By Matt Mattson
Allow me to clarify. I’m writing to the fraternity men who care. To the ones who are trying. To the ones who raised their hand and volunteered to be a leader despite the negative reputation and history of institutional debauchery that exists in fraternities.
To you, gentlemen, I write this letter of support and gratitude. To you, gentlemen, I sincerely say, “Thank you.”
From the outside, fraternities can sometimes look like a clown car full of drunken evil-doers. But those of us who can see the inside of today’s college fraternity know differently. We know the heavy weight of organizational history and individual futures rests directly on the shoulders of 18 to 22-year-old men. Not the guys in the back acting like children, but the young men in the front who have chosen to carry on the promise of fraternity out of duty, honor, and integrity.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably YOU I’m writing to. You’re probably a chapter or council leader, and that’s not easy. In fact, leading a fraternity is really hard. You feel pressure from above, below, and all around you. Everyone wants your chapter to be something different. The loud guys in back want it to be more fun (nothing wrong with that). Your headquarters wants it to be more responsible (nothing wrong with that either). Sororities on campus want this, Greek advisors want that, and the internet seems to want something from you too (cool pics, killer videos, sick party shots).
Here’s the thing. You’re in charge. You’re leading. You’re on the ground fighting the everyday battle of fraternity. And I just want you to know you’re appreciated. And I also want you to know that you have to choose what you’ll be. You can’t please everyone. You can’t even really please all the different ideas you probably have in your head. You have to lead your chapter in such a way that IT IS ABOUT SOMETHING.
If you want the best people on campus to join your chapter, it can’t be about: leadership, scholarship, service, fun, philanthropy, sorority relations, cool parties, networking, and the tightest brotherhood. If that’s what you attempt to be — all things to all people — you’ll fail. You’ll be mediocre. You’ll be a perfect landing place for the most average potential members on campus.
Don’t be average. Don’t be mediocre. Choose to be great at something.
If you want recruitment success, retention success, and reputational success… and maybe even some personal fulfillment along the way… make your chapter about something. Be the chapter that cares, the chapter that participates in activism, the chapter that wins sports, the chapter that has real human conversations with people on campus, the chapter that professors appreciate, the chapter that moms send thank you notes to, the chapter that changes the way people see fraternity, the chapter that sings, the chapter that affirms and celebrates differences, the chapter that dominates philanthropy, the chapter that shapes guys into humble modern gentlemen. Whatever. Just pick something. Be about it. And don’t be about anything else. Make everything you do about your cause, your “why,” your purpose, your… something. Be about something.
Mostly I wanted you to know that you’re appreciated and you have permission to choose what your chapter will be about. Own your leadership opportunity. It is short and fleeting. Most chapter and council officers are half way through their time as a leader. Don’t waste another moment.
Oh, and remember one other thing. We’re on your side. The people at Phired Up, Innova, and TechniPhi… we really do believe in you. You are why we do this work. You are the future of fraternity, and we couldn’t be more grateful for your efforts.
by Dr. Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre
It’s April now and for many of you Spring is in the air, and graduation is on the horizon. April is a season of Greek weeks and finals preparation, saying goodbye and getting ready to do the “summer thing”. April is also a perfect month for chapter evaluations to take place. This is a really good time to ask your members what they liked about last year, and what they did not like. This gives you time and space as a leader to look at and analyze results, and actually think about how you are going to apply those results.
Our curriculum on membership retention highlights the importance of evaluation by sharing some simple sample questions with chapter leaders. Use these as you wish to evaluate the pulse of your membership. Once you are done, scan the results for common themes and consider how you will act on those themes. Don’t take answers too personally, and if you can keep them confidential, just use constructive feedback to make your chapter better.
Try these questions:
What is your favorite part of being in the fraternity/sorority?
What is your least favorite part?
What can we do to help you learn and grow next semester?
Ask these in an online form, do a focus group with a small section of your chapter, or ask people to talk about this openly in your next chapter meeting. HOW you ask isn’t as important as it is THAT you are asking, and WHAT you do about it.
The question about learning and growing is particularly important. Lots of people (who are way smarter than me) have studied work and organizational cultures for a long time. Learning and growth are two fundamental pieces of engaging people. Why? Because folks are anxious to learn new things, and they need to be challenged to feel like they are really making a difference. People need to sense forward progress in themselves and in their organization to feel like it’s worth it.
Often leaders in fraternal organizations are well engaged, in-part because they must be, but also because they are challenged and praised. In other words, leaders have a job to do, and in that job they are learning and growing. The rest of the membership can get complacent, not because they are lazy letter-wearers, but because sometimes stuff just gets old. Consider the senior who is engaged to be married: does he really want to keep going to mixers? What about the 4.0 students who are asked to sit through yet another study skills workshop, or the non-drinker who is reprimanded as part of a larger group for poor behavior? These things are not relevant to these individuals. It’s not what they need, and it doesn’t push them or challenge them.
I think about my own sorority experience. I love to dance, but was never quite good enough for a college level dance team or cheerleading squad. In sorority, however, I got to be a part of the dance competition during Greek weeks. It was challenging and fun, and probably a bit of a headache for my sisters who were really amazing dancers to have to teach me a little more. But, it helped me engage in the organization in ways that made my membership meaningful to ME. That’s what you should be striving to do for each of your members.
The question about learning and growing is most simply: what do you want out of fraternity/sorority? How can we help you stretch and become better? What do you want to do? Paying attention to answers, and acting on requests within reason, yields a more active and engaged membership. We don’t know if we don’t ask, so use this time to ask and listen, take the summer to plan, and use the fall to implement.
by Erin Chatten
Walk over to a window or a mirror in your house, your car, or your dorm room right now and do me a favor. Fog it up a little. Take a deep breath in, open your mouth wide, and exhale a blast of hot air from your belly toward the surface in front of you. Now, look at that fogged spot. How well can you see? That all depends on how big of a breath you just took. Maybe you fogged the glass for just a moment in a small spot and it disappeared after two seconds. Perhaps you gave it everything you had and you added a little smiley face into the mix. Either way, you fogged your perception for a moment. Your vision was not clear. It was not transparent.
Often times, this “fog” is what potential members see during recruitment. We fog their perception of our organizations by blowing out a bit of hot air.
We tell them about the cool parties we attend with a breath of hot air. We tell them about how we became magical best friends with the other 120 members of our organization overnight with another breath. We smile and nod and act as if their interests are the same as ours, yet another big blast of hot air. We tell potential members about all the partial truths about our organizations that fog their perception of what membership in our organizations actually looks like.
It’s time to get real. It’s time to wipe the window clear of fog and to start getting transparent with our potential brothers and sisters.
Over the past two years, I have worked on two projects that revealed these fogged perceptions. In our retention research, I called up members that had left their organizations to ask what led them to leave fraternity/sorority life. In another study, current and new members were asked to explain what they wish they knew about fraternity/sorority membership before they joined. These studies revealed two major themes:
1. If we are not transparent about our organizations, people will LEAVE them.
2. We are not covering the information in recruitment that potential members really want to hear.
The conversations with members who have left our organizations show that one of the leading reasons members are leaving is due to misaligned expectations. To put it simply, what we say while recruiting members and what they experience as a member are two entirely different realities. We present them with the fogged version of membership, but once the fog clears, they can see through all the fake stories and misconstrued realities. When reality does not match the fogged perception, these members are at risk for leaving.
Let’s stop blowing out hot air and start telling potential members what they want to hear. Through our research on potential new members, we uncovered five questions that are being hidden or left unanswered in the recruitment process:
When we answer these questions transparently, we show the true and unfogged version of our chapters. Real does not need to be negative, but it does need to be honest. Are you best friends with all 120 members of your chapter? My guess is no. However, I can bet that you treat them all as family. Sometimes family disagrees, sometimes family unites over a common cause to accomplish great things, and sometimes you are closest to just one or two members of your larger family group. This is what we call reality, not hot air fallacies.
Start unfogging your recruitment by being transparent instead of blowing the hot air that prevents potential members from seeing what your organization will actually offer them. In return, your members will know what to expect and are more likely to stay engaged when they can see the whole picture clearly.
By Dr. Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre
We talk a lot about recruitment of new members, but what about sustaining that membership for a lifetime? Too often members enthusiastically join an organization only to lose their passion a few short months later. At Phired Up, our team is particularly curious about why these members withdraw from their organization. Why do people swear their lives to a fraternity or sorority and then leave? What makes people exit organizations they once pledged to love forever?
We have heard from hundreds of “left members” (people who resigned membership of their own accord). What we’ve learned about their top reasons of resignation are surprising. Here are two of the most common reasons:
1. Mis-aligned expectations. – “I thought I was getting into one thing, and it was totally different after a while.”
2. Lack of Connection. – “I did not matter to the organization in the way I thought I would.” At Phired Up, we call this reason: “people join people and people leave people.”
As leaders of fraternities and sororities, your primary job is to conceptualize the core purpose of your organization through example and action. This means understanding what your group is all about, communicating that purpose, and acting on it.
To help make this happen, start by examining current practices. How does your organization communicate who they are? Are we lying (to ourselves and others) or telling half-truths? Are we sugar coating the nature of membership? Why?
How often are we considering our people first? Are we focusing on listening to our members? Do we teach inclusion? Are we intentional about making sure everyone has a place? How often do we ask members what they think and how they are feeling?
It’s likely your group is somewhere between having no retention focus and being rock stars at retaining members. The truth is, retention is work because it’s about building and maintaining meaningful relationships, knowing your people, and communicating your actual experience to the outside world.
Ready to start building better retention practices? Start by doing these four things:
1. Evaluate your roster. Who is disengaged? Why? Can someone intentionally and deliberately build a relationship with that person to include and understand them more?
2. Evaluate your recruitment strategies. Be more real. Let’s be honest, you don’t have football throwing barbecue parties on the lawn everyday of the year. You don’t always dress in matching lily prints and love everyone all the time. How can you showcase the beautiful, and sometimes broken, reality of your group? Be honest about time, money, values, and day-to-day experience.
3. Put your people first. Work to make each person in your group know their specific purpose. Share it with them and appreciate them.
4. Ask questions. Evaluate your membership’s current feelings by asking them what they like and don’t like about their membership and what they need more of.
What sustains people in relationships, religions, on diets, and in brand loyalty? Getting what they thought they would get, and feeling like they are an important piece of the whole. By promoting the truth about what it’s like to be part of your organization during recruitment, and through taking active measures to help each member feel important, you can instill a similar sense of loyalty in your members and boost your chapter’s retention results.
by Matt Mattson
Our friend Dr. Gentry McCreary posted a blog recently which he shared on social media with the tagline, “That day I declared the death of values-based recruitment.” Needless to say, this grabbed my attention.
Let me say up front that I agree with Gentry. The way we’ve been doing recruitment for a long time is not resulting in the organizations that many of us desire. He’s right that we (educators and fraternal professionals especially) have been talking about values-based recruitment for well over a decade. There’s a bunch of other stuff in the post that I agree with. I’m fine with killing the term “values-based recruitment” too, actually. The only people who say it are the people who are frustrated with the way recruitment is actually being done. We can call our preferred recruitment method whatever we want, as long as we remember that it’s how we DO recruitment that matters. I’m sure Gentry would agree.
The idea of putting values into recruitment is actually a pretty difficult thing to do. Recruitment is hard enough — students are busy, focused elsewhere, and don’t see recruitment as part of doing fraternity/sorority, but instead as the task that must be done so that fraternity/sorority can start. Because of those reasons and more, making the values of a values-centered organization central to the actual execution of recruitment strategies is difficult. Since it’s easier to focus on far more accessible concepts for 17/18-year-olds, our organizations do just that.
Similarly, “365 Recruitment” sounds terribly hard. But that’s another post for another day.
I’m thinking Gentry’s overall point in the blog is that instead of trying to force the “Values-Based Recruitment” education down our members’ throats, perhaps we should be more practical in what we’re trying to get fraternity/sorority members to actually do. I can dig that. (If that’s not what he meant, my apologies… but it’s what I mean.)
So, practically… what do we want?
I think we want our members to attract new members in ways to reflect the things we’re proud of about fraternity/sorority, and that set clear expectations of what it should mean to be in a fraternity/sorority.
How do we do that? Well, that’s what we’ve been working on since 2002. We’re getting closer every year. Turns out it’s kind of a complex and nuanced system with lots of levers. But here are a few recommendations, in practical terms.
I love this line from Gentry, “Stop trying to convince your students to sell their values, and start convincing them to sell the more altruistic forms of brotherhood and sisterhood. Convince them to sell how membership in their organization will provide prospective members with a sense of belonging and connection, with a group of people who will support them and have their back.”
YAAASS GURL! (Did I do that right?)
I love the research Gentry has done on brotherhood/sisterhood. To me it boils down to “how will this make my life better in ways that actually matter to me?” Does the way we do recruitment demonstrate that fraternity/sorority will make a PNM’s life better in ways that actually matter to them in their current life stage? Can we express that to PNMs in a way that inspires them to want to commit to it and share it with others? That’s probably not done by listing or “trashing” our values, but values will always remain at the center of that process.
As social animals, our primary instinct that drives so much of our behavior is the instinct to connect. For safety, security, opportunity, influence, and power. We want to connect to our tribe, our group, our family, our brotherhood/sisterhood. That’s instinctual. We want to connect with people who have shared values or values that will enhance our own current reality. That is brotherhood/sisterhood. Separating values from brotherood/sisterhood isn’t possible, but that’s also not what I think Gentry is suggesting.
I guess what I want to say most is… THANKS GENTRY! I appreciate when people poke and prod some of the outdated or bedraggled philosophies of our industry. I think talking about “values-based recruitment” and actually teaching people to recruit in a way that makes us all proud aren’t mutually exclusive, but deserve to be re-thought. One of our core values at Phired Up is Innovation. We don’t do the same old schtick for decades. We keep pushing constantly to look for new ways to teach that will get better and better results. Your recent blog post will help us do just that. Keep it up.
By Matt Mattson
We’ve been in this fraternity/sorority business a while, and I’m proud of the impact we’ve made. Many of our friends and colleagues in the industry often ask us, “So, what’s next?” I love that question.
Obviously, when Phired Up purchased a marketing company and created a technology company last year, that was a pretty major step forward. But we’re never satisfied. With Jessica Gendron Williams as your CEO, you can’t be satisfied. She won’t allow it. I love that about her. She’s pushing our team to create and innovate as always.
When “innovation” is a core value of your company, you have to ask, “What’s Next?” a lot.
I don’t really know for sure “What’s Next” for the fraternity/sorority world, but I’ll make some guesses.
I have some other thoughts, but I’ll stop at 6 wild predictions for the future of fraternity/sorority life. Some of my other ideas are a little cynical, admittedly — gluten free chapters, parents rooms in chapter houses, and republican vs. democratic umbrella groups. Mostly though, I’m hopeful for our industry. We are evolving. We are advancing. We are innovating.
I’m proud that Phired Up is working every day to play a small role in the continual innovation of our movement.
by Matt Mattson
Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile. He just figured out how to efficiently give the gift of motorized transit to the masses. He made it easier to build a complex machine. He simplified a previously complicated process.
This is what we (attempt to) do at Phired Up.
Joining a fraternity or sorority is a complex, complicated process that is done by hand, one-by-one, face-to-face. Getting a fantastic human being to join your organization requires the attention of a handcrafted masterpiece. Recruitment is emotional, is entirely about trust and caring and attention and relationships.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t make it easier. That doesn’t mean we can’t help you focus your energy on the stuff that matters (and not be distracted by the stuff that doesn’t). We can help you build a CONNECTION MACHINE — a system for efficiently (but still humanly, and beautifully) crafting relationships with the best men and women on campus so that they are inspired by the possibility of membership in your esteemed brotherhood or sisterhood.
When we teach Dynamic Recruitment. When we teach Social Excellence. When we prepare chapters for formal recruitment. When we teach Retention. When we prepare recruitment counselors. When we help new members prepare for recruitment with iValU. All of these things are parts to the same CONNECTION MACHINE. They all are fueled by real human relationships. They all can be measured by the quantity and quality of conversations our members have.
The trick is to stay focused on the parts of the machine that actually work. The trick is to continue to tweak the machine so that it makes your lives easier and more fun while producing better and better recruitment results.
Doing what we do (and you doing what you do as recruiters) requires equal parts engineer and artist. Both sides of the brain must be engaged. We must systemize human connection. This can be done. The best chapters are doing it. It’s what we’ve been teaching for well over a dozen years now, and it is what is raising the bar for the entire fraternity/sorority world.
by KJ McNamara
As recruitment ends for this Fall, we all reflect on the reasons people joined our chapters or didn’t. Why we joined our chapters and why we did not join others.
I have always believed people join people. We join because we meet someone and we feel at home with that person, not in the recruitment room or the chapter house, but with a person.
The number one reason people leave our sororities is because of misaligned expectations. Because who we are in recruitment is not who we are in every day life. New members feel like they get lost, like they don’t fit in, like they don’t matter as we begin to focus on getting through college instead of just recruitment.
When we talk about keeping members after recruitment ends it begins with this, “be yourself in sorority recruitment… it helps no one to try so hard to impress that we change our essence.” And it ends with this: Be a chapter worth staying in.
We are a foundation of strong women who help other women be strong too… just by hanging out with them they see our light and our life and they want to be that. Don’t let your light and your life burn out.
It got me thinking, who would I join this fall? So here is my list of who I would have joined based on the powerful conversations I had this fall while traveling to speak for 48 days.
I would have joined Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority because of Samantha J. Armstrong at Eastern Washington University. She has constantly been my supporter and a person who is unwilling to accept status quo in life, on campus or in her friends. She has never had a mediocre conversation… ever. She is always connecting you with resources, people, information and books. She is excellent. She sees the best in you and makes it her job to help you become the best.
I would have joined Kappa Delta Sorority because of Adrienne Simon former consultant for the organization and a person who took days out of her life and dollars out of her bank to visit chapters the week before her graduate program began. We sat on a porch one afternoon talking about her transformational mission trip she just returned from. She talked about deeply vulnerable things and said the most transformational thing she has learned in the past year is that “it is okay to not be okay.’ And most importantly she told me that our greatest fear as women is that who we are in this moment is not deserving of love, that we need to change who we are to been fully loved. She is vulnerable.
I would have joined Alpha Chi Omega because of Alexa David because she is most dedicated woman I know to her cause. She works 65 hours a week and volunteers for her sorority and advises a fraternity. We had an honest conversation about stress, the feeling of crying alone in your bed when the weight of the world is suffocating you. She told me the most valuable quote I have ever heard. She told me this: behind every strong woman is a squad of loyal strong women. She is strong.
The chapter I would have joined this fall would have been fierce, because I want to be fierce, because when I am alone and terrified I need a fierce woman to pull me up and love me fiercely.
When it comes to retention, it begins with recruitment. Be who you say you are. Work every day tirelessly to be the person your new members think you are. Be more than mediocre. Be more than chill. Be fierce in your love, support and passion for one another.
Who you are is worth joining. Who you are is worth staying in a chapter for. You just have to be the best version of yourself.
Phired Up Productions is so grateful to the over 130 Fraternity/Sorority professionals who joined us in Indianapolis on Monday for GROWTH SUMMIT/FRATERNITY CONSULTANT TRAINING 2015. The day was a huge success with education for many inter/national fraternity/sorority headquarters professionals.
There were specific education tracks for new consultants (many were there on their first day on the job!), seasoned consultants, expansion professionals, and director level headquarters staff. Recruitment, marketing, retention, technology, building staff culture, and many more topics were covered throughout the day.
Phired Up is proud to support the industry with this event. We gather together those charged with growth, all are invited, and create a space for learning, discussion, planning, and networking.
by Dr. Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre
As we all head into April you are probably focused on important stuff. You may still be reeling in a post-break high, making summer plans, looking forward to a study abroad journey, or starting to think hard about finals. It’s not a secret: we get lazy in fraternity and sorority come April. We tag out of our organizations and sometimes for good reason.
Before you decide that you are done for the semester consider this — the promise you made when you chose to join your organization was for LIFE. That means all day- everyday- even when you’re not in school — even when you graduate — you are always a member and with that comes continued and evolving responsibility.
In the coming weeks we will be sharing some important insight on our blog about recruitment, retention and membership engagement practices that you can apply especially during the down time. We will offer tips for summer recruitment, considerations for membership retention, and advice on engaging seniors and recent alumni.
Here are a handful of tips:
1. Prepare for the mass new student arrival in the fall. How will you engage your members with your campus first thing in the fall? Sign up to help with freshman move in, ask the admissions/ new student orientation office how you can be helpful come the first of the year. Consider hosting a welcome table to offer insight and directions to new students and pass out some water or treats. Ask your Greek life office for other ideas on how you can be helpful as the campus prepares to welcome new folks.
2. Plan for formal recruitment. Formal recruitment happens for many of our campuses in the fall. Make sure the food is ordered, t-shirts are purchased, the decorations are done, and the house is cleaned. Get all the logistics and semantics out of the way so you can focus on conversation and listening skills training- the important stuff (link to social excellence blog)- when your members are back together.
3. Communicate. Remember the adage: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Make sure that you are touching base with your members over the summer. Consider a bi-weekly update about what they need to expect when they return. Challenge them to make plans and set goals for their offices over these months. Let them know your still thinking about stuff so they will. Make sure fall practices and meetings are scheduled well in advance so they have time to prepare.
4. Get some lists. Know who’s coming to campus. Create a watch list from your membership of people they know who will be new students in the fall. Ask admissions or the Greek life office for a list of incoming students with a certain gpa. If allowed, ask those that are local to you to hang out a bit over the summer – just make a new friend- no need to talk Greek to them until they are ready. Talk to their parents and answer questions about coming to school. Consider creating, sponsoring and publishing a first weeks survival guide to your campus- what to bring, where to park, how to schedule classes, etc.
5. Scholarships. Some of the best groups in the country sponsor a scholarship for incoming freshman, they host a reception for applicants first thing in the fall. Discuss this idea with your Greek life office if your interested.
Don’t tag out! Keep the momentum going as school winds down and your members go on break!