Top 5 Challenges In Dealing With Multiple Chapters

Organizational Management October 07, 2013

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

We recently released our final report on the Multi-Chapter Benchmarking Survey that we conducted this summer. The survey report and an additional highlights article, summarize both the benchmarking data and insight into the unique characteristics and practices of organizations with multiple chapters, branches or affiliates. But in addition, we wanted to offer an inside look at some of the specific challenges that multi-chapter organizations or HQ's face.

As we noted in our post – Insight into Multi-Chapter Relationships – one of the key themes that ran through the survey responses was that multi-chapter organizations have both special, and often complicated, relationships between the central organization (or head office) and the chapters. Since our survey gathered information and insight from both the chapter and central organization point of view, we thought we’d share some of the candid responses we received to one of the open-ended questions in our survey:

What are the key challenges or hurdles central organizations face in dealing with multiple chapters?

Insight into the HQ – chapter relationship:

As is often the case, we found some of the verbatim responses to our open-ended questions offered the most telling insight into the multi-chapter relationship.

Here are a few of the responses that seem to sum up the central challenge for multi-chapter organizations from the perspective of the HQ or central organization survey participants: 

  • Representing all of the interests simultaneously.”
  • “Local associations can be territorial and not necessarily work as a team.”

Conversely, there was one comment that captures the flipside of this – offering the chapter’s viewpoint on the give and take involved in a multi-chapter relationship:

  • Centralize ideas, programs etc, but decentralize its implementation. Respect unity in diversity. Unity should concern the final goal, but diversity should be respected in the approach to the goal.”

Here’s what your multi-chapter peers identified as the key challenges for HQ:

After reviewing all of the candid responses summarizing the key hurdles HQ’s face with their chapters, we categorized these and captured some excerpts of the verbatim responses – have a look at what your Multi-Chapter peers told us:

1. Maintaining consistent organizational practices across chapters

In looking through the survey responses, we found, understandably, that establishing and maintaining standard, consistent procedures and practices across a number of often disparate and dispersed chapters was a key challenge. The following verbatim answers illustrate the central organization’s challenges:

  • “Getting chapters to function as part of a larger organization and not isolated organizations.”
  • “Keeping everyone doing things within the same guidelines.”
  • “Autonomy and independence are paramount.”
  • “Every chapter is doing its own thing.”
  • “Local associations can be territorial and not necessarily work as a team.”
  • “Political tug-of-war about who owns what.”
  • “Inconsistent quality of service delivery; variety of locally autonomous groups setting their own processes and policies.”
  • “Variety of locally autonomous groups setting their own processes and policies”
  • Central org has limited staff to meet the needs of many diverse chapters. Needs/issues of a chapter in one city may be totally different from challenges faced by chapter in another city.”

2. Communication:

Communications were identified as a key challenge for both chapters and HQs. The following verbatim comments demonstrate the communications issues central organizations face in dealing with their chapters:

  • “Lack of communication from chapters to the central organization.”
  • “Communication with multiple chapters is hard to maintain since we are scattered throughout the …state.”
  • “Communicating - there are e-mails coming to people from our national organization and from our local organization. Nobody wants to read 7 e-mails a day from our organization's various entities.”
  • “Two way communication and insuring timely task completion.”

3. Membership data management:

As providers of membership management software, we understand the many challenges organizations face in maintaining membership databases, managing renewals and growing your membership. But the survey findings confirmed that these processes can be even more complicated when information is captured, stored, or shared between central organizations and numerous chapters. These survey responses articulate some of the “hurdles” multi-chapter HQ's face with their chapters:

  • “Keeping membership data up-to-date. Who's a member? Who dropped off? Who are the new officers?”
  • “Syncing infrastructure - specifically how to accept and process payments for joint membership.”
  • ”Integration of local data with national data.”
  • “Diversity of practices”
  • “Trying to reconcile membership reports with chapters is a BIG issue - especially since we don't get immediate reports about new members, etc. because we only get reports once a month!”

4. Leadership development and turnover:

Since chapters are often volunteer-led, HQ participants suggested they face challenges in developing and maintaining effective volunteer leaders:

  • “Constantly changing central organization staff.”
  • “Developing Leaders / turnover of leadership”
  • “Maintaining volunteer personnel”
  • “Leadership or talent development at the level of the boards of local chapters”
  • “Lack of involvement from chapter officers”

5. Website management:

Our survey findings suggest that website management is a challenge for both HQ and Chapters – with 62.7% of chapters being responsible for developing their own websites, and just under 13% receiving technical support and guidance from their central organization. Here are some of HQ’s challenges:
  • “Keeping consistent with website and processes.”
  • “One of the hardest challenges is that a lot of our Branch leaders do not handle technology very well.”
  • “Getting the local chapters to find and develop web experts to manage their local pages.”

Want more insight into Multi-Chapter organizations?

What challenges do you face in dealing with your multiple chapters? Let us know in the comments below.

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

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