Frontline Initiative State Chapter Development

Top 10 practical things to help you start a state chapter


Don Carrick is NADSP Vice President in Maryville, Missouri.

Jay Mackey is NADSP Director-At-Large in Maryville, Missouri.

When we started Direct Support Professionals of Missouri (DSPM) in 1997 we discovered that starting a state chapter on direct support advocacy is a long and winding road. To help you on your journey, we’ve created this handy list for you to review and make sure you’re staying on track. We hope this list helps you avoid the pitfalls that many beginning chapters face.

  • Be Patient. - In your work as a DSP, you’ve learned a lot about patience. Use that sense of patience when developing your state chapter. You will have moments when you feel like you are moving backwards instead of forwards. It is at those times you need to remember your patience.
  • Don’t be docile. - Remember how we said to be patient? Well, there are also times to not be patient. You have to be passionate about DSP advocacy. You must know in your heart that advocacy is important and that you can help make the necessary change.
  • Make Friends. - If you advocate for DSPs correctly, you will meet many new people who can help you now and in the future. Remember names and faces and get contact information on everyone. Have a signup sheet at each meeting or training. Then start a database you can use to send out this information; it will save you a lot of time in the long run!
  • Include, don’t exclude. - You’re doing direct support advocacy, right? So it makes sense to keep your meetings “DSP only,” right? Wrong. If you exclude people from coming to meetings and learning more about your chapter, those on the outside will be left to draw their own conclusions. Be as open about your organization as possible. Post minutes to meetings and send copies to administrators as well as DSPs. Invite “nay-sayers” to meetings so they can see what’s going on first hand.
  • Be thrifty, but not cheap. - The DSPs you meet with are probably on a very limited budget. Try to make meetings and trainings free. Explore the possibilities of local libraries, museums, and schools. It is difficult enough for DSPs to find the time to attend, so fees should be kept to a minimum.
  • Make your Mission clear - Let’s face facts: not many people know what DSP advocacy is, much less know a group devoted to it. Before your chapter name is out there, make sure the mission statement is clear and makes sense. NADSP’s mission statement is a great place to start as you develop your own statement.
  • Be Selective. - If you’re lucky and work hard, your chapter name will get out there and you’ll be asked to help with lots of projects. Whenever you’re asked to work on a project or align with another group, take a moment to reread your mission statement. It’s better to be selective in what you do then to realize too late that you’re stretched thin and can’t effectively work toward your own mission statement.
  • Be active. - It really is important that state chapters are active in NADSP. Your work in NADSP committees and other projects ensures that people hear straight from DSPs working in their communities.
  • Be nice. - You’re going to run into people who don’t agree with your state chapter. Ask yourself, are you going to be able to sway this person, or is this going to turn into an argument? Fighting with someone will not win you new friends or influence anyone in a positive way. Sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and walk away.
  • Enjoy. - DSP advocacy is a lot of fun. If you work hard and stay focused, there is no telling where you’ll end up and who you’ll meet. Enjoy the friendships you make and the situations you find yourself in. Remind yourself that you are working to make life better for DSPs and the people they support.