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Top 5 Challenges In Dealing With Multiple Chapters

Lori Halley provided this guest post.  She is the Blog Writer (Engaging Apricot) at Wild Apricot, cloud software for small associations, non-profits and clubs. With a background in associations and non-profits, Lori tries to offer tips and information to help the staff and volunteers of small organizations with day-to-day challenges.  We thought this was an interesting perspective on multi-chapter associations and their communications.

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?

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.”
  • “Political tug-of-war about who owns what.”
  • “Inconsistent quality of service delivery; variety of locally autonomous groups setting their own processes and policies.”


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.”
  • “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.”

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:

  • "Integration of local data with national data.”
  • “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!”

Leadership development and turnover

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

  • “Maintaining volunteer personnel”
  • “Leadership or talent development at the level of the boards of local chapters”
  • “Lack of involvement from chapter officers”

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.”

What challenges do you face in dealing with your multiple chapters?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /