Let’s Hack Our Chapter Systems

If you walked into room W184 at #ASAE18, you would have found the chairs out-of-whack, music in the air, interesting snippets of innovation in action on a rotating slide deck and lots of buzz. At the end of the 90-minutes, you would have discovered that hacking our current chapters is fun and possible.

Our hackathoners chose to dive into one of four challenges facing today’s associations and their chapters. Here’s a quick glimpse at the work they produced. You can also learn more on the Billhighway/Mariner webinar “10 Ways to Hack Your Chapters”.


Ultimate Component Management Tool

The goal is to streamline chapter management. One group called it TOPS, a Tool for Optimization and Performance Streaming. The new tool will: build unity in the chapter network and with national; encourage chapter leaders to engage with national; and streamline reporting and info-sharing. Among TOPS’ features and functions (remember this is thinking big!):

  1. Chapter management and assessment: An “Executive Director in a Box” tool. Financial management tools, dashboards, KPIs and report card functionality (help chapters stay in compliance).
  2. Communication: 2-way communication between National and chapters, and communication between chapters. Video conferencing, single sign-on, voice and facial recognition. Optimize the conversations to build relationships and accountability.
  3. Membership management: Templates for member prospecting, on-boarding, renewal, and recognition, event reminders, thank you emails, follow up emails, and certification reminders.
  4. Chapter leadership: Lots of tools and resources to help with governance, strategic planning, leadership development and training, leadership succession, and chapter leader engagement.
  5. Community: Embedded  tools for chapter leader peer-to-peer mentoring, easy Q&A and sharing, easy options for engaging chapters in decision-making.
  6. Additional chapter support: e.g., documents, samples, templates, and tools from National with easy upload (share), print, and download. Of course, gamification is baked into TOPS for reward.
  7. Ease of Use: Single sign-on, integration in association website and other data systems, app version and easy to access system training (think embedded tutorials and step-by-step wizards).


Un-chapter Solution

The goal is a super simple group structure that lets members make community connections, access educational benefits or drive a campaign (think advocacy, awareness). It needs to be an easy, light structure that doesn’t requires management by a critical mass of volunteers. Ideally, we empower members to establish their own culture. They connect, share, and benefit from each other’s expertise and knowledge. In the hackers’ minds was how to give members permission to break away from the legacy chapter model. Ideas considered included:

  • Association version of Meetup.com
  • Virtual un-chapters that deliver products (like high-level speakers) to smaller markets or dispersed members with common interests.
  • Market-based sub-groups where members self-select activities.
  • Groups formed around outcomes, like Indivisible.com.

In designing new models, membership might not even be required, especially if the cost of membership is already prohibiting engagement. Revenue sources could be sponsors, content partners, event registration, and up-selling association products. National could also support un-chapters with funding through grants or project budget .  The make-or-break elements for un-chapter success are:

  • Volunteers are the drivers! They take responsibility and ownership
  • Must have a charge or mission. In one scenario, national can present a problem and ask un-chapters to solve it. Bottom line, this model requires working toward an outcome, providing meaningful activities for members, and having fun around a common purpose.
  • Build in check-ins to help with accountability. Could be check-in phone calls with un-chapter volunteers or an app check-in tool  to track performance.

The mantra for success: Make guardrails, not guidelines, for un-chapters.


Ultimate Chapter Leader Portal

The goal is to provide a platform for chapter leaders to share their experience and feedback with peers. Think Alexa for chapter questions. This tool embraces the concepts of just-in-time learning, 24/7 access, and collaboration. Or, just call it FLEX, a strong, flexible, and configurable chapter solution. The group felt that FLEX would be successful if it was developed and used by the entire association community – imagine the power of cross-association collaboration!

  1. Provides everything chapter leaders and staff need in one spot. It’s not tied to a platform owned by others, like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Slack, which makes associations yield control over data, features, and functions.
  2. Allows you to push out content through multiple channels. It provides moderated content sharing, auto-archiving, recommendations tool (like Amazon), text notifications, and a Slack-like capacity for instant discussions.
  3. FLEX integrates with AMS/CRM, learning management systems, web conferencing tools, and other software and is GDPR-compliant, mobile responsive, and provides security breach protection.
  4. It includes document sharing and editing (think Google Docs with real-time updates, electronic approval, and track changes). Comes with an integrated collaborative calendar with alert notifications, voting and polling tools.
  5. FLEX has Alexa-like properties: voice-activated with personalized updates and language flexibility. It’s AI-powered with predictive analytics capabilities and automation rules based on actions. The system “learns” so when a question has already been asked, it can quickly find the answer. Chapter leaders are flagged as experts in different topic areas and are notified when a question needing their expertise comes up.
  6. National and chapter leaders have their own dashboards. National staff can monitor chapter performance. Chapter dashboards and training content are personalized by chapter role/position.

Components (Chapters) as Incubators

The goal is a model that leverages components as innovation incubators for their profession or industry. Think the in-house innovation lab. The idea that emerged is a chapter kickstarter platform. It might work like this: Chapter judges (peers) vote on ideas submitted by chapters for new business models or programs. National gives the winning chapters a budget to pilot these programs. And, here’s the crowdfunding element: other chapters can also buy into these programs. After six months, the program’s ROI is evaluated. If it’s performing well, they receive a second grant.

Two examples to steal from include ASAE Foundation’s Innovation Grants and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums may provide a starting point for further look as their “Invest in the Nest” Kickstarter was successful. This was in many ways this challenge was the most daunting. It requires a culture of managed risk that embraces failure is an avenue to success.

Session bonus: learn how associations can enlist their members to participate in quick-sprint hackathons to help develop new products and services. In exchange, participants get a highly engaging experience. Read more on AssociationsNow “Turn Members into Hackers (the good kind)”.

Will any of these ideas find their way to market? We’ll see. If you are interested in joining the journey, let us know!