Multi-Chapter Benchmarking Survey - Highlights

Membership October 27, 2011

Tatiana Morand

By Tatiana Morand
WildApricot conducted a Multi-Chapter Benchmarking Survey to help identify and share some of the key benefits, needs, and challenges that are unique to organizations with multiple chapters, branches or affiliates. In addition, we hoped to gather information to help establish benchmarks and highlight some best practices in multi-chapter management.

While you can download the full Multi-Chapter Benchmarking Survey Report, the following is an overview of some of the survey highlights.


A snapshot of our respondents

Our survey findings are based on 121 survey respondents, who were predominantly from the U.S. (91.7%). The survey had almost equal representation by chapters and central organizations:

  • 56.2% - represented a central organization (e.g., head office, national office, etc.)
  • 43.8% - represented a chapter, branch, or affiliate (termed “chapter” throughout the survey)

While the respondents represented a wide range of organization sizes, it was interesting to note that 58.5% of respondents were from professional or business/trade associations.

Survey participants included: website managers (32.1%); board members (20.8%); Presidents or Board Chairs (17%); Communications and Publications Manager (17%); Membership and Chapter managers (12.3% each); Executive Directors (11.3%) as well as other staff and volunteer roles. 

Also, check out our Survey Respondents Infographic.

Understanding multi-chapter relationships

We understand that all associations and non-profits face challenges in communicating with, serving, engaging, and growing their membership. However, organizations with multiple chapters have additional layers or levels of relationships to manage and maintain. We recognize that while the central organization (or head office) and their chapters share a vision and mission as well as a desire to serve their members, often their perspective, priorities, available resources, practices, and procedures may differ.

In looking through the detailed survey findings, we found that some of the most telling insight into the chapter-central organization relationship came from the verbatim answers to the open-ended questions about the benefits and challenges in the multi-chapter environment. Here are just a few of the highlights:

What are the benefits of being part of a multi-chapter organization?

After reviewing the responses to our open-ended questions on the advantages of being part of an organization with multiple chapters, branches or affiliates, the key benefits appear to be:

  • networking
  • mutual support
  • sharing of ideas (as well as resources)

What are both sides of the chapter – HQ relationship looking for from one another?

  • Chapters are looking to their central organizations for direction, resources, and support. With many chapters having fewer staff, volunteers, and resources, they want “more hands-on help” and “infrastructure tools” to help them with their chapter administration.
  • Central office respondents offered reminders that they don’t have unlimited staff and resources either, and often struggle to meet the “needs of many diverse chapters”, with the needs of a chapter in one region or city being different than those in another. Central organizations also face hurdles in “getting people to USE their resources;...trying to get a standard look across website platforms; ... trying to reconcile membership reports with chapters.”

What were identified as the challenges involved with multi-chapter relationships?

Each side (central organizations and chapters) articulated a few specific challenges or hurdles they faced with their counterparts:

  • Central organization respondents identified some of the hurdles they face in dealing with their chapters:
    • Communication issues
    • Developing leaders / turnover of leadership
    • Maintaining volunteer personnel
    • Technology – knowledge of and ability to use tools as well as consistency around website process and updating
    • Ownership/control issues – “each chapter doing “their own thing”

  • Chapter respondents were also forthcoming with some of the key challenges they face with their central organizations:
    • Communication – with central organization; “enabling communication and connections across chapters”; as well as with individual members
    • Maintaining, tracking and reconciling membership records/database
    • Information and support for website and other initiatives
    • Shared direction – chapters and central sometimes are not aligned.
    • Understanding who is responsible for what 

Membership management at multi-chapter organizations

As providers of membership management software, we know all too well the challenges that organizations face in developing websites and maintaining membership databases. But the survey findings confirm that the process can be even more complicated when information is captured, stored, or shared between a central organization and numerous chapters. Here is an overview of some of the survey findings relating to membership, communications and website management as well as fees and funding structures.

Membership database management:

As noted above, maintaining, tracking and reconciling member records was one of the top challenges noted by respondents – both chapters and central organizations. Based on the survey findings, it appears that there is no standard or common practice across organizations in terms of maintenance of membership databases.  The survey found that:

  • For 37.7% of respondents, “each chapter has its own membership database”
  • For 32.1% of respondents, “there is one member database that the central organization maintains and makes regular updates based on chapter input”
  • An additional 12.3% of respondents had “a central membership database provided by the central organization, with chapters having access for updating.”

Website development, management and brand standards:

Based on our survey findings, it appears that chapters are predominantly responsible (62.7%) for developing their own websites, with just under 13% receiving technical support and guidance from their central organization.

In addition, more than 75% of respondents (77.8%) reported that there are no standard website templates or design standards provided through their central organizations. However, when we asked what additional resources chapters would like to receive from their HQ, respondents noted they’d like to see central organizations providing website templates, design standards and technical support to chapters. 

In terms of on-going website content development and management, more than 80% of respondents noted that chapters manage their own web content; while fewer than 10% of sites being solely managed by the central organization.

Membership benefits in multi-chapter organizations:

The survey findings indicate that the top 4 membership benefits offered to members either through their chapters or their central organizations are:

  1. Member education / professional development
  2. Networking events
  3. Information / publications
  4. Conferences / trade shows

However, aside from the top 4, there are some key member benefits that are being offered specifically through either chapters or central organizations:

Chapter-specific member benefits:

  • Mentoring programs
  • Certification programs

Central organization – specific member benefits:

  • Magazine or journal subscriptions
  • Online forum(s)

Overlap of functions and services:

The verbatim responses to questions about challenges and hurdles identified that there is definitely confusion over “who is responsible for what” in the chapter-central organization relationship. It is interesting to note that the response to the question on identifying “areas where the central and local/chapter functions overlap” indicated that this is a concern for just over half of the respondents - with 51.1% indicating there was overlap and 48.9% reported no overlap. Some of the areas of overlap identified included:

  • Updating member records; maintaining membership database and directories;  
  • Social media & news distribution
  • Education programs, professional development, conferences.
  • Advocacy, mass emails to members.

Recruitment and renewal practices

Since effective recruitment and renewal are essential to the success of membership organizations, the survey looked at practices in place in multi-chapter organizations.


The findings indicate that half of the organizations (50%) surveyed have a recruitment model that involves a partnership between the chapter and central organization. But in the second most common model, reported by 35.8% of respondents, chapters were solely responsible for recruitment.


The survey did not identify any common ground in terms of renewals, with the findings indicating:

  • For 39.6% of organizations, renewals were “solely the responsibility of each chapter”; with the second most common practice
  • At the other end of the spectrum,  28.3% reported that “central organization being responsible for membership renewals”;
  • This was followed closely by 22.6% who indicated that “chapters and central organizations work together on renewal efforts.”

Membership fees and funding models

Close to two-thirds of the respondents (61.8%) reported that the individual chapter is responsible for raising and managing their own finances, while 18.6% noted that chapters maintain their own finances but receive funding from the central organization.

Membership fee collection:

It was interesting to note that for just over 90% of respondents, procedures for membership fee collection fell evenly into three categories:

  • fees are paid to the local chapter - 30.1%
  • fees are paid to both the chapter and central organization - 30.1%
  • fees are paid to the central organization only - 30.1%

Fee allocation:

The survey findings did not identify one standard funding model at multi-chapter organizations. However, the most common funding structures involved the following allocation of fees:

  • 23.5% – reported that chapters receive all fees, none goes to the central organization
  • 13.7% – noted that all fees go to the central organization, none goes to the chapters
  • 20.6% – reported that between 1 - 50% of membership fees go to the central organization
  • 15.7% – reported that between 51 and 99% of membership fees go to the central organization
  • 26.5% – noted alternate allocation of fees

You can also check out our Membership Management at Multi-Chapter Organizations Infographic.

Communications in a multi-chapter environment

We all know that communications are critical to any relationship and the multi-chapter relationship is no exception. As noted above, communications between chapters and their central organizations were noted among the key challenges and hurdles that both sides. However, the good news is that the survey data indicates that more than 60% (64.3%) of respondents reported that their chapters work together with the central organization to communicate with members, with slightly less than a quarter (24.5%) of participants reporting that chapters are solely responsible for communications.

Check out the Communications in a Multi-Chapter Environment Infographic.

Want more?

We’ve offered just a brief overview of the survey highlights. Our detailed survey data and responses on additional topics, including Database and Website management practices; Membership Fees & Funding Structures; details on Resources Central Organizations provide; and insight into the identified Benefits and Challenges chapters and central organizations face, are all included in our full survey report.

If you want to receive the full survey report with all of the detailed survey findings, you can register to download the report (PDF) here:

Multi-Chapter Benchmarking Survey Report registration.

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!

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