Forming a local chapter is an excellent strategy for advancing an association's mission, increasing memberships, and preparing individuals for national leadership positions.
However, setting up a new chapter is a lot of work. They are resource-intensive, require extensive planning, and are challenging to manage.
If you are inspired by other large associations and considering the possibility of expanding, this article is for you. You’ll learn everything from the basics like what is a chapter or affiliate to the complex steps to establishing one for your organization.
Let’s get started.
- What are Chapters and Affiliates?
- Why Need a Local Chapter or an Affiliate?
- Basic Requirements for Getting Your Chapter Started
- 7 Steps to Get Your Chapter Off The Ground
- How to Keep Your Chapter Organization Running Smoothly?
What are Chapters and Affiliates?
In simple words, chapters or affiliates are branches/franchises of large associations. They share the same mission as the parent organization and can be national, state-wide, or regional. They can be organized geographically or by membership tiers, departments, or specializations.
Just like any other corporation, the parent association copyrights its name and forms an affiliate agreement with the chapter, which in turn carries out its mission, recruits more customers, and provides them with a fulfilling membership experience.
A chapter organization usually falls under the umbrella of a parent organization, however, they have an independent board and usually operate as a separate entity.
Also, depending on the chapter model, the parent organization can establish a strict hierarchy to manage chapters’ operations, complete legal requirements, or hire team members.
Why Need a Local Chapter or an Affiliate?
Chapters play an essential role in delivering membership benefits and are therefore crucial to the success of a large membership organization. They offer fun, challenging, and informative activities.
Here are some reasons why large associations look forward to starting a chapter:
They Don’t Have a Local Chapter in the Region
This is a major reason why associations seek chapters. It is estimated that there are over 150,000 prospects in the United States alone for the associations to grow through chapter expansion.
Let’s consider an example. A company that was paying for your members is moving them to a new location where there are no active chapters which is a great loss for you.
In such cases, starting a new chapter is essential for your members as well as the growth of your association.
Prompting Memberships in the Same Markets without Reciprocity
If your potential members live in an area where you dont have your association, having a local chapter or an affiliate can prompt memberships without competing with other organizations.
Therefore, they will be your expansion, will have the same mission as your association, and will operate under its banner. As a result, they will open up new advocacy opportunities as well as help you develop a future pipeline of the association.
Training and Communication Support to Local Members
There are many things that can be accomplished much more effectively on a local level. Local chapters provide a venue where members can meet, exchange views, take continuing education courses, and participate in social events.
You can regularly interact with them in a local community to provide programs or activities that relate to your goals. Additionally, a local organization understands the needs of its community and is sensitive to them.
Therefore, the creation of a local chapter makes sense and would benefit both prospects and members.
Basic Requirements for Getting Your Chapter Started
Once you have decided on starting a chapter or affiliate, it is now time to get your plans into action. Though each parent organization will have different requirements, here are a few things you should do to get started.
- Make sure your chapter/affiliate's objectives are in alignment with your organization's.
- Prepare an affiliation agreement for your chapter that clearly outlines your expectations - This includes the reporting structure, allocation of budget to your chapter organization, code of conduct, and other assistance from the parent organization (training or hiring).
- Complete the legal requirements - This includes trademark permits (what kind of trademark your chapters can use), Employee Identification Number (EIN) number obtained from the IRS, chapter by-laws, and other charter materials.
7 Steps to Get Your Chapter Off The Ground
Identify and Contact Your Local Members
The lack of the association’s benefits in the area is the primary reason for setting up a new chapter. In addition to limiting the membership experience to current members, non-members are unable to join because there is no chapter association near them.
Thus, the first step is identifying local members who share your mission and goals and will assist you in creating a local chapter. Thus, you can find them through:
- Posting an announcement on social media
- Contacting advocates and members of your association
- Reaching out to your organizational partners
- Emailing your prospects
- Contacting people in similar industries
Additionally, if you are interested in starting a chapter for an association, you can check out these organizations that welcome new affiliates:
- American Association of Public Health Dentistry (AAPHD)
- Association for Facilities Engineering (AFE)
- The National Organization for Women (NOW)
- American Studies Association (ASA)
- Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE)
- American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)
Recruit Board Members for Your Chapter
The next step is to recruit board members for your chapters.
Board members play a vital role in building connections within the community, and administering your chapter more effectively than you can by yourself. If you are a nonprofit association, they can also help you raise large amounts of funds, such as capital campaigns.
Finding experienced board members with the right skills, expertise, and leadership qualities is often difficult.
Here are some referrals or candidates you can consider for hiring the best candidates:
- Members of your association with the most connections
- Business contacts
- Other associations
- Major corporations and their community outreach programs
- A local chamber of commerce or a leadership program
- Newspapers or magazines featuring community leaders
- Well-known social media profiles and influencers
Once you have a selected list of candidates for board members, consider these points when making the final decision.
Recruit Employees and Volunteers for Your Chapter
Your association will also need new employees and volunteers to get running. Your chapter will therefore need to fill a variety of positions based on its structure and size. Here are some of the positions you'll need to start hiring for right away:
- Marketing and communications manager
- Head of purchasing and memberships
- Head of events
- Finance manager
- Event coordinator
- Fundraising manager
Though you can simply go ask your members and employees for references, there’s a chance that you might miss out on candidates who are more qualified. Therefore, do your best research on these job websites and interview every potential candidate to find the best fit:
Hold the First Organizational Meeting
Once you have your board members, employees, and volunteers ready, hold the first organizational meeting.
You might not have a chapter’s office by that time, so it is wise to hold this in the evening at someone's house or office or a location on campus. Invite both current and potential members of your association.
Make sure to cover the following agendas during your first meeting:
- Recruit new members for the local chapter.
- Provide an overview of the chapter’s missions and goals.
- Provide a schedule of events as well as receive suggestions for more.
- Recruit members for committees and specific projects.
- Don't forget to generate enthusiasm for your new local chapter.
Establish an Office for Your Chapter
As mentioned above, you do not need a new office for your chapter, especially if yours is established by types of members/specialties.
If you have a new chapter in a location other than the headquarters, you might need to set up a virtual or physical office. Consider these factors when finding a place for your office:
- Space requirement for your office
- Types and sizes of equipment needed (will they fit in the space you have?)
- Your budget and financial assistance from the parent association.
You can also find a donated space, a basement, or your members’ house for a start. Also, if you have a tight budget, you can check out second-hand or donated office supplies (for a nonprofit association).
In cases where setting up a physical office space isn't necessary, we recommend using a virtual office space since it offers all the advantages of an actual office without having to pay the rent.
They offer services such as professional mailing addresses, phone numbers with voicemail, and receptionists. Some of them also offer physical office spaces with wi-fi for meetings at a minimal cost.
Here are some of the virtual spaces you can consider for setting up your chapter:
Create Your Online Presence
Online presence is a great way to bring your local chapter in front of your prospects, increase brand awareness and build a visual identity your members can trust.
Start with a website and social media pages. Make sure your profiles are up-to-date to keep your members posted about your latest activities.
For your website, start with the four main elements:
- About Us (outlining your mission, vision, objectives, and team)
- Events Page or Calendar
- Membership types (with description, fee, and a link to the application form)
- Your affiliation with the parent association
Don’t forget to include links to your social media profiles, your address, support email, and contact number.
Here are a couple of other resources that will help you build a stronger online presence for your chapter.
- Top 12 Membership Website Design Tips For Associations
- Interactive Posts for Facebook
- 10 Email Marketing Strategies for Events & Webinars
- How to Post a YouTube Video on Facebook: A Step-by-Step Guide
Get the Paperwork Done Once the chapter is formed, it will need to submit the following documents to its headquarter:
- A brief description of the chapter
- Chapter bylaws
- Application fees/dues for membership
- A list of members and officers
- Letter of intent
- Activities calendar
- Tentative charter date
Additionally, your chapter will have to arrange the following resources to get started:
- Membership certification
- Invoices and receipts book (Not needed if the memberships are handled online)
- Printed flyers for events (event landing pages on the website)
- Newsletters or informational mailings
- Event Calendar
- Renewal notices
- Branding/advertising materials (logo, banners, letterhead)
How to Keep Your Chapter Organization Running Smoothly?
You’ve done the hard work of setting up a new chapter. Now, you’ll need to work hand in hand with its team to ensure that it is running smoothly and supporting you in achieving your mission.
Set Up Rules
Setting up clear rules and expectations is important to ensure the integrity of your association’s brand. In addition to keeping everyone on the same page, they give you a yardstick to measure their performance.
Thus, if you want your chapters to adhere to your standards, setting up clear policies is extremely essential. Depending on your chapter model and affiliation agreement, you can set policies for marketing, branding, hiring, events, meetings, and/or memberships.
Manage Your Finances
As your association grows, you will increase your finances and budgets as well. Recordkeeping and accountability become even more important as new chapters are added to your association.
While supporting your chapters financially, keep these things in mind to make sure your funds are well utilized:
- Hire a full-time bookkeeper or accountant to keep track of your chapter accounts.
- Conduct bi-annual audits of your chapters’ finances.
- Each chapter should have a detailed budget with strict approval procedures for additional items.
Invest in a Chapter Management Software
One of the most challenging facets of having a multi-chapter organization is maintaining brand consistency across all the affiliates without compromising the individual identity of each branch.
A chapter management software allows each chapter to have its own database, website, and design while remaining in sync with the national organization.
Also, the national chapters and headquarters can check the health of all their branches, share information, streamline workflows and monitor their operations through an integrated CRM.
Since everything is stored in the cloud, chapter leaders can easily search, update, and share their database with their teams and other chapters.
Would you like to learn more about the chapter management software? Contact our team to discover how Glue Up's all-in-one platform can assist you in managing your chapters effectively.
What are the different types of chapter models?
Mainly, there are two types of chapter models:
Autonomous Chapter Model - In this model, a chapter shares the mission of the parent organization but has an independent structure, finances, and operations.
This type of chapter promotes innovation, responsiveness, and customization. However, they receive limited support from the parent organization and suffer from a lack of consistency.
Integrated Chapter Model - In the integrated model, chapters share the mission as the structure of the nationals. Thus, they are more consistent, collaborative, and accountable in their operations.
Unfortunately, members have limited flexibility in joining an organization in the integrated model. Furthermore, chapters are required to follow the national way of managing operations and finances.
Which association does a new member join, the parent or the chapter?
In the autonomous chapter model, a member can choose between the parent or the chapter organization. Also, they can participate in the activities of both associations (considering the chapter has different activities than the headquarter).
The integrated model automatically assigns members to chapters when they join. As a result, they are limited in their choice of associations.
Can a chapter create its own brand?
Most chapters follow the branding of the parent association and have a standard name template. However, if the parent organization allows (in an autonomous chapter model), chapters can have their own banners and marketing plans.
What legal and accounting principles will be followed by the chapter?
The chapter will follow the same legal and accounting principles as the parent association.