How to Re-Engage Members in Chapter Events

Some association pros have found that their members are returning to larger in-person conferences but not to local chapter events. To pull members back to local gatherings, organizations should consider training for their chapter leaders and putting more emphasis on creating welcoming environments.

While members may be willing to travel to attend an annual meeting, they may be less willing to drive to a local chapter event, according to association pros who commented on a recent conversation in ASAE’s Collaborate online community [member log-in required].

Cynthia D’Amour, MBA, mentor and leadership strategist at People Power Unlimited, isn’t surprised by this shift in chapter engagement. It’s difficult for people to jump back into in-person chapter meetings after years of one-hour virtual calls in the comfort of their own homes.

“It can feel like shifting from a foreign language you learned to survive back to another language you may only have had fair success with,” she said. “Volunteer leaders need support in learning how to design programs that have energy and take advantage of the face-to-face location.”

D’Amour shared how associations can help their chapter leaders get the training they need to create effective and welcoming local events.

Regular Coaching

Although chapter leaders have grown used to running virtual meetings, those same tactics are likely not as effective in a face-to-face setting.

“People who became leaders during the pandemic haven’t learned how to create irresistible in-person meetings,” D’Amour said. “The value needs to be boosted.”

Since most chapter leaders are not professional marketers or meeting planners, they need to develop the skills to create and run dynamic meetings. Frequent training can help.

D’Amour recommends associations gather chapter leaders together for group training. People tend to learn skills faster in group settings since they boost emotional connections and provides opportunities for collaborative brainstorming.

“It’s like popcorn,” she said. “One person gets a great idea and tells it to the others, and then everyone starts to come up with new ideas, and bounce ideas off each other. Training can help volunteers become inclusive chapter leaders.”

Fun Environment

Chapters should work to create in-person meetings that feel inviting.

“People make decisions based on emotion justified by logic,” D’Amour said. “Essentially, you want to create a space where it feels good for chapter members to come back.”

Some of that feeling can be achieved with a fun, relaxed environment, according to D’Amour.

“There’s lots of ways to do it,” she said. “One group held a BBQ for new members and called it a ‘meat up.’ They used meat puns like ‘how to become a well-done member’ or ‘get the latest tips.’”

A summer meeting at a park could be a low-cost, effective option. “It’s simple, social, and it will feel like a family reunion,” D’Amour said.

Warm Welcome

It’s also important that chapter leaders understand how members may feel walking back into a meeting for the first time in several years.

“It’s similar to the fears that arise when you’re dating,” D’Amour said. “There’s a fear of rejection, you might be asking yourself why you’re putting yourself through this. You don’t want to embarrass yourself professionally.”

To help attendees overcome these obstacles, D’Amour suggests chapters create a host team made up of volunteer members.

“Encourage chapters to include information about the host team in their promotional material,” she said. “That way attendees will know who they are and how to identify them.”

The host team is there to support attendees, whether that’s introducing them to other industry professionals, helping them remember names, or talking to members who seem to be alone.

“We’re all a bit rusty at socializing after three years,” D’Amour said. “With a host team, everyone will know that if they show up on their own, they’ll be supported and welcomed in by their chapter.”

(Anchiy/iStock/Getty Images)

Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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