The unique relationship between a national and chapter nonprofit can be challenging to navigate, but that doesn’t mean it has to be contentious. In fact, with the right strategies and tactics in place, national nonprofits can foster healthy and mutually beneficial connections with their chapters and affiliates that boost overall organizational success.
Classy’s account managers are on the front lines every day working with countless nonprofits, and they’re no stranger to the push and pull between national and chapter nonprofits. We sat down with Colleen Ennis and Robert King Novara to pass along their expertise and in-depth tips on how to successfully manage this relationship.
“Generally speaking, chapters in the same network behave differently from one another. This is contingent on many factors, like their geographical location, their team’s capacity, programmatic needs, and fundraising goals.”
If the national arm doesn’t know how to cater to each chapter’s distinct persona, it can be difficult for each chapter to sustain success, regardless of the chapter’s goals or strategies. That, in turn, could ladder all the way back up to national and negatively impact the goals for the entire organization.
To help avoid this, Colleen stresses the importance for nationals to put themselves in the shoes of their chapters. Ask questions about a chapter’s day-to-day life, like:
- What problems do they encounter?
- How have they been successful?
- Are there characteristics of their location that impact fundraising?
- How many opportunities do they have to connect with other chapters?
- What are their operational processes?
Aside from giving nationals an inside look, this can also surface consistencies across the entire chapter network.
After drilling down into each chapter’s perspective, shift gears and look at the network from the 30,000-foot view to map out consistencies. Examine things like who meets their fundraising goals every quarter or how many new donors are flocking to each chapter.
It’s crucial the good is examined right alongside the bad though. What might be consistently causing friction among the chapters? Then, nationals should face the mirror and ask what consistencies arise for them internally, and in external outreach to their chapters.
For example, if you blanket the same communications and resource toolkits to all your chapters, that’s a consistent process. From there, you need to ask: “Is this negatively or positively affecting our goals?”
Your research may show that your chapters aren’t all that different, and thus the blanketed outreach actually helps their fundraising success. On the other hand, this line of questioning might lead to the conclusion that you need to segment your outreach and cater to the different needs of each chapter.
To help with this process, consider tasking a team at the national level that can analyze your chapter network and break down precisely what makes them different from one another. Then, you can re-imagine your outreach strategy confidently knowing the different segments your chapters.
Let’s say that national has been sending the same fundraising resources to all of its chapters. Regardless of what type of campaign the chapters run, they all receive:
- Peer-to-peer guides
- Crowdfunding tips
- Event promotion strategies
- Supporter engagement tactics
Upon analyzing its chapter network, national finds that:
- Most chapters only create one event a year around the holidays
- Half of its network (Group A) is focused almost entirely on peer-to-peer
- The other half (Group B) is focused almost entirely on crowdfunding
Given this information, national can decide to hold off on sending any kind of event promotion strategies until the latter half of the year, nearer to the holidays. They also send Group A the peer-to-peer guides, but supplement with other peer-to-peer resources as well.
Group B gets a similar treatment based on its strategies involving crowdfunding.
All groups, however, receive supporter engagement tactics since this is still relevant to the work they do regardless of campaign type.
With this approach, national doesn’t drown its chapters in irrelevant resources. Instead, each segment of chapters receives content that helps maximize their impact in the specific area of fundraising they know works best for their particular demographic.
One of the inherent benefits to a network of chapter organizations is the potential for idea-sharing. Given the right push from national, the crowdsourcing of opinions, ideas, strategies, and tips from chapter to chapter can spread like wildfire.
In order to successfully share ideas though, national and chapter nonprofits need to open and maintain transparent lines of communication. It’s a two-way road and each shares the responsibility of holding the other accountable, but still recognizing that each has their respective areas of expertise as well.
“National needs to be the source of knowledge for its chapter networks in some ways, like with top-level fundraising goals. But at the same time, national needs to understand that chapters also have a strong pulse on what’s most relevant for their specific supporter demographics.”
Open Up Communications
“I’ve never heard about a national organization getting upset when a chapter reaches out and asks about what to do, or for best practices to guide their decisions. Where it gets problematic is when a chapter goes rogue and cuts off communications with national. Keep the lines open both ways.”
Transparent and frequent communication is a critical to foster idea-sharing across a network of chapters. From the national perspective, the process of opening up communications could start with something as simple as a message to everyone in the network:
“If you ever have an idea for how we can improve our relationship, strategies to help our fundraising efforts, or any feedback at all, let us know. We’re happy to talk and share your ideas with the rest of our chapters.”
Likewise, chapters can approach national first with an ask for guidance on a specific project, program, or campaign. It might look like:
“We’re launching a campaign soon, and we would love if you could take a look at the page and provide some feedback on its design, content, and impact blocks.”
National might then reply:
“Great work! We see a few of your assets are out of date, so we’ve sent back a folder with current images you can plug right into your page.”
A common tactic our account managers see chapter-based organizations use is hosting a conference. These serve as a way to help everyone affiliated with the nonprofit, top to bottom, to meet and engage with one another.
It may not always be feasible to get every single chapter and person together for a major conference. Still, it’s important that there be some type of platform for people to connect. Even if it’s not a physical face-to-face meeting, something like a virtual hangout or active messaging board can help.
Regardless of how it’s organized, this is a chance to share examples from national and chapters. For instance, if a chapter recently hosted an event that had record-breaking ticket purchases, there could be a session that breaks down what went right: from page creation to converting volunteers into ticket purchasers.
This is also a great way for more established and successful chapters to offer assistance to fledgling chapters in the network. Sometimes the best move for nationals is to put everyone in the same room and let the inspiration flow organically.
Finally, you can further supplement your chapter segmentation efforts in this environment. Consider grouping your similar chapters together so they can discuss what works well for them—like fundraising strategies or donor stewardship—and grow together.
Then, mix and match all your segments up into different groups to get a diversity of opinion around new ideas. Let the cross-pollination happen across your distinct chapters, and it could yield some seriously creative or innovative results.
Maintain a Consistent Brand
“An organization spends a lot of time crafting their tone, brand, and persona when reaching out to new donors, potential corporate partners, or current supporters. Ideally, nationals would like their chapters to maintain that consistency in their interactions as well.”
It can be difficult to uphold a consistent outward appearance when so many entities need to share the same branding and messaging. If there aren’t strong guidelines in place that help people in this arena, your organization might end up looking disorganized.
Further, your brand is what people recognize about you. Without a unified front, your organization won’t be able to grow its brand presence in the public eye.
Prepare Your Resources
According to our account managers, consistency of brand is one area where nationals need to take the lead. It’s on them to set the standard for what images, tone, messaging, and guidelines chapters should use.
Now, that’s not to say chapters can’t still take these directives and put their own flavor and flair on them. For example, if a chapter needs to create a crowdfunding page for an upcoming campaign, national can send them:
- Updated organization logos
- Color palette suggestions with accompanying hex codes
- Templated copy for the page
- A folder of approved images for use
Chapters can take this bundle, apply it to their crowdfunding pages, and know that they’re abiding by national’s directive. From there, they can infuse their own creativity into the page, personalize the copy, and decide what images to use.
It can be difficult and somewhat unsustainable to email all your chapters directly with bundles like this. Instead, you could turn to a cloud storage platform where national can host all these files, update them, and push them to chapters easily.
This storage folder can be shared by everyone in your network, but you can set preferences to ensure that national is the only one who can add, remove, and edit the contents of the folder. From there, chapters can access the materials and assets they need without having to reach out to nationals and wait for an email response.
It goes further than just photos and templated copy though. Your cloud storage can contain whatever you deem necessary, like:
- Fundraising toolkits
- New hire training programs
- The structure of national
- Branding assets
- Audit guides
- Grant applications
The more you can look ahead and anticipate what your chapters might need, the more comprehensive you can make this folder.
At the end of the day, a lot of the dynamic between nationals and their chapters boils down to trust. National needs to trust that chapters know their audiences intimately, and chapters need to trust that national knows what best practices work based on their expert analysis of the entire network.
A rising tide lifts all boats, and when national and chapters work together effectively, the ceiling for how high that tide goes can skyrocket. If you’re at a chapter organization, we’d love to hear what other tactics you’ve got. Leave us a comment or reach out directly on social media.