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Launching virtual chapters.

To reduce the cost and delivery time of sending publications and other association materials around the world, many organizations are offering electronic memberships. Now yet another approach is gaining popularity. Seeking to provide international constituents with more participation opportunities, some associations are launching virtual chapters. A virtual chapter exists almost exclusively on the Web. In addition to having the cost savings typically associated with electronic memberships, virtual chapters also link members from a particular region together. Launching a virtual chapter requires careful planning and development. Following are some questions to consider before you initiate such a program:

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1. Will a virtual chapter meet member needs and expectations? This is a crucial question because virtual chapters can meet some needs but not others. For example, networking might be a primary member need in a given region. Developing a listserver can meet this need--provided that members are amenable to networking through this medium. But if your members like more personal contact, they may find this virtual option limiting. In that case, you may want to consider regional conferences or other more traditional membership gatherings.

2. How will the virtual chapters operate? What volunteer and staff resources are needed to help them thrive? Take the International Virtual Women's Chamber of Commerce (IVWCC), Jonesboro, Georgia, as an example. Locally based volunteer moderators (called chapter presidents) are key to its virtual operations. They help facilitate online meetings similar to how officers of more traditional chapters conduct meetings. Associations with traditional chapters that wish to go the virtual route may find it challenging to find and train members to play this online leadership role.

3. Where should virtual chapters be "located"? As with other international initiatives, it is prudent to start small, first launching chapters in the one or two locations with your highest concentration of international members. IVWCC started its international initiative by forming a chapter in the United Kingdom. The organization's leadership now has created a model for developing international virtual chapters under which it first identifies potential chapter organizers at the local level and then mentors them until they are ready to handle the operation of the chapters independently.

By launching a virtual chapter, you can potentially meet the needs of constituents anywhere in the world. It is important, however, to carefully consider whether the virtual option is appropriate for those needs.

--Bonnie Koenig, president, Going International, Chicago; bkoenig@goinginternational.com
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Title Annotation:Membership; associations usage of IT services
Author:Koenig, Bonnie
Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Words:400
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