by Matt Mattson
“I can’t wait for recruitment to be over!”
Have you ever said that? Have you ever heard a member exclaim it?
I mean, I get it. I get the sentiment. If you can get through recruitment you can get to the fun stuff of fraternity and sorority. But I’ll be honest, I think this misses the point.
If you really think about the meaning of our organizations. If you consider what they’re really about. I think you’ll agree that “recruitment” isn’t just a to-do list item you have to check off to get to the actual experience. I believe that RECRUITMENT IS THE ACTUAL EXPERIENCE.
Here’s what I mean.
I believe fraternity and sorority is a promise and a challenge. It’s not a house. Not a party. Not an event or a meeting. (Click here to dive deeper into this idea).
I believe that the moment of recruitment… The moment when we build enough trust up with a potential member… The moment they understand this is more than a “buddy club”… The moment we’ve chosen them and they’ve chosen us… The moment we shake hands and welcome them into our sisterhood/brotherhood… THAT’S FRATERNITY AND SORORITY.
That handshake connects them, through us, to our founders. That moment of recruitment is the moment they accept the challenge and the promise of our great organizations. That is fraternity. That is sorority.
The rest is just frosting on the cake.
by Haley Cahill-Teubert
When I went through recruitment, EVERYONE talked about how fabulous Bid Day would be. From my recruitment counselor to the women in each sorority, everyone was so hyped up for Bid Day. I’m not sure if it was because it meant tons of new women would be joining each chapter, or because it was the culmination of two weekends worth of recruitment rounds, or because it was this truly fantastic celebration with the kind of fun and excitement that rivals Disney World.
Bid Day. Bid Day. Bid Day. I heard about it more than practically anything else, so you can imagine I was pretty excited…
And I have to tell you: My Bid Day was more stiff and awkward than you could imagine. Truly.
I got a bid from the chapter I wanted, so by every stretch of the imagination, that should indeed have been a magical day. Nope.
I envisioned myself “running home” to my chapter. Nope, that didn’t happen. I opened my Bid Card and congregated with representative sisters of the chapter who I didn’t meet during recruitment, so I didn’t “run home” to anyone–I didn’t even have one of the Insta-worthy, emotional hugs with anyone. I got a t-shirt from the new member educator and we were instructed we would be meeting the rest of the chapter at the football stadium. The walk from where we opened Bid Cards to the football stadium was a tiny bit of a hike (an uphill one at that), so I have to say that any remaining hype I felt was definitely gone by the time I climbed the hill with the others. I felt oddly out of place during my first few minutes with the entire chapter as I scanned the crowd for my people. What felt like a lifetime later, I found my people and felt at home… For a while.
After a few rounds of photos, our whole chapter relocated to an event center in my college town for the Bid Day festivities to continue. Woohoo! Finally–let’s get the party started! Let the magic commence!
Again, nope…. Not what happened.
I sat at a table with new faces and we played a few rounds of awkward ice breakers and had more of those terrible conversations I had during recruitment that stayed pretty surface level with what my major was, where I was from and where I lived on campus.
There were stations of activities and games that we played for scheduled amounts of time and there was paperwork to be signed. If you ever wanted to know how to strip the fun from Bid Day, it’s by having “scheduled fun” and “scheduled paperwork”….
Bid Day was supposed to mark the end of those robotic conversations and the start of the best time of my college life, and that’s simply not what happened.
Everyone was nice and welcoming, but I can’t say I felt at home. I can’t say Bid Day was a dream come true. I can’t say I was all smiles all day. If anything, there were more moments than not where I wanted to go back to my dorm and call my family.
When Bid Day finally (thankfully) ended, sisters drove me back to my dorm. I was a resident assistant, so I lived by myself. I walked into my room and set my Bid Day bag down and the handmade sign my Bid Day buddy had given me. My organization’s mascot is a panda, and I truly felt like a sad panda sitting on my bed.
Everyone talked about how amazing Bid Day would be and how it would kick off this amazing thing called sorority. And I couldn’t help but think: “This is it? This is what everyone said would be so amazing.”
In that moment, I felt my chest and throat start to tighten. I knew tears would follow soon. Long story short, I really banked on sorority recruitment to transform my college experience. I gave recruitment my all and was so hopeful for a good outcome. Reflecting on the day, I started to think sorority wasn’t for me.
I called my sister. She was influential in me signing up for recruitment in the first place. I explained that I got a bid to the chapter I wanted, but Bid Day was nothing special and I didn’t know if I had a place in a sorority after all.
My sister is one of my biggest supporters, and so often, that kind of support comes in the shape of tough love. She was quick to tell me: “Nope–this was just one day. You need to stick with it. This is exactly where you belong and what is right for you.”
The more she talked, the more her tough love turned to encouragement and then to assurance. And I needed that. I needed assurance that Bid Day may not have been the best day of my life, but I had a place in sorority.
I share this because there are a lot of new members who feel a similar kind of vulnerability after the bid is extended for a variety of reasons.
Maybe a woman and her best friend got bids to different chapters and she isn’t sure how she feels about that.
Maybe a new member was a legacy of another chapter and isn’t sure she could join another.
Maybe a new member was 100% positive she would be given a bid by another chapter, but got a bid to yours and is feeling emotional about it.
Maybe a new member has family or friends who are less than supportive of their decision to join a sorority.
Maybe new members thought Bid Day would be the best day of their lives, but it wasn’t and now they’re questioning if sorority is what they thought it would be.
There are a ton of reasons new members may experience vulnerability after Bid Day. It’s our job as initiated members, campus staff, volunteers, advisors or recruitment counselors to swoop in the way my sister did with assurance.
Without her assurance (and some of that tough love), I’m not sure I would have shown up for that first new member meeting after Bid Day. I’m not sure I would have been willing to stick out that awkward “get to know you” time period new members often experience.
I want to encourage you to recognize that the work isn’t over when Bid Day begins. If anything, that’s when the real work starts. When the relationships take shape in really impactful ways. That’s when members weigh the benefits of staying or leaving. That’s when new members question if there are people there they can connect with, if it’s worth the investment, if it’s what they were told it would be.
You’re working really hard to get the best new members for your chapter, so it’s probably good if you can keep them, right?
Before you go back to your regularly scheduled programming after Bid Day, be that voice of assurance for someone who’s uncertain. Maybe you were the reason someone joined, but now you have an incredible opportunity to be the reason someone stays.
Because here’s the thing… The kind of relationships we seek in sorority don’t just magically appear in conjunction with a bid card. Meaningful, lasting relationships take time and work. It’s not sexy to say making friends in a sorority is long, hard work, which is probably why we don’t say it. People go through recruitment to find new friends, but we kind of have this misleading culture about that. Sorority membership doesn’t grant you friends automatically–not at all. What it does is give you loads of opportunities to make the kind of friends you’re looking for.
Part of that work is on the new member and part is on us. It’s not just our responsibility and privilege to recruit new members; it’s our responsibility and privilege to advance relationships in such a way that members want to stay.
To do that–to create environments that foster genuine love and friendship–I would suggest we review our success with developing relationships from the pre-member experience to the new member experience. A question I would post to you is: How do we have the kind of connections in recruitment that allow us to pick up right where we left off on Bid Day rather than starting over with where are you from and what are you studying?
All too often we measure recruitment (and chapter) success by the ability to meet quota.
What a miss.
I think recruitment (and chapter) success can and should be measured by the kind of experience we give PNMs from the first round of recruitment to Bid Day to the first new member meeting to initiation and after.
I think we can all agree sorority membership should be for a lifetime, right? It’s not four years, it’s for life, right?
If we’re going to preach this, I think it’s time we start asking ourselves if our cultures, practices and attitudes advance or hinder that very fundamental and universal belief.