Strength in numbers? Or another face in the crowd?

Being a chapter (or affiliate) of a national nonprofit organization is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have efficiencies and reduced redundancies. Your marketing, HR, accounting and payroll, and other administrative capacities are handled by the national office. Each chapter then has reduced costs for office space, payroll, etc. The governance and rules and regs of the organization are under the purview of the National board.

As a fundraising professional, the Catch-22 is I find working for a chapter office limiting. The foundations I want to approach often already have relationships with National, or with the chapter adjacent to mine. This means the fundraising I get to do is hyper-local. If you’re situated in a part of your state that has a lower capacity for giving in your sector, or the geographic region is “gerrymandered” by your National office differently than it is in your donors’ minds, then that really hampers your efforts to fundraise for your chapter.

Having an added layer of administration can delay decisions and communication, making it harder to react nimbly to changing circumstances. The COVID-19 outbreak comes to mind, when organizations had to adapt, pivot, and make unprecedented decisions quickly. An organization large enough to have a National office would be looked to for guidance in a smaller community. Can your chapter tailor its response to global/national happenings that still feels personally crafted to your area of the country?

That extra layer of administration can also be impacted by your national office and mess with your timing (of donor calls and asks, fundraising events, etc.). The word from on high may be that all affiliates have to have their fundraiser on the same date, or launch their marketing or capital campaigns at the same time, or roll out decisions to the public in a certain cadence. Convos being had at the national level may not make it to the boots on the ground in time to inform your donors in a timely manner.

So, there’s some good points, and some bad points to being a chapter of a national organization. To those of you involved with one, what is your experience? Do the perks of being part of a large organization — the security, name recognition, available resources, etc. — win out over being part of a smaller, (nimbler, community-driven/led/supported) stand-alone agency?

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