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Valuing Chapters and Affiliates

Valuing Chapters and Affiliates

Much has been written about the relationships between national organizations and their chapters or affiliates and the same is true within state level associations; that is how they relate to local counterparts. Almost everybody agrees that in some respects there is a level of tension between and among these component parts, but open dialogue is rare. An organization in which I served as the CEO referred to this tension as co-opetition. Why? How do we move this agenda in a positive direction?

Without extensively going into the various existing organizational structures and financial relationships, the answer stems in large part as a quest for control and power over the association’s agenda and operations, as well as personalities at all levels of the organization. That is the real why.

As the environment in which associations operate undergoes significant change caused mainly by external factors in how the economy, communications, and the social fabric of both our nation and the world evolve, it is time that we grow up at the national or international level to how truly valuable our chapters and affiliates are in engaging our memberships. Whether an individual, institutional or trade associations; meeting the challenges brought on in the 21st century by technology, demographics and globalization are unleashing significant disruption on the fabric of our organizational structures and traditional operational practices. Some may remember the work authored by John Kotter, “a sense of urgency,” in which he asserted. “Those with a sense of true urgency … are not stressed-out and anxious, generating great activity without much productivity. Instead, they move boldly toward the future – sharply on the lookout for the hazards and the opportunities that change brings.”

The denial of change and the push back to maintain old perspectives lessons the capacity of organizations to operate in our changed environment. The racial and ethnic makeup oh populations has changed and will continue upon the path throughout most of this century. The desire of younger activists to not only be engaged in their organizations future, but to lead that future will not change. The advances in technology that make it possible for what some saw as subsets of a national or international Association or society, require new interactions and structures. Technology continues to make more content available in more forms that do not necessarily require the once sacred mechanisms of the national and international community. To be sure, there are arguments about the quality of content and the appropriate mechanisms for ensuring that quality, but it is unrealistic to believe that individuals will first go to their Association before they make a Google search.

I argue here for making a giant and meaningful leap from the power and control paradigm to a partnership and alliance paradigm. This cannot be just words but must be considered meaningful action initially championed at the international, national, or state levels with their partners; i.e. their Affiliates and Chapters.

Partnerships and alliances are not easy. They require a real gut check from the entity that perceives it has or should have power and control. Here are a few ideas to help us build a sustaining future for organizational collaboration with Affiliates and Chapters.

  • Become a service provider to the affiliate or chapter relative basic organizational practices. For a start this may include:
    • Business functions
    • Technology; more than keeping track of memberships and basic accounting
    • Future searches
    • Leadership and volunteer development programs.
    • Strategic planning
    • providing organizational development materials and training
    • frequent, ongoing listening without judgment
  • View the Affiliate or Chapter staff, particularly their chief staff officer, as colleagues and treat them as such
  • Establish and ongoing feedback system that enables the affiliate or chapter to provide unvarnished critical analysis of the national or international Association operations and programs. Where possible, act positively on those criticisms.
  • Don’t make the affiliate or chapter come to you, go to them. Make them among the first to know and participate in potential new initiatives before you expect them to simply expect, engage, or promote a new national or international initiative.
  • Provide organizational and capacity building materials in multiple forms to assist them in being better at what they do.

No doubt somewhere in your career you been to the process of trying to determine a very clean line that delineates the role, responsibilities, and services that should and can be provided at one level of the organization versus another. By all means this is an important activity. However, if you have not engaged in a broad series of confidence building measures between yourself in those in staffing or volunteer leadership positions at the affiliate or chapter level, the dialogue will likely center around who’s right or wrong rather than that delineation of appropriate responsibilities first envisioned. This idea of confidence building is centered on the ideas bulleted above.

Normally we hear about confidence building measures in the context of international relations, military operations, mergers and acquisitions, and security issues. Permit me to borrow from a research paper prepared by Holly Higgins, research analyst, at the Institute for Science and International Security. While the paper, “Applying Confidence Building Measures in a Reginal Context” is designed around and associated with a military situation, the fundamentals of confidence building may be summed up in four confidence building measures (CBM) and applied in organizational development and capacity building efforts in association work.

  • Communication channels
    • Open, Honest, and Direct Communications regularly occurring and formalized.
  • Constraint measures
    • Advance notice, agreed levels of operation, and what each other will avoid
  • Transparency measures
    • Advanced notification, data exchanges, and observation of each other’s practices
  • Verification measure
    • Confirming each other’s compliance on agreements in a manner that each other can trust

This is a respectful method in establishing the confidence that parties require to tackle issues; complicated or not. Valuing affiliates and chapters is complicated. If we want to address even more continuous issues like organizational governance, we would be wise to appropriately adopt this metrology to our organizations.

Let me know what you think.

MAB: Valuing chapters and affiliates