws. We have a core group that plans gatherings almost monthly.  As the un-president, I’m always open to new members and ideas.

What keeps groups like those in Alexandria and Columbia going? A need for face-to-face conversation that happens frequently enough that we get to know each other and can rely or call on each without the burden of running an election.