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Common attributes of successful chapters

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Here’s the chance to add/subtract or discuss the list on page 13 of the May/June 2010 issue of The Harmonizer. Apologies if you came to this site earlier and didn’t find this post as mentioned in the magazine. I just came back from vacation to find that the printer had managed to mail the issue nearly a week earlier than scheduled — I thought I was going to have a few more days to put this post online!

If you don’t agree with this list, take it up with me — I take full responsibility for it ….

… unless you do like the list, in which case I emphasize that while the words are mine, the concepts didn’t exactly spontaneously pop into my head. Here in Nashville, especially in the last 18 months, we’ve been talking about issues like these A LOT. I’m sure if I checked back into my meeting notes, I’d see some version of most of the below concepts. But I generated this based on little more than a personal brainstorming session and sent it around the office for feedback.

Hate it: MY FAULT. Like it: THANK THE STAFF. Clear?

So how does this list jibe with your experience? Some successful chapters prominently feature traits not listed below, but the idea is to identify traits that pretty much ALWAYS seem to be present in growing, thriving chapters.

Would you add anything? Remove something? Modify something? Your feedback is appreciated!


  • Officers lead by vision, persuasion and delegated authority rather than by edict
  • Membership includes at least one “spark plug”—a positive, visionary catalyst
  • Leaders consider mentoring and developing new leaders to be a high priority
  • A large variety of members are engaged in visible, meaningful weekly roles
  • Director has solid musical skills, develops musical leadership in others
  • Chapter gives priority to increasing its financial resources


  • Members agree on a clear definition of chapter success
  • Goals and vision are significant and pervasive enough to outlast various officer tenures
  • Chapter has outward-looking “causes,” e.g. community service, youth outreach
  • Chapter meetings are well planned, often with hour-to-hour or week-to-week variety
  • There is frequent, clear two-way communication among members and leaders
  • Chapter strives for high visibility in community, both in performances and publicity
  • Focus on competitions is neither too high nor too low
  • Members accountable to performance standards, chapter helps individuals succeed


  • Chapter leaders/members open to new ideas, positive change
  • Upbeat, optimistic atmosphere, sense of “going somewhere”
  • Chapter culture focused on giving rather than “what’s in it for me?”
  • Frequent recognition for individual accomplishments, large and small
  • Recruiting succeeds because of overall pride in chapter
  • There are true friendships and few personality conflicts among members
  • Members’ families are integrated in chapter life
  • Guests and new members always welcomed into warm, mentoring relationships

Please add/subtract/modify in the comments!

8 thoughts on “Common attributes of successful chapters

  1. What a great starting point for any chapter! I have found that chapters generally fall into two main types and two sub-types:

    Achievement A — high-quality singing/performance
    Achievement B — competition

    Affiliation A — socializing with good quality singing
    Affiliation B — socializing, period

    I’ve developed a 10-question survey that gives chapter officers and members an opportunity to determine the priorities they place on each of these four. It takes just a few minutes to circle the number (1 – 10) on the scale for the key questions. From that, a chapter’s leaders can determine how to proceed with meetings, marketing, and recruitment It’s very practical and quite valid since it’s based on my barbershopping experience and graduate studies in in leadership and in my university teaching of leadership and research methods.

    If you want a copy, just email me at stephen@rapportcommunications.net

    Here to serve —


  2. A chorus must have a good director in order to thrive. A talented chorus will flounder and stagnate under bad leadership. On the other hand, an untalented chorus can grow and learn with good leadership. A good director must be competent, inspirational, and ambitious.

    Competency not only includes technical music prowess, but it includes good management skills as well. The director and music team must have good answers for the following questions. What’s the most important thing for the chorus to work on? What will give the chorus the most bang for its buck? How far before a performance should new material be introduced to the chorus? If there’s not enough resources to do everything you want, which items must be sacrificed?

    A good director must inspire his troops in battle. He must be well-prepared. He needs to show his chorus that he’s put in the work and that he knows his stuff. Unfortunately other than doing due diligence, the other factors that go into being an inspirational leader cannot be taught. One must be confident, but not cocky. He must be a good teacher without being negative. The chorus must WANT to sing for you.

    A good director is also ambitious. He must set public concrete goals with his chorus. He must never stop learning and be open to trying new things in his quest to lead the chorus to greatness. He must have the drive and courage to reevaluate and change his current methods if they have been proven to be unsuccessful.

    Every chorus has talented guys and not-so-talented guys. When you put a bunch of singers together it all kind of averages out (of course, some choruses’ averages will be different). But the numbers in a leadership team are few. The numbers in a director are even fewer (usually 1!) There will be no averaging out in a chorus’s leadership. You get exactly what you have which is why having good leadership is so important.

  3. I’d like to also submit that the most successful choruses also don’t seem to be slaves to the barbershop genre.

    The Vocal Majority, Westminster, Great Northern Union, and i know there are lots of others as well. All of them have realized that to be a successful and thriving chorus they need to expand their horizons. Part of encouragement means getting people interested in something they haven’t heard before. If you draw people in with music they like or have some familiarity with, they will be more willing to keep their ears open when we start ringing those 7ths.

    1. Justin, Heart of Harmony, West Allis, Wi., is working hard these days(all days!) and we will be tryng to garner one of those qualifiying spots at our Oct. District in Fargo. Stop in and see what we/re doing these days//gary thiel

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