Developing Standards to Unify Affiliate and Member Experience

Developing Standards to Unify Affiliate and Member Experience
Illustration of a woman looking out on a sunset from the balcony of her apartment of a city.


Industry consolidation. 158 independent state and local entities. Inconsistent member experiences.

The National Apartment Association (NAA) partnered with McKinley to establish affiliate standards and develop a program that would allow both NAA and its 158 affiliates to invest in long-term sustainability and success.


Inconsistent member service and a lack of alignment across the network

With state and local entities operating independently across the U.S., the NAA faced challenges familiar to any association with a federated chapter or affiliate model. Over time, the NAA network had grown and fluctuated to include highly successful – as well as nearly defunct – affiliates. This disparity translated into inconsistent and sometimes even detrimental member experiences. Consolidation in the rental housing market compounded these challenges and exposed the growing risk of not creating a more unified, high-performing network.

Strategy and Solution

Establishing a performance framework and managing change

Recognizing the urgency, NAA partnered with McKinley on a comprehensive, multi-year effort to guide volunteer leaders and staff in the development of a performance framework. Establishing a task force of volunteer leaders to help champion the initiative helped navigate the sensitive nature of the project with affiliate staff and leadership.

Critical to the success of this highly sensitive initiative were many of the fundamentals of change management:

Purple chat bubblesIdentifying a shared goal among stakeholders.

Purple chart iconEmploying strong evidence/data to gain clarity and drive decision-making.

Purple icon of a calendar and a clock.     Launching the new program in phases.

Purple trophy icon   Cultivating champions to communicate and foster support.

Purple people raising handProviding open forums for those who are most impacted by the change to voice their concerns and support.

Purple clipboard iconDeveloping tools and resources to ensure everyone has what they need to be successful.

While qualitative and quantitative research revealed the gaps and variances in affiliate performance, benefits and experiences, the research also confirmed one of the project’s guiding assumptions: Affiliates had the greatest positive impact on the overall NAA member experience. Using the knowledge from the internal research, comparative research, meetings and facilitations, McKinley developed core standards that reflected the essential roles and expectations of the affiliates in five key areas:

  • Operations
  • Leadership and strategy
  • Communications
  • Stakeholder experience
  • Advocacy


“For the first time, there was a dialogue within this diverse association around the need for consistency, standards, and a clear definition of NAA’s role in propping up the affiliate network with tools and content for success, as well the role affiliates play in creating a unified network.”

Kevin Watkins, MBA, CAE, Senior Vice President, Affiliate & Member Engagement

To promote adoption of the standards, the program was broken into three cycles and scheduled to be launched in phases. Affiliates could eventually earn one of three recognition levels: performing, achieving or excelling. NAA simultaneously began to identify affiliates where mergers or a more informal classification of “networking group” might be more viable than independent affiliate status. These changes allowed for a more streamlined network and more targeted investment of NAA resources to ensure the highest quality member experience.


Creating a unified network

In a landmark moment for NAA, the affiliate presidents and staff executives, and eventually the NAA Board of Directors, voted to approve the standards. At the national level, NAA is continuing to develop content and tools to assist affiliate organizations in the transition and ensure they have what they need for long-term success. The affiliate chapters now have guidance and structured goals to meet, including ways to self-evaluate and build customized plans to meet the standards.

Statistics of hours worked on the NAA project.

Meet the Team:

Woman smiling with reddish brown hair wearing an orange blouse underneath a suit jacket. Caroline Baugher
Director, Consulting


A young smiling woman with long blond hair wearing a black blouse.

Eileen Dolan
Senior Project Associate


A miling woman with short light brown hair wearing a black suit jacket.

Shelley Sanner, M.A., CAE
Senior Vice President, Industry Relations


“The expertise that McKinley brought to the table was so beneficial to this project. In addition to their research, their experience with other clients provided a background to our affiliate leaders and stakeholders.”
Kevin Watkins, MBA, CAE
Senior Vice President, Affiliate & Member Engagement