by Haley Cahill-Teubert
2020 has been… The year for re-engineering processes. (What were you thinking I was about to say?)
The ways organizations have traditionally secured members has looked quite different this year. For some, that’s moving from tabling, friendly football games, and cookouts to Netflix viewing parties and gaming tournaments. For others, it’s moving informationals to Zoom and doing a whole lot more social media work. And for still others, it’s eliminating house tours and chants, and focusing on connecting with potential members. At any rate, the ways people learn about and join chapters had a new look this year.
Knowing this, the way chapters prepare to secure new members should look different as well. It’s time to re-work the pre-work. Below are three practical strategies for better preparing to attract, select, and secure new members into your organizations in this virtual world.
Prioritize the outreach.
Maybe in years past you could rely on people coming out to your informational or recruitment event without much prep work or planning on your part. Whether people heard about it through word of mouth, saw a flier on campus, or simply showed up out of curiosity, you knew the event would always garner a decent crowd. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite translate to this virtual world we’re living in. Most people are not finding their way into your Zoom events simply out of curiosity or because they heard about it in passing, which means things like… building pipelines, creating a names list and developing relationships through personal outreach and 1:1 meetings ahead of the event need to move from the bottom of your pre-event checklist to the top.
Like everything else, that initial outreach and connection looks different this year. Without organization fairs, tabling events and other go-to names-driving activities, you’ll want to re-evaluate your tactics. So how do you engage more people? For starters, know that DMs are the new handshakes. Using social media for your outreach is one of the wisest, most effective strategies for meeting more people and getting them interested in your organization. Check out this resource for ideas of how to get the conversation rolling over text messages or social media messages.
Do the research.
It might have been common practice to wait to learn all about your prospective members until you meet them in person. Or maybe you did find out a thing or two about them from a mutual friend ahead of time, but didn’t commit it to memory or do anything with that information. Not anymore. Welcome to the year of strategy. And part of your strategy should include gathering intel about the individuals interested in potentially joining your organization. (We’ll dive deeper into this in point 3 below.)
Assess if and/or how your chapter typically sources information about potential members ahead of meeting them. Do you require them to complete a registration form, application, or interest form ahead of time? That’s step one. You’re probably thinking: So what questions go on the form? First, go ahead and cover the basics: Hometown, major, GPA, hobbies, high school experiences–you get the gist. If it’s already typical practice for you to ask prospective members these questions in a registration form, then let’s take it a step further. Perhaps you add questions like: What are five things you value in a friendship and why? What do you want most from your college experience? What is something unique that you could bring to an organization like ours?
Here’s another great resource of things to consider ahead of meeting potential members.
Host intentional conversations.
Now that you’ve gathered data about prospective members, you can build a plan for how to use it to leverage your conversations with them. While shoulder-to-shoulder small talk may have been the name of the relationship-building game in previous years, those days are gone. People expect purpose in every Zoom session they login to and recruitment events, informationals, and conversations about your chapter are no exception.
This is the year to use the information you’ve sourced ahead of time to host more intentional conversations by asking more thoughtful, personalized questions. Instead of: “So where are you from?,” You might ask: “So in your registration form, you wrote you’re from Oregon. How did you choose our campus here in South Carolina so far away from your home?” or “So you’re from Oregon… talk to me about how it’s been adjusting to life on the other side of the country.” Instead of: “So what are you interested in?,” you might say: “I saw in your interest form you’ve got 12 brothers and sisters you’re close to… I’d love to learn more about your family.” Instead of: “So what did you do in high school,” you might ask: “So I noticed you were president of a club in high school I had never heard of before… I want to hear about that.”
Using the information you already know will kickstart your conversations and allow you to move to a place of connection much faster than beating around the bush asking questions you likely know the answer to already. If prospective members have supplied information to you about themselves, it is fair game for you to ask about, and you should.
This pandemic hasn’t changed that people crave meaningful experiences. It hasn’t changed that people still desire human connection. And it certainly hasn’t changed that people join people. When we re-work the pre-work, and treat each phase of the joining process with more intentionality, we better position ourselves to have more successful events, informationals and conversations. And when we do that? We attract, select and secure more of the right members for each of our organizations.