Level Up Your Component Leadership Training
Component leadership training can strengthen individual chapters and the larger organizations they’re a part of. Here’s a look at how the Council for Exceptional Children revamped its leadership training to prioritize content and programming and better meet member needs.
When Brannan Meyers, CAE, started at the Council for Exceptional Children as director of component relations (divisions, units, chapters), CEC was considering whether it should scrap its chapter leadership training program.
“People weren’t seeing the value in the program,” Meyers said. “But Chad Rummel had just started as our executive director. He recognized the importance of leadership training and wanted to determine what needed to change to increase engagement.”
Soon after Meyers came on board, she and her team got to work revisioning the training with a renewed focus on boosting member value. The goal was to provide members with meaningful, in-person content and experiences that they wouldn’t be able to get through virtual training or via email.
Over the next few years, the association was able to transform the CEC Leadership Institute into a success. In 2021, the program had 87 attendees, but that number grew to 122 in 2022 and 117 in 2023. CEC boosted engagement and value by providing offerings, networking opportunities, and resources that members were looking for.
The Power of Customization
Before making any changes to its training, CEC needed to better understand what members were looking for. From speaking with them, the component team got a sense of the topics that attendees wanted to learn about and the different needs of each chapter.
“Some groups are adopting best practices and adjusting their structures to carry out their core responsibilities, and others have already reached that point and are looking to enhance their work,” said Danielle Wieczorek, CEC’s manager of component services (divisions, units, chapters).
Given components’ different needs, CEC began offering introductory and advanced breakout sessions for topics like board operations, communications, marketing, and membership. CEC also included new topics that members had expressed interest in, such as how to form state partnerships.
“Know where your members are and try to meet their needs,” said Gennith Johnson, CAE, CEC’s chief engagement officer. “We recognized that we couldn’t do a one-size-fits-all approach for leadership training, so we provide programming that accommodates components with a variety of experience.”
CEC also started giving attendees tangible resources to take back to their chapters. For example, instead of only talking about social media strategies, speakers also provide attendees with a document that outlines five key steps to posting social media.
CEC also retooled the role of its staff at the leadership training. Instead of staff being the only presenters, CEC now invites outside subject matter experts to guide some sessions and has certain staff available to members during the program.
“We created an exhibit hall with staff from our core departments and set up timeslots for attendees to talk to staff about different topics,” Meyers said. “For example, they might want to discuss promo codes with the membership team or publishing issues with the publications team.”
Having the exhibit hall allows CEC to facilitate interactions between staff and members that are intentional, supportive, and targeted based on needs and interests.
CEC launched a networking dinner for program participants as well. Attendees are organized into groups of seven, along with one CEC staff member or board member, and go out to a local restaurant. At the table, the small group can chat about pertinent issues and learn from one another.
According to Meyers, CEC doesn’t pair people together who already know each other. Instead, the dinner is a chance for attendees to meet new colleagues and discuss issues in an intimate setting. Having a CEC staff or board member present gives attendees the chance to ask questions and share ideas.
From feedback on the 2023 program, the association found that attendees were more likely to engage with CEC staff (88 percent), more likely to engage with other components (81 percent), and more likely to seek staff-provided resources and support (80 percent).
“If you want to revitalize your chapter leadership program and increase engagement, think about what your members value and pay attention to in-person opportunities that you can’t replicate in a virtual setting,” Meyers said.