by Haley Cahill-Teubert
You did it! You successfully navigated your first virtual recruitment and you’ve got fantastic new members! So…. now what?
What do we do with all these members? How do we integrate them into the chapter and give them a great new member experience over Zoom? And what about our current members? It was easy to engage them during recruitment prep, but now what?
It’s natural that we direct so much of our time and resources to recruitment, but that’s all for naught if we can’t keep our members as well. To keep people, it’s important to understand why they disengage and leave so we can be more proactive than reactive in retaining our members. Too often, though, we wait to talk about retention until it’s really too late–when members have already mentally checked and have a foot out the door.
There’s a popular Chinese proverb that says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
The same can be said about our retention strategies.
First, let’s break down what the research says about why people leave:
Simply put, we sold them one thing and gave them something else. This is likely something your current membership is feeling, especially the members who joined last year. You sold them a spring formal, a member retreat, weekly dinners at the house not realizing a pandemic would make all of that impossible. And that’s no one’s fault–we just have to understand the experience we can provide now likely looks very different than what most members signed up for.
Lack of Connection
This one is fairly self-explanatory–members are disconnected from others in the chapter. We’ve seen this rise this year as the school year was cut short, people were sent home, and gatherings were moved to Zoom or canceled altogether. It’s easy to understand how we become disconnected from people when we don’t spend any quality time together.
In other words: Drama in the chapter that strains relationships and causes people to leave.
External factors such as the return on investment of membership, perceived value of the experiences, and competing interests make up the last reason why members leave fraternity and sorority. This is where members often assess the worth of membership in an organization.
(For a more in-depth look at our research, check out this resource.)
With consideration of how a virtual membership experience (or even a partially virtual experience) could impact members’ decisions to stay involved, focusing on aligning members’ expectations for the year ahead, providing value, and keeping members connected will likely be your three top priorities for keeping members engaged (and in the chapter).
Have you asked your members what they expect from your organization this semester or quarter? Have you talked about what’s realistic this year? If not, this is a good place to start. Open dialogue about what your chapter can provide right now and what plans are in place is important in aligning members’ expectations for the coming months.
If you’ve already recruited, hopefully you were honest (but optimistic) with prospective members about what your chapter plans to offer this year. If you think there’s a chance some of your new members think that full chapter retreat in the mountains is still happening, but you know it isn’t, schedule time to share with them how your chapter will pivot those plans this year in light of Covid-19.
If you haven’t recruited yet, be sure to discuss how you and your members will share what PNMs can look forward to this year. (See the “Provide Value” section for more information.)
When everyone has aligned expectations, they’re less likely to leave because you can’t give them what you sold them.
Create & Strengthen Connections
What we often forget about joining a fraternity or sorority is that it doesn’t give you instant best friends; it gives you opportunities and spaces to create friendships, but those waters become a little muddy when those spaces and opportunities are virtual. Consider the following strategies for helping new and current members create and strengthen connections in your chapter and community.
Bring back the OG facetime. At this point, there aren’t many campuses that come to mind that have banned one on one interactions. And while we’re used to doing things as a herd, this is the perfect time for us to bring back the original facetime dates. Grabbing coffee, studying, making dinner, going for a walk are small group activities you can safely do with members of your organization. That intentional one on one time allows individuals to build rock-solid relationships with others, which makes them feel more connected. Encourage chapter members to pursue that route or even partner them up with someone they don’t know well who they can build a friendship with and stay connected. Here’s a list of 101 small activities you can do to build those relationships and keep people connected.
Create small groups. Many large clubs and organizations, religious and spiritual groups, for example, rely on small groups to create spaces for more intimate gatherings. Feeling closely connected to an organization of 100-200+ can be intimidating and challenging. Bridge that gap by creating small groups of people who may not typically spend time together and let them choose how they want to gather, whether that’s for a weekly dinner at their favorite local restaurant or for a monthly book club or movie night.
Partner with other organizations in your community. When you join a fraternity or sorority, you don’t just join a chapter, you join a community, but that’s probably easy to forget when you’re just trying to navigate virtual connection with your own chapter. Collaborate with other chapters to help build relationships within your community. Consider having study groups for fraternity and sorority members of any council for various majors or dinner groups for members who live in the same building or areas of town.
Reimagine chapter meetings. Most chapter meetings suck… And probably suck even more on Zoom. Keep announcements brief and incorporate games or trivia into the meeting. (Check out Kahoot! and Jackbox Games. ) Maybe you can create a challenge or competition with a prize. Mandatory time together can (and should) still be fun time together
Create More Value
This is a time where many members, new members, and potential new members alike question what the value is of being in an organization right now. Without parties, chapter events, and big gatherings, what’s the point of a social organization right now? Can you think of five to ten things of value your chapter can provide this semester? If not, let’s start there. Create a list of five to ten things of value your organization can provide right now. Can’t come up with that many? Consider these things:
Over-program, under-expect. Nothing sucks the fun out of an event faster by requiring attendance. Fill your calendars with fun events, but don’t expect or require attendance. It’s important to note, this is an opportunity to involve the whole chapter. It’s not realistic (or fair) to expect one officer to fill the chapter calendar with 100 events and activities. Involve your members and let them shine in their own gifts by allowing them to plan and lead an event of their choosing. Ideally, this shouldn’t require a significant amount of time or energy on their part–it should be part of their daily life that others can join in on. For example, if you have a member who loves to hike, they may choose a date to host a small group hike. Whoever shows up, great. If people don’t, that’s fine because that member was probably going to go for a hike anyway. Or maybe you have a member who loves to bake. They may choose to host a virtual baking class one evening and share a grocery list for “No Bake Peanut Butter Cookies” and a Zoom link for anyone who wants to join. And if no one shows up? No worries–that member can still make their own cookies and go about their business. Encouraging members to lead an activity gives them purpose and recognition, allows chapter members to learn about them and the things that matter to them, and it gives people unlimited opportunities to connect on their own terms. Maybe they don’t want to come to today’s event because they’ve been on Zoom for lectures for the last six hours, but they’re totally free tomorrow and would be more apt to show up for something then. Having a ton of options gives people flexibility and countless opportunities for fun. Let your new members in on the fun too – it gives them a cool space for members to learn about them and what they like to do. (Here’s a list of 44 ways to foster brotherhood and sisterhood virtually to get you started.)
Establish an alumni mentor program. With the help of your alumni, you could create a really incredible mentor program where members of certain majors could connect with alumni working in that field. Maybe they would be willing to let members shadow them virtually for a day or hop on a call and share tips for making your resume stand out or give advice on what they wish they had done before graduating to set them up for success. This would be such a valuable offering to your members and a fun way to connect with alumni.
Serve your community. Each of our organizations value service, but sometimes we rely too much on large scale, flashy barbecue dinners and kickball tournaments to contribute to our respective causes. There is more than one way to have an impact, especially when it comes to the community where you live. Local businesses and organizations may need your help now more than ever before to continue operating. Create a list of business and organizations in your college community who you could donate time, money and resources to. Create a list of projects individuals or small groups of members could do to help people in your community in need. Large events that raise impressive funds are great, but there are plenty of other ways to serve those around you in an equally impactful way.
Repurpose chapter funds. If you haven’t slashed your budget, you likely have plenty of funds to work with, especially if your over-the-top Bid Day or big cookout interest meeting couldn’t happen. Get creative and use those funds in other ways. What if you purchased a resume review service for seniors? What if you bought everyone something super practical like a Hydroflask? Or what if you delivered a box of snacks and candy to each member ahead of your Netflix streaming party? Or use your surplus of funds to support members impacted by Covid-19. There are plenty of ways to repurpose chapter funds to support members and continue providing value.
Fraternity and sorority life obviously looks different this year. But it’s as important as ever. And it still provides significant value.
Adopting a proactive mindset and creating a plan to retain members is as important as your strategy to attract them to your organization in the first place. By focusing on aligning expectations, building and strengthening connections and creating more value than ever before, your organization won’t just continue to exist but will thrive.
by Matt Farrell
Nnaemeka (Nnaem/Nem) and I met at the Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute in summer 2018 over several games of pickup basketball, and his different approach to growing his chapter stuck with me. While I worked in recruiting professionally, Nem was part of a National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) organization—Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. at Ohio State—and was the only active member of his chapter at the time. We knew we had a lot to learn from each other, and we stayed connected. The below conversation was recorded two years later, in June 2020.
Our conversation was inspired by a challenge: how can we see the word “growth” differently by learning from each other’s fraternity experience?
Matt: So of course I’m coming from the professional growth side. At Phired Up, we’ve been concerned for a long time about how little our audience knows about us BEFORE they’re eligible to join. So let’s start there. What did you know about fraternities coming into college?
Nem: It wasn’t on my radar. I was big on sports, I was gonna play sports and be a doctor – that’s it. I didn’t think about Greek Life at all. (Pause) Well, a little. My twin brother is a big MLK fan. He researched that he was a part of Alpha Phi Alpha. It didn’t mean much to me at the time, but my brother began pursuing it at Ball State.
Matt: OK, so you at least knew what it was. Many people find out, and then have no human attracting them to the organization from there. So how did you meet the members?
Nem: I just started getting involved on campus which was my plan anyway, the main step was participating in the Alpha’s Homecoming pageant. In hindsight, the Brother’s did organize it so I guess that should’ve sparked my interest. I wasn’t paying attention at all and honestly & didn’t realize they were a part of the same organization outside of the pageant.
Matt: So now there’s a relationship. As an IFC fraternity man this is where I tell our men to build off that and ask them to join. I know it’s very different in your world. What was next?
Nem: My twin brother was pushing me to look into it, as he was at Ball State. So I knew from his experience that they weren’t going to recruit me. I knew I had to reach out to them, because my brother told me. So, I hit them up and told them I was interested.
Matt: That’s a huge moment. Wow. And you got lucky because your twin brother happened to know the steps. Is that fair to say?
Nem: I came in pretty blind. The chapter had a lot of campus leaders which was great. It felt like a way to elevate my platform, as I do this I can emphasize things that I feel matter more. I knew I had to hit them up. But if I didn’t know that, I may have missed out on the experience.
Matt: That moment when you said, “I hit them up.” That feels like the moment we want for everyone interested in NPHC. And I know there are plenty of NPHC members who wish more people would reach out to their organization. What would you say to encourage them?
Nem: You have to get out in front of people. If they can’t find you they won’t know how to approach you. Be at events on campus; it’s not all their fault for never expressing interest if they don’t know you by name because you aren’t doing work on campus. You have to be visible and you have to be open to a degree. Some people are intimidated to start a relationship with you. We forget that. When you allow for that relationship, it’s easier for them to start the conversation about joining.
Matt: There was a point soon after you joined, where you were suddenly basically all by yourself. Tell me more about that.
Nem: When I came in we had 13 members total. They graduated right away or were so focused on graduating so that it basically was just me active after a year. And that was a problem because I have an issue with taking a lot more responsibility than I need to; I’m terrible at delegating. I was working three jobs, one was almost all overnight shifts, and I did not get a lot of sleep. This was all while being in the chapter essentially by myself.
When talking to men who were interested in my organization, I had to be fully up front. What I liked and didn’t like. I had to be honest about the workload too. I was doing a lot, and whoever joined was going to fill their plate up fast too. I was pleasantly surprised how well the conversations went when I was that honest with them.
The benefits are huge but you work for all of them. I think a lot of people join orgs and their persona changes. You have to remain true to yourself. That consistency was big for me as we worked to build the chapter back up.
Matt: So say a group takes your story, your challenge to heart. They start growing to be larger than they dreamed of. I know people will start saying it’s “too large”. Is that real?
Nem: It’s about close, tight bonds. When you’re trying to keep quality up then the closeness of members is more important than any number. We focus on people who have aspirations of being on the e-board of organizations, in other words exceptional leaders. That’s always going to keep us different and make it harder to be a really large chapter, but not impossible. And always, if you don’t want to join, I‘m not never going to force you to.
Matt: So how do we help people want it more? Because then more people benefit from the gift of an NPHC org, right?
Nem: The big way to make people want to want it is doing good work yourself. Doing things actively on campus and doing them well. You need to make meaningful work both fun and effective at the same time. We need leaders who are present and more vocal. If my brothers weren’t present at that pageant I probably would not be here. It’s about the work.
Matt: The work feels more needed than ever now.
Nem: If you want to be about the mission your organization was for, you have to speak out for that. Why are you in this organization that’s about growth in Black communities if you’re not going to be a part of what’s going on in the world and within our communities?
Matt: I’m getting lots of advice from people who want to educate me, help me understand. What advice would you give to people who are already educated, or already lived through painful experiences?
Nem: If you’re just fighting everyone, then you’re not going to be happy even when you get where you want to go. Having this all happening during an era where people are face to face less and less, that’s not helping us understand each other in an ideal fashion.
Some people don’t want to grow, which is frustrating, but you can’t allow that to stop you from continuing to grow yourself. If someone genuinely wants to learn, you can’t knock them for making a mistake.
Matt: As always, talking to you is so impactful and so helpful. Tell us a little about what’s next for you.
Nem: Currently, I’m starting my last semester before I obtain my bachelor’s degree in Materials Science & Engineering. I still have a few leadership positions on campus, being a Lead Ambassador in the Bell Center at Ohio State (support center for Black males at OSU) and the President (again) at Kappa Chapter are my big commitments currently. I have also been a part of the creation of a new brand, Social Introvert, where we hope to highlight the unique ability many of us have to be extremely social, especially in these times of highlighted social media, while staying true to our introvert at heart. I have been fortunate to have what I believe to be a great network that includes both Alpha and the NPHC. In the future I hope to spread my brand in these circles as a way of expression but also to do meaningful work in communities.