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Chapter Startup/Revitalization: A Roadmap to Success

Wednesday, December 01, 2004   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kenneth McCardle, AITP Southern District Director
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With much input from long-time friends and Jackson Chapter leaders Jim McCraw and Gordon Skelton

The purpose of this article is to assist in the startup of new chapters and aid in the revitalization of existing chapters.

Leadership

The key to the success of a local chapter is its leadership. Strong leadership results in strong chapters. Many times it's difficult to find people willing to accept leadership responsibilities due to busy schedules or lack of interest. The key is to find individuals who have a strong desire to see the chapter succeed and have the ability to motivate and energize others to participate.

Soliciting people who are responsible for marketing IT products is a natural fit, because they are in constant contact with the IT community as part of their daily routine. IT managers are mainly responsible for the projects within their company and can't usually spare the time to visit other companies to solicit AITP members. IT vendors spend a great deal of time training their marketing personnel. Their interaction with IT decision makers places them in the position of developing personal relationships, which also could be used to solicit AITP members. With little effort, they can market AITP at the same time they are visiting with their customers selling their own products.

It's equally important to target IT management, such as CIOs, for the leadership team. These people add prestige to the local chapter and expand the chapter influence. They control financial resources and have the authority to pay for their employees' membership dues, chapter meeting expenses and sponsorship of AITP events. They also control staffing resources that can be used to assist the local chapters. If the CIO or upper management is involved in AITP, it increases the chance that other people in their organization will also become involved.

Sometimes our leaders experience burnout and lose the desire needed to motivate chapter members. Jim McCraw, a long-time Jackson Chapter leader, contributed the following:

"The difficult task for many leaders is to know when to step aside in order to energize the group. Often, we have the same dedicated leaders serving without a break. Their dedication can be an albatross if they have lost that zest for life. Experience is a great thing, but it can drain new ideas. Give me bright eyes that see everything for the first time. What didn't work for me may be very successful with their vision. Even in failure, a motivated individual can grow and generate fresh ideas. If nothing else, enjoy the enthusiasm. Experience without passion is still useful as a resource. Allow others to take the spotlight and enjoy the show."

Structure

When the health of a chapter is in jeopardy, it sometimes means that we must switch to survival mode. In 2000, the Jackson Chapter could not solicit enough nominees to staff the board. The leaders were experiencing burnout, and a motion was made to ban the chapter. In order to ensure the chapter survived, three of the long-time chapter members decided to take the lead and form a triad to ensure the essential tasks of the chapter were met. Basically these three members conducted the essential duties of the board. Due to limited resources, the triad knew they had to work in a more efficient manner. Traditional board meetings were suspended and collaboration among the three to make decisions was mostly conducted by e-mail or teleconference calls. The three worked in harmony and led the chapter to one of its most successful years, winning the Region 3 Outstanding Chapter of the Year award. If traditional structures aren't working, evaluate creative alternatives. The right structure for your chapter is the one that works!

In 2004, the association board adopted the concept of satellite chapters. A satellite chapter is not actually a separate chartered chapter, but rather a small group of chapter members that meet separately from the main chapter. Satellite chapters do not have a separate board, but have a representative who acts as a liaison to the supporting professional chapter to facilitate communications. The sponsoring professional chapter is challenged to assist the satellite chapter in developing into a self-supportive, separately chartered professional chapter. If the satellite chapter meets in a separate location from the main chapter, it is important for this to be indicated on the association Web site, indicating which cities have active AITP presence.

Satellite Chapters are useful in the following ways:

1) Declining Professional Chapters

Instead of revoking the charter of chapters that fall below the required minimum membership of 10, they could become a satellite chapter and their membership transferred to a nearby professional chapter. The goal of the professional chapter is to assist them in returning to full professional chapter status. This helps retain the members of declining chapters until appropriate revitalization could occur.

2) Startup of New Chapters

Satellite Chapters could be used in areas that have a few people interested in AITP, but not enough members to support the role of a full professional chapter. Not only could this be used to expand an existing chapter with separate meetings held in other cities, but also to support small outlying groups in suburbs of large metropolitan areas. Many times these people are unwilling to negotiate heavy traffic or drive long distances to attend centralized chapter meetings.

3) Special Interest Groups

Satellite chapters could also be used as a sub-group of a professional chapter whose members have a common interest or set of skills.

Membership Value

It's important to make sure we are providing value to our members. This is the key to both retention and growth.

Speakers

Quality speakers and interesting topics are important in delivering educational value. Finding good speakers is always a chore. The association Web site hosts a speakers forum, which allows chapters to share information about outstanding speakers. It's important for all chapters to contribute to these forums in order to expand the knowledgebase. By signing onto the AITP Web site using your registered username and password, you can view the speakers forum as well as many other forums to assist your chapter. Another idea is to contact nearby chapters and inquire about speakers and topics that have been successful in your area.

Peer Networking

Networking with other IT professionals has always been the main value touted by most of our members. Be sure to allow time at your events for the chapter members to get to know one another. Many times members are rushed to get back to work after lunch meetings. Scheduling at least two or three night meetings a year allows members more time to interact afterwards.

Affiliates 

The association is working hard to increase the membership value by creating partnerships with vendors. The vendor affiliates program provides great values and special offers on a variety of products and services including group insurance plans, conference registration fees, travel services, magazines subscriptions, and financial and shipping services. You can find a current listing of our vendor, industry and partner affiliates located at our affliate page.

Marketing  

Chapter Web sites and e-mail are excellent low-cost methods to communicate with our members. The association hosts a Web site for each chapter. It is easily maintainable by the chapter leadership without requiring any programming knowledge. A Web site that is out of date is a bad reflection on your chapter leadership.

Your association provides promotional materials such as AITP logos, graphics, pamphlets, special offers and brochures that can be downloaded from the Promotions page. These can be printed as needed and made available at local chapter events. AITP Membership: A Win/Win Opportunity for Employees and Companies and the AITP Benefits Flyer are excellent examples of brochures that may be used to help explain the benefits of AITP membership.

Occasionally the association offers discounted memberships and drawings for prizes as part of membership marketing campaigns for student and professional chapters. Use these campaigns to help solicit new members at discounted rates.

Invite vendors to become involved in the chapter. Ask them for business discounts, speakers, event sponsorships and samples to be used as door prizes.

Startup of New Chapters

Many of the suggestions for chapter revitalization can also be used in the startup of new chapters. Below are some helpful tips:

1. Target locations that have a large IT community and do not have a professional chapter within a reasonable driving distance.

2. Identify IT leaders in the community.

3. Have a fun gathering of local IT leaders and introduce the idea of creating an AITP chapter.

4. Identify a small corps of strong leaders who have contacts as potential board members.

5. Appoint someone to work on starting a new charter. Contact AITP headquarters for information on how to start a new chapter charter.

6. Develop an informational Web site or use the chapter Web site provided by the association.

7. Build a large contact list.

8. Always keep a current list of attendees and make certain to contact them periodically.

9. Get vendors involved. Vendors can help with speakers, door prizes and event sponsorships.

10. Ask for help from the region and strong chapters in the area. NETWORK with other AITP members and chapters.

11. Remember, whatever you do, make sure you are creating value for the members.

Association Support

The association has worked diligently to provide information and membership value to help local chapters succeed. Much of this information can be found at http://www.aitp.org/. If your chapter is struggling, ask for help from your region leaders and other strong chapters in the area. Network with other AITP members and leaders at regional and association events to gain contacts and new ideas. Remember, your headquarters staff and association board are here to help. Contacts for both can be found on the Web site.

If you have any new ideas to contribute to this article, contact me at kmccardle@sfbcic.com.


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