Helping A Struggling Chapter

Helping A Struggling Chapter

All chapters experience phases of vigor as well as times of struggle.  As a council aiding a struggling chapter, there are many ways to address their current status while supporting the team as they navigate through this time.  First and foremost, reach out to the chapter leadership to learn about their current status from their perspective.  Ideally your council already has a relationship with the chapter leadership so they feel comfortable and compelled to speak sincerely of their status.  It is often helpful to identify the cause of the strife from their perspective before moving forward.

After a listening session, it can be helpful to communicate that they are not the first chapter to experience this predicament and the council is invested in guiding and supporting their team.  Oftentimes this simple statement provides a level of relief.

Once a cause is identified, a course of action can be customized to guide the chapter through the issue at hand.  The three most prevalent chapter performance struggles include: dysfunctional group dynamics, disengaged board members, and uncertainty among leaders about their roles and responsibilities.

Dysfunctional Dynamics

Know that all volunteer organizations have conflict and that good things can, and often do, arise from conflict that is effectively managed. Conflict need not be destructive.

Handled effectively, differences can result in new and better ideas and projects, as well as a stronger sense of “team” for having weathered the storm together. When that happens, future conflicts are more likely to also be handled constructively. Conflict side-stepped or not handled in a thoughtful manner can have devastating results. At minimum, such situations chew up valuable volunteer time, burn out existing volunteer leaders, and discourage new leaders from stepping forward. More serious and “public” conflicts can stop current members from becoming more active, stop new members from joining, and damage the reputation of the organization in the eyes of agencies, other conservation leaders or elected officials.

In anticipation review “Keeping the Peace: Effectively Managing Conflict in Your Chapter or Council,” which was developed to help leaders reduce the likelihood that unproductive conflict will occur within their chapter and, when it does occur, to manage it effectively.

Disengaged Leaders

Another common trend with struggling chapters is the existence of detached board members or committee leaders.  Disengagement can result from a variety of reasons including but not limited to role and responsibility uncertainty, lack of accountability, low morale and changes in one’s personal life. 

Encouraging a one-on-one meeting with a disengaged leader to understand the root cause of their disconnection can be very enlightening.  A sympathetic conversation about their detachment and revisiting their original inspiration to become a leader can spur direction for next steps which might include additional training, mentorship or a change in duties to usher in fresh leadership.

Role and Responsibility Uncertainty

Without proper guidance, people make assumptions, resources are wasted, a lack of accountability abounds, and talented leaders depart from their role or, worse yet, become apathetic and disengaged. 

One way to combat this uncertainty is to encourage and train your chapters to organize an informative and inspirational orientation for their new leaders using position descriptions with terms, strategic priorities and legacy documents.  Provide accountability for chapter leaders to review policies and procedures as a framework with their teams including space to discuss questions.  Consider recruiting role specific council leadership to mentor corresponding chapter leaders (e.g. council treasurer coaches chapter treasurers).  

A board that establishes a clear, aspirational governance model accompanied by clear roles and responsibilities decreases the likelihood of conflict.

Know that your Volunteer Operations Staff are available to discuss and offer guidance in customizing a plan to support a struggling chapter. We are here to help!