Evolution of Chapters

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A look at the history of associations tells us that chapters were often the seed for what is now a national or global organization. Take for example The Philadelphia Bar Association. It was founded in 1802, making it the oldest Association of lawyers in the United States; 64 years later in 1878, 20 state associations and the DC association gathered to form the American Bar Association.

What drove many associations to form was the need to get together in a room to solve a crisis, support growth in the profession or address a problem. The need to have the face-to-face “in my neighborhood” connections remains strong. What’s changed is the need for a mini-version of the national organization and all the infrastructure to accommodate that.

Pre-technology / pre-internet we needed small organizations to reach our members. Associations still think of chapters as organizations rather communities thus we create metrics around operations rather than value delivered. Meanwhile, our members want to make change by working on things they are passionate about. If associations launched projects rather than organizations, they could leverage the passion of the members to create value.

We can’t have this conversation without also acknowledging the great shift in volunteering and its impact particularly on member components. The Decision To Volunteer (ASAE, 2008) showed us that nearly 60% of members prefer ad-hoc or micro volunteering and the lack of these types of volunteer opportunities and inflexibility in volunteering are the leading cause for low volunteering rates. Volunteers face a time-intensive job to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s required for a traditional incorporated entity. They are still being asked to “run” an organization. Tomorrow’s leaders look at the situation and simply refuse to participate.

Some associations are responding. They are changing their models as did American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), North Carolina Association of CPAs (NCACPA) and Residential Real Estate Council (formerly Council of Residential Specialists). Others are starting chapters following new models such as CXPA – Customer Experience Professionals Association’s Networks and Interaction Design Association (IxDA).

Here are the stories we’ve collected. What’s your story on how you are evolving your chapter model?

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Mariner Management & Marketing provides association management, volunteer coordinator and leadership development information for associations and non-profit organizations.