The New Chapter OS: Supporting a Growing Network
When last we left you, dear readers, YNPN had achieved a critical understanding of who we were culturally but were struggling with how to manage our explosive growth. We knew we needed greater cohesion across the network, but the models that were recommended to us seemed to rely on creating cohesion by force instead of by choice.
In late 2013 and early 2014, we underwent a Theory of Change process that helped open our eyes to this false dichotomy. We learned through that process that there is already an incredible amount of cohesion throughout our network. As a network, we share a common vision, mission, and values. We even had a remarkably clear sense of the roles chapters should play versus the national organization.
What the process also revealed was that we lacked the basic infrastructure to be able to work collectively within our roles towards our shared vision, and that whatever that infrastructure would be, it would have to be incredibly dynamic.
So this year, we went back to the drawing board with this question in mind of how you harness the power of an incredibly dynamic network without killing it. Before we actually started referring to the plan as this officially, I was calling it “the Chapter Operating System” in my head for two reasons:
- First, like OS X or Windows, we knew that what we were looking to build a platform, not a program. We wanted a base that chapters could use to create what worked for them locally not a distribution channel for a single set of ideas.
- Second, we knew that what we were rolling out was the 1.0 version of whatever our ongoing relationship with chapters would be. We knew that we would need to openly embrace the fact that our system would have bugs that would need to be fixed. And we also knew that this iterative process would leave room to shift and adapt as new opportunities (aka features) came up.
So what does it look like?
Like any good operating system, it focuses on providing the very basics that our chapters and chapter leaders need in order to thrive, and leaves the rest open for chapters to build on their own. Our core components:
- Clear affiliation structure - With the support of National, chapters acquire their own tax status and affiliate formally with the network via a clear, Chapter/National-developed agreement which lays out shared standards and expectations for the relationship.
- Upgraded direct services for chapters - By focusing on peer learning platforms and by providing key infrastructure, our goal at the National level is to show our value to the network by building capacity for chapters to be able to do for themselves. In addition to building capacity we will leverage our numbers to bring critical direct benefits to chapters at a better rate such as D&O and liability insurance.
- Shared platform - We chose NationBuilder because it is a fully integrated platform (website, communications, events, and donor management) that will also allow us to gather and compare data across our growing network.
- Shared membership and investment - Our structure has always been that members join individual chapters directly. Knowing though that we want our members to have access to the fullest network benefits and connection to the nationwide movement in addition to their local benefits, we’re moving to joint national/local membership so we can leverage our members across the network for advocacy, research, and momentum for change. And all of this will be supported in part by a nominal chapter investment in the national network.
A few elements, we believe, point to the inevitable success of the Chapter OS:
- We found a system that matches our dynamism and serves as an organizing tool, not just a database. Hooray for NationBuilder!
- Most importantly, as we’ve mapped out this system, we’ve chosen to focus A LOT of our time and energy on creating a vision for what’s possible and only a little bit of energy building systems that keep chapters from going rogue. That’s how big of a bet we’re making on building a new kind of network that makes it clear that we’re better together.
"What does this mean for you?" Realistically, most of this will be happening behind the scenes--just like an operating system updates, you don't see the changes that happen in the background. And to continue the OS metaphor, there may be a few bugs. No grand endeavour comes out perfect the first time around.
What you will see is a national membership program, increased programs and services for members, and a stronger network that can change the sector for the better.