Helping Chapters be COVID-Proof

Chapters are vulnerable in the chaotic global health crisis; however, that does not have to mean they will flounder or fail. We do have to intervene though on their part. Answering the how led us to host a virtual idea swap for association pros responsible for navigating this question. The swap brought together more than 70 association execs to explore how associations can support chapters. View the full Idea Swap here and use this summary to help kickstart your own internal conversations.

“The first rule in a crisis like this is to recognize that we are a community and we are here to serve. The more we serve people, the more they will be there for us. Members will return that loyalty in the long run.”

This quote by an association ceo was shared on the virtual idea swap captures the why it’s worth acting now. Insights collected during that robust conversation centered on helping chapters move to the virtual world of events.

Two overarching themes came out during the call.

  1. Do not act like this is “business as usual.” In other words, this is not the time to ask chapters to fill out annual reports and do the standard time to renewal reminders.
  2. If you don’t have specific answers or resources, open a conversation. Convene your leaders and chapter execs on virtual calls to help them express their concerns, share ideas and work through issues. For one association this is a series of 20-minute couch chats over zoom. For another it was a virtual town hall featuring the CEO.


Open a communication channel powered by empathy and accessible 24/7
  • Hold virtual meetings with leaders and/or chapter executives to share what your association is doing to support members and chapters.
  • Make staff members from various departments accessible to offer advice and help on items such as …
    • Sponsorships and how not lose revenue, i.e., offer a credit for future.
    • Best practices on messaging, i.e., what to say/not to say, how to say it, etc.
    • Contract clauses – what chapters need to know regarding mitigating penalties. Offer contract reviews, help with legal jargon, etc.
    • Technology support as needed.
  • Build a robust leader resource site that includes items such as list of online platforms (here’s a list one association started for their chapters) with links to how-to videos, a running list of ideas from other leaders and/or members. Tight for time? Check YouTube for ready-to-share training videos like this one on the basics of Zoom or Hubspots how-to on Facebook Live.


Webinars/Simulcast Events
  • Consider giving chapters access to your association’s web streaming platforms to convert cancelled lived events into virtual programs.
  • Share access to national educational webinars to fill in now-vacant event calendars.
  • Work with chapters to create webinars to address more local issues. Perhaps, tap a national speaker with a local contact to give the national/local view.
  • To handle the cost of extending use of webinar platform, follow one association’s strategy to use GoToWebinar‘s flex plan. This allows paying monthly for “x” number of licenses and then add a license as needed in any given month.
  • Even where a chapter gets their own license, provide assistance with setup, registration and technical support to jumpstart the learning curve.
  • When dealing with CE-event, offer training and technical assistance on transferring an in-person event to online to help chapter assure the training meets standards set by the respective licensing boards.
  • Consider simulcast events so the effort to create a virtual event is shared by multiple chapters and nets greater involvement.
  • Create a template for a virtual program-in-a-box so chapters can continue to hold meetings.
  • Switch to a podcast.Check out this post on podcasting or scroll through a myriad of posts from AssociationsNow.

Advice: “know the goals of what you are trying to accomplish” i.e., ask how does that webinar platform cover your needs/standards? (i.e. Zoom does not track participants; Go to Webinar does)

Member Engagement
  • Help chapters start a virtual book club – using one off the online options, grab a book and a glass of wine and discuss. It’s easy to start; here’s a how-to. And there’s even an app.
  • One golf association chapter is having virtual watch parties to view past Golf Tournament “together.” On Facebook, just click “Watch Party” on a blank post and follow the directions.
  • Help chapters get members engaged on a social multi-player game and tie in contest to win free registration or association swag. One golf association chapter is turning to online golf games. If you have a Facebook group, just select one from the list of games by clicking on “GAMES” in your navigation bar.
  • Create online leagues, contests, silent auctions.
  • Create a contest chapters can use to engage member virtually like a Facebook contest.
  • Offer a Grubhub, DoorDash or UberEATS coupons as part of the registration package for a virtual event with idea of sharing a meal together while having a conversation together.
  • Assist chapters in sharing the virtual/online member benefits available through the headquarters association. Many of us have a robust library of online member so be sure to help chapters connect members with what is available.
Converting Sponsors
  • Suggest a vendor-sponsored webinar where chapter charges vendor a fee for the right to a 30 second promotional spiel at beginning/end; and a one-time email blast to participants on behalf of vendor.
  • Offer sponsors an opportunity to shoot a 10-30 sec video that can be shared on platform during the webinar.
  • Highlight how the pre and post registration communications can highlight the sponsor. Be sure to highlight the sponsor on the registration confirmation email for example.
  • Allow the sponsor to include the archived webinar on their website knowledge base or in sharing with clients and potential clients.
  • Tell the story of why the virtual sponsorship has as much or more visibility. Check out this post for reasons and this example from IASA for marketing online learning sponsorship.
Financial help for chapters
  • Share licenses for online platforms
  • Offer interest free loans
  • Advance next year’s dues
  • Provide grants
Resources recommended


Just as the pandemic is ever changing, our efforts will need to change and evolve. In fact, we might not know what to do at this very moment. Not communicating isn’t the answer. One CEO said, “Most we do not have all the answers, but we’re really worked to bring the community together to help each other”. His members found this reassuring.

What are you doing? Share with us so we can share with the community!