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Joint Affiliate Agreements Boost Membership
Over its 33-year history, the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR) has formed relationships with dozens of financially independent state affiliates throughout the country. But a few years ago, the board of AACVPR asked a question that would change the trajectory of both the association and its affiliates: Why aren’t the affiliates more closely aligned with the national organization? This simple question led to an ongoing, multi-year effort to better connect these state organizations to AACVPR. All involved have benefited greatly from the changes.

Joint Affiliate Agreement

“It was really just a handshake agreement kind of relationship,” AACVPR Executive Director Megan Cohen said, explaining the association’s past relationship with its affiliates. There was no joint membership and little interaction. AACVPR offered the affiliates access to some resources and information, shared the CVPR portion of their name with them so they were easily identified with AACVPR, and bestowed an affiliate of the year award to one annually, but beyond that, it had been a pretty loose relationship. While AACVPR made attempts to collaborate with various affiliates, it was difficult to do without a formal agreement in place.

Several years ago one of the AACVPR board members, who had been active in a state affiliate group at the time, recognized a missed opportunity. AACVPR—whose mission is to reduce mortality and disability from cardiovascular and pulmonary disease through education, prevention, rehabilitation, research and disease management—had much to offer the members of the 35 state affiliates in terms of education and other resources. There had to be a way to foster greater collaboration.

In 2009, the board decided that the best way to build a stronger bond was to develop a joint affiliate relationship with the state organizations. For the affiliates, a major benefit was that members would get joint membership in both the state and national association. For AACVPR, it was an opportunity to expand its membership and influence. “Above all, it would make the profession stronger,” said Cohen. But this process would not be without its challenges.

Getting Buy-In

The Joint Affiliate Memorandum of Understanding Agreement (MOU) that AACVPR developed would not create a legally-binding relationship between AACVPR and its individual affiliates. The state organizations would remain separate legal entities or “an independent joint affiliate of AACVPR” as the MOU states.

Because state affiliate members now would pay one membership fee but also be AACVPR members, the member fee would be higher. The typical dues for state affiliates was between $40 and $50 per year. The dues structure for the joint agreement is approximately $215 annually. But, the former state members would now get a lot more for their money, including access to free educational content and all the other benefits AACVPR offered.

Over the first few years, only three of the state affiliates signed on with AACVPR, but that changed in 2013. The board, working with Cohen, who became executive director that year, made an active push to expand the program. “This was a real opportunity,” said Cohen. “We needed to reinvigorate this program and I had some strong presidents at AACVPR that really helped drive it forward,” she added.

Knowing this initiative would not take off without buy-in from the various state affiliate boards, AACVPR leadership had to clearly communicate the benefits of a joint affiliation. If the affiliate boards were convinced, they would drive acceptance of the concept with their members.

Road Show

Starting in 2013, Cohen and several board members embarked on a road show, going state-to-state to visit the various state boards to outline the value of this partnership. While there had been multiple conversations and communications about the idea prior to this, these in-person meetings would become invaluable in furthering adoption.

At these meetings, AACVPR officials explained the benefits of the agreement and answered any questions from state affiliate leadership. In addition to AACVPR’s education offerings, state members who signed on would also receive discounted fees for certification programs, meetings and events; and access to its robust government advocacy efforts, networking events and publications, to name just a few of the benefits.

There were also advantages for the individual state organizations. AACVPR would take responsibility for membership, promotion and marketing, dues invoicing and renewals, reconciliation of financial reports and website management. Further, the state board members could obtain director and officer insurance at a discounted rate through AACVPR.

In addition, for each joint member fee paid, the state affiliate got a 13.5 percent rebate from AACVPR. That rebate, which would go into the state affiliates’ coffers to cover their own expenses, was similar to what the affiliates were getting in membership dues before signing the MOU. “It’s a great deal for them because it takes a huge amount of work off their plates as volunteers, but they still have the revenue stream,” Cohen said.

Win/Win

Of the 35 affiliates across the nation, AACVPR has inked joint affiliate agreements with 19, and three more are coming on board in 2018. “It's definitely caught on and will continue to grow as people see the value,” said Cohen. As for the remaining 13, AACVPR will continue promoting the agreement with the goal of ultimately having all 35 affiliates take advantage of this partnership.

For AACVPR, this initiative has resulted in a significant increase in membership. When the program launched in 2010, AACVPR had 2,949 members. At the end of 2017, the association had 3,484 members – a jump of about 18 percent. “A large majority of that increase resulted from this joint affiliation program,” Cohen said.

Beyond that, revenues are up, not just from dues, but from increased meeting attendance, certifications, education programs, and other sources as well. “I can't draw a complete correlation, but every year our numbers have gotten bigger as our membership grows. We have a lot of products and pretty much everything has grown,” stated Cohen. “But more importantly, it's made the organization and the profession stronger. We definitely see it as a win/win.”

While AACVPR’s specific situation may not apply to all associations, there are some takeaways for other boards dealing with chapters or affiliates. “It starts with really listening to what the affiliates need and not just assuming you know the answer,” Cohen said. “We knew how it would benefit AACVPR, but we wanted to hear from them about how it would benefit the affiliates.” It’s important, added Cohen, to develop camaraderie with the affiliate organizations and not approach it just as a business arrangement, but as a true partnership.
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