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January 7, 2011 
 
 
Happily Ever Chapter

We're curious what you think are the hottest topics in the association world this year. Have an idea or topic for a future event? Send us an email.

 
Mariner Management consultants Peggy Hoffman and Peter Houstle work with associations on improving the relationship between the national staff and chapter volunteers. Peggy says such relationships are often like three-year-olds in a sandbox: They're all playing, but not really playing with each other. When they get a little bit older and do start to play together, whoever is strongest tends to dictate the rules.
 
Peggy Hoffman and Peter Houstle
Of course, emulating toddlers is rarely a great idea. Peggy and Peter say the root of most problems between national organizations and their chapters is lack of alignment. The reason? Neither side is clearly sharing their expectations or needs. They recommend an affiliation agreement or outcomes document that articulates what both sides hope to achieve. But what a lot of organizations call an affiliation agreement does not necessarily act as one. Instead of a laundry list of requirements that's a dozen pages long, the document should outline the top one to four things to focus on in order to move the organization forward in the coming year. "You can't give them anything longer than a page," Peter says.
Peter Houstle
Peter points out that 99.9% of a volunteer leader's time is eaten up by his or her own employees, customers, and family (or the great outdoors as Peter demonstrates here). That leaves 0.1% of time for associations to push their way in. "If you don't say the right things at the right time, you can lose them very quickly," Peter says. He adds that national HQ staff too often spend little as volunteers or with volunteers and need to "put their feet on the street." If staff were to go out and meet with chapters two or three times per year, Peter says it would dramatically change how they answer member calls, the way they make demands, and their general expectations.
Peggy Hoffman
Technology has also affected chapters in unexpected ways. In some cases, online education has unintentionally crippled chapters that made the majority of their revenue from in-person education. As more and more organizations implement webinars and other virtual ways to connect, Peggy and Peter say it's critical for organizations to consider how it might affect their chapters and to explain to them why they are doing what they're doing. For example, Peggy and Peter worked with chapters that felt the national organization was trying to take away their face-to-face education when it launched its virtual education. But once the national organization explained the accessibility and financial factors that went into the decision, all of a sudden the conversation changed.

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Non-Profits 'Round the World
 
CEO Scott Beale with Sherzodbek Sharipov, an Atlas Corps fellow from Uzbekistan who is volunteering with the U.S. International Council on Disabilities
Non-profit leaders from many countries congregated at Nando's Peri Peri in DC Wednesday for a reception hosted by Atlas Service Corps, which brings rising non-profit leaders from across the globe to DC for a year of volunteering and cultural exchange. We snapped founder and CEO Scott Beale with Sherzodbek Sharipov, an Atlas Corps fellow from Uzbekistan who is working with the U.S. International Council on Disabilities. Scott tells us Atlas Corps recently brought on ten new host organizations, including Susan G. Komen and the UN Foundation. In its most recent call for applications, Scott says 1,000 people applied for 20 spots. That officially makes it harder to get into than Harvard.
Global Peace Service Alliance's Phillip Mlanda from Zimbabwe and Varun Sood from India with Peace Corps' Olivier Gaillard from Belgium
More Atlas Corps felllows: Global Peace Service Alliance's Phillip Mlanda from Zimbabwe and Varun Sood from India with Peace Corps' Olivier Gaillard from Belgium. Varun tells us the biggest difference between organizations here and in his home country is the level of professionalism. Organizations are more organized and structured in the US, he says. His main takeaway from being in DC so far is simply the relationships with people from different countries that can be leveraged across the world.
 
Atlas Corp Fellow Tom Balemesa
Atlas Corp fellow Tom Balemesa from Uganda is working with the Peace Corps on post-conflict training. He says he also spent time doing a fellowship in South Africa. "Issues you come across all over the world are the same issues," he says, whether it's trust building or volunteer placement. The "mega difference" he's seen here is culture of philanthropy. He adds that although there is bureaucracy in America like elsewhere in the world, at least there is "bureaucracy with hope." And we thought Congress reading the Constitution was the only thing someone could say to make us feel patriotic.
 
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