A Look Inside a Vibrant Chapter Leadership Program

June 11, 2018 By: Emily Bratcher

Here’s how the National Speakers Association trains the leaders of its 35 chapters spread across the country. Hint: It involves a committee of highly engaged board members.

With 35 chapters spread out from Louisiana to California to Minnesota, the National Speakers Association has dozens of chapter presidents to train each year. It’s a huge task, but over time, NSA has honed its training program to almost a science.

NSA’s secret sauce is its board of directors’ highly engaged chapter leadership committee. “The big function for the chapter leadership committee is to help local chapters groom their leaders, so they can be more successful,” says Patrick Donadio, NSA board member and former chair of its chapter leadership committee.

Formed back in the 1990s, the committee does this in two ways—through training events and through regular communication with current chapter presidents and chapter presidents-elect. With these all-important new leaders, Donadio says, “The idea is that the best time to get them [is] right before they start to take over, so they can start to plan and think and get ready for their year.”

Training Events

The importance of well-run chapters is underscored by two training initiatives:

Influence. During NSA’s larger Influence event, one morning is dedicated to anyone engaged in a chapter or who wants to increase their own chapter engagement. Led by NSA’s chapter leadership committee, this Saturday event offers sessions and breakouts with practical applications geared to everyone from chapter presidents to program directors.

Chapter Leadership Institute. The centerpiece of NSA’s training program is the Chapter Leadership Institute, a three-day event held at its national headquarters in Tempe, Arizona. NSA chapters send their presidents-elect to CLI for an “intensive weekend boot camp where we take a look at all the skills that go into grooming a future leader,” Donadio says. Those skills have become known as the “5 Ms”: management, marketing, membership, meetings, and money. Different members of NSA’s chapter leadership committee present on the 5 Ms throughout the weekend. Here’s what each area focuses on:

  • Management addresses everything from strategic planning tips to addressing potential conflict.
  • Marketing delves into promoting the chapter and communicating vision and value. Donadio says the committee tries to instill the importance of using marketing tools to get members to attend meetings and see the value of them, as well as to understand the value of membership conversion rates.
  • Membership ensures that chapters are “all singing from the same hymnal” as far as adhering to NSA’s official membership categories, while also covering topics such as recruiting members, onboarding them, and keeping them engaged.
  • Meetings are a big part of a chapter president’s responsibilities, so during CLI, participants learn how to prepare for a meeting and how to offer an engaging experience during it. They also explore what presidents should do after the meeting to “communicate the value and hopefully get people to come back and bring other people with them,” says Donadio.
  • Money examines everything from reading financial statements to presenting a budget to the board.

Interspersed throughout the weekend is time to debrief and reflect on what’s been learned. There are also opportunities to network, for instance at CLI’s Friday night reception and the Saturday night “Spirit of NSA” dinner, aimed at encouraging and inspiring presidents-elect.

In addition to the CLI sessions and networking events, the presidents-elect are also matched with a chapter leadership committee member who will serve as their mentor for the year. Those mentors also work with the presidents-elect throughout CLI to come up with an action plan for their tenure. “As they’re going through each of these five Ms, we’re talking about what are some things that they do really well, and what are some things that they could do better as they think about getting ready to be a chapter president, so it’s very practical,” Donadio says. “We don’t want people just to come and feel overwhelmed.”

Ongoing Communication

After CLI wraps up, the mentor relationship continues with a themed monthly call based on one of the 5 Ms. For instance, one month, the pairs might talk about management and how to identify future board members, especially since board elections often happen in the spring. Another month, the pairs might talk about membership and how to attract different segments to the chapter. These conversations also build off the action plan created at the CLI. Regular webinars on relevant topics are another way these chapter presidents-elect stay connected with the national organization.

“It’s a great program, and the chapter leadership committee members work hard to make it a great program,” says Donadio.

Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a contributing editor at Associations Now.