Ask any component relations professional to describe the worst possible relationship between an association and its chapters and you’re bound to hear the words “us vs. them.” When this mindset afflicts staff and leaders, everyone loses, including your members.
You’ll never be in a position to help your chapters achieve their goals, serve their members, or improve their financial standing without finding a way to become partners instead of rivals. And forget about getting them to share data with you – that will never happen unless you repair your relationship.
If you haven’t already, take a few moments to read part 1 of this blog post series to learn:
- How chapters benefit from sharing their data with national
- Which obstacles you must overcome to convince them to share data
- How to build trust and strengthen your relationship with chapters
Solving the data-sharing challenge: Communication builds trust.
Compare the association/chapter relationship to the relationship with your spouse or significant other. How would your relationship fare if your communication style was:
It wouldn’t be much of a relationship, would it? If your relationship with your chapters is on the rocks, take a hard look at your communication style and how closely it resembles those five adjectives.
Partners communicate frequently.
Communication builds trust – and trust is what you need if you hope to encourage chapters to share their data and information with you. Establish regular communication habits with your chapters, such as:
- Weekly email check-in
- Quarterly phone call
- Quarterly web conference
Broadcasting is one-way. Communication is two-way.
We have two ears and only one mouth for a reason: to listen. When people don’t feel like they’re being heard, they disengage.
Find new ways to listen to your chapters.
- Ask for feedback either in-person, by email, or via an anonymous online suggestion box.
- Send out one-question polls, but give them the opportunity to say more.
- Ask them about their needs and challenges.
- Arrange leader-to-leader conversations.
- Host virtual town halls for chapter staff and/or volunteer leaders.
Facilitate communication between chapters.
Create a network, forum or online community where chapter staff/leaders can meet with their peers to share ideas and success stories, ask for advice, and answer questions. Instead of always coming to you with questions, encourage chapters to learn from each other.
Respect their time.
Since they already have a full-time job, volunteer leaders don’t have all day to work on association business. They need more time to respond to your emails, and they need plenty of notice to add items to their meeting agendas, acknowledge new members, or start new initiatives.
You can’t expect quick responses from them, but they do expect quick responses from you. Customer service is funny that way.
Establish a safe place for honest communication.
Don’t let things go left unsaid. In too many associations, difficult topics are skirted because of political or cultural concerns. Egos are soothed. Frustrations, disagreements, and controversies are avoided because it’s best to not make waves.
Relationships won’t thrive when issues are repressed. Establish a ‘safe place’ to discuss chapter and national concerns, frustrations, and perceptions. Each side must attempt to understand the issues and challenges facing the other. Be proactive in identifying potential conflicts before they begin to emerge.
These conversations require listening skills and empathy. Sometimes, they even require an outside facilitator, especially if you’re rebuilding a relationship.
Show chapters you’re on their side.
Build trust through your words and actions. Let them know you understand their challenges. Reaffirm their value to the association. At the same time, find out what resources would ease the workload of busy volunteer leaders, for example:
- Leadership and/or volunteer management training
- Support services – expertise and/or toolkits
- Mentoring/coaching from other chapter leaders
Solving the data-sharing challenge: Find common purpose.
Chapters are your partners in delivering member value. Partners have common goals and mutually agreed upon expectations for each other. If you wish to get chapters to agree to sharing data, get their buy-in on national goals and strategy.
Get the chapter perspective when developing goals and strategy.
Establish a chapter advisory board that serves as a sounding board for national leaders. Consider asking chapter representatives to participate in the association’s strategic planning sessions.
Reaffirm common purpose with individual chapters.
Set aside one of your quarterly chapter check-ins for an annual review of your relationship and common goals.
- Discuss the goals and strategic plans of both national and the chapter. Find alignment and hash out any conflicts.
- Acknowledge the strengths each side brings to the partnership and to the membership value proposition.
- Identify ways to cooperate to deliver member value.
- Identify and make a plan to eliminate redundant benefits.
- Document what each expects from the other and what each will deliver to members. Too often only the chapter is asked to document their responsibilities to national – it should be a two-way exchange.
Solving the data-sharing challenge: Make it easy and worthwhile.
Your chapters may be willing to share data with you but are they able? Their “not enough time” excuse would vanish if you can find a painless way for them to share data and information.
Beyond metrics, you may want to learn more about a chapter’s activities, so you can identify chapters that have best practices to share and chapters that need support.
Instead of relying on your finely honed nagging skills, try these tactics.
- Get on distribution lists and filter those emails to inbox folders.
- Subscribe to chapter member communications.
- Ask them to save their meeting minutes to a shared cloud-based folder, or add you to the distribution list for minutes.
- Call chapters once a quarter to find out what’s going on, learn about successes and problems, talk about emerging leaders, and brainstorm ideas for future collaboration.
- Track chapter leader/staff participation in leadership training events or other chapter forums hosted by national so you can identify ‘at risk’ chapters.
Some proven methods for sharing financials and other data include:
- Implementing the tactics mentioned above for sharing information about activities, for example, getting on the board distribution list and using shared cloud-based folders.
- Implementing a shared system, hosted by national, for processing payments and tracking financials.
- Using integrated association management software.
Demonstrate the results of chapter efforts.
One of the best practices for surveys also applies to data-sharing: If you ask for information, let people know how you’re using it. Participation increases when people see the impact of their efforts.
- Tell chapters how you used the information and data they shared to improve the value you deliver to members and chapters.
- Put together a benchmark report so chapters can see how they compare to others of their size.
- Develop resources based on what you’ve learned, for example, 20 proven sponsorship ideas.
Before you can expect chapters to share their data with you, you must ensure your relationship is a true partnership built on trust. Both partners must demonstrate a willingness to put aside past history, egos, and control issues. Instead, focus on your common goals – strengthening chapters so they can better deliver value to your members.