Kickin' It

Kickin’ It with Sean Austin & Pi Lambda Phi

by Matt Farrell

Phired Up and TechniPhi are sharing stories of growth professionals across the industry. 

Below are highlights from a recent conversation with Sean Austin, Director of Expansion at Pi Lambda Phi Headquarters. Our Phired Up conversation prompts are labeled in bold, and the rest is in Sean’s words. 

If you are a brother of Pi Lambda Phi, or recruiter anywhere, you will learn a lot from this story. 



Sean Austin, Director of Expansion at Pi Lambda Phi Headquarters


Why Recruitment Matters

The importance of recruitment definitely didn’t hit me as an undergrad.

It hit me more as a financial advisor shortly after graduation.

I quickly realized that the growth of my business would only be a result of two things: my time or effort, and my skill.

Obviously, skill was going to be limited since I was new, and the process of improving that was going to be slow. So, I quickly started thinking more about how I was spending time effectively to build and advance relationships.

I was also learning growth strategy through running an adult kickball league, which is a crazy story.

I had just graduated from the University of Florida and moved back to Miami, where I’m from. I knew people but definitely needed to get up to speed since I’d been gone for four years. Some friends were playing in this Friday night kickball league and I went to check it out. It was perfect for young adults, you could meet people the same age and go out together after.

After my first season, I made friends with people who ran the league, and they hired me to help, which was a cool way to earn side money for something I did for fun. In doing so, helped them make the league bigger, mostly by figuring out why people were actually showing up.

The parallels to fraternity were pretty wild. When I got there, it was very competitive. We didn’t want to take that away, but we also knew most people were coming to make friends and have fun. As we focused on that in our marketing conversations and used that to get new relationships (and positive word of mouth), we became the largest World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA) league in the country. At our peak we were over 600 members, which was much larger than we thought possible, and perhaps even somewhat unsustainable.

We also had to make sure people weren’t having too much fun so we could keep our permits, but it’s hard to manage risk.  So like I said, definitely some parallels to fraternity.

If you simply do a good job making friends, both sides are going to bring up their hobbies, likes, skills, and goals, and both sides are going to benefit. That’s a great opportunity for anyone who is recruiting anywhere.

Skills You Can Take From the Pros

It all starts with creating a Names List. That was rule #1 as a Financial Advisor, and it worked wonders in kickball too. For Pilam expansions, we use ChapterBuilder to store everything. Simply start by putting as many potential names in ChapterBuilder as possible. In an expansion, we create this with only one or two coordinators and we can still dig up over 1,000 names per school, regardless of size.

Our expansion response rate is generally low because people don’t know who we are yet. However, our existing chapters that do this have a much higher response rate because it’s coming from a student (and likely gets sent to Spam less from a student address). If you’re in a student org already, you can ask for their membership roster to offer your scholarships to. That grows your chapter’s Names List. Multiply that by each different organization your brothers are in and your marketing can reach the whole school!

Finally, you need a measurable goal. Part of that goal has to be your Names List. If you just say you want quality, that’s going to be a failure. That’s true for fraternity, and for any business you want to be in.

Why IHQ Is Getting More Involved With Chapter Growth 

Pi Lambda Phi is a unique experience that lets us cast a wide net. We want all of our chapters to have the best tools to reach everyone they can.

We want to coach you and learn from you. If all our chapters are using different recruitment or Names List systems, then we can’t coach them all properly. Our expertise with ChapterBuilder quickly lets us figure out what you need and what you’re doing well.

I can’t coach chapters that only use an Excel sheet. I can’t read the notes as they relate to SMART goals and they probably can’t either. So ChapterBuilder lets us build that system. If all our chapters are on the same system, it makes our ability to coach and improve their recruitment so much easier. We’re not there yet, but we want to get closer, especially in this current climate.

Our Ohio State chapter is a great example. In Fall 2018, we started a strong colony. They sparsely used ChapterBuilder the next term, using Excel instead because it was more familiar. However, they weren’t growing at the rate they should have. Then, we got them back on ChapterBuilder and everything changed.

Once they better understood what it was and how to effectively use it, the Ohio State chapter doubled. They were on a system and plan that the VP of Recruitment was able to track easily to hold members accountable to, and IHQ was able to quickly check in and adjust what they needed to do. They’ve improved each semester and just brought in a new member class of 30 this Spring.

At IHQ, we can’t figure out how to play to your strengths until we have the data for it. Even having data on language like “If I offered you a bid, what would you say” compared to “If I offered you a bid, would you say yes?” makes a difference. Simple, little tweaks like that can be the difference between which side of the fence your favorite recruits land on.

We want to help, and we’re excited about growing Pi Lambda Phi through these times!