Values-Based Sorority Recruitment…It’s More Than Just Frills.

By Jessica Gendron Williams

We’ve been investing a lot of concerted effort, focus, and time into developing better resources and curriculum for chapters to better understand and execute a Values-Based Recruitment.  In my experience, there has been a significant emphasis put on chapters, organizations, and communities to shift towards Values-Based Recruitment practices.  However, that call is met more with confusion than optimism or resistance – we simply just don’t understand how.  When I say Values-Based Recruitment to sorority women, many assume that we mean “Get rid of the frills” — If they achieve that then they’ve successfully achieved Values-Based Recruitment.  Similarly, for fraternity men, they assume we mean, “alcohol free recruitment”.  While those things are definitely components to a Values-Based Recruitment, they are not all-encompassing.

We believe that a true Values-Based Recruitment includes four things:  Values-Based Criteria, Values-Based Behavior, Values-Based Conversations, and Values-Based Expectations.  Let’s dissect these four components a little more:

Values-Based Criteria:
Much of our membership decisions are based on brief interactions with complete strangers and tend to be primarily subjective and emotional in nature.  We decide on a potential member based on how we feel  about them following a brief encounter or conversation.  Often, those feelings are related to physical attributes, things in common, and an overall painless conversation. We fall in love with a potential member after having a 20 minute conversation with her about our mutual love for Harry Potter, yet we have limited-to-no knowledge of the characteristics that make her qualified for membership in our organization.  Values-Based Criteria allows us to have an actual measurement tool to determine the skills, characteristics, and attributes a potential member would have that would allow us to determine whether she is qualified for membership.  This “measurement tool” takes the values of your organization (local and national, stated and unstated) and quantifies them with things that are actually measurable.  “Cute”, “Nice”, and “Fun” aren’t necessarily bad qualifications for membership, but how do we measure “Cute”, “Nice”, and “Fun”?  How do we define “Cute”, “Nice”, and “Fun”?  And perhaps we want to add some others, like “Bold,” “Authentic,” and “Courageous.” Values-Based Criteria allows us to use our values to identify qualifications for membership that are measurable and consistently used throughout our membership ranks.  It leaves little room for personal interpretation and emotions in membership decisions and creates a process that allows us to select high quality individuals using high quality criteria that requires us to collect measurable data through meaningful conversations.

Values-Based Behavior:

Values-Based behavior addresses our common interpretations of what Values-Based Recruitment is – that we must remove frills or alcohol.  Values-Based Behavior asks two very important questions.  First, “What does our current behavior say about what we value?”  As we look at the things that we are currently doing in recruitment,we need to ask ourselves what messages our behavior sends to potential members about the things that we care about as a chapter.  We often shove excessive amounts of glitz, glam, decorations, perfect outfits and hair, dances, skits, and elaborate spreads of food into formal sorority recruitment.  What do these things say about what we care about as an organization?  Parties?  Appearances?  Fun? Decorations?  I’ll let you answer that question.  Regardless of the answer, there are likely places within our recruitment process where our behavior does not align with what we say (and believe) we’re about.  We’re sending mixed messages to our “buyers.”

The second question we should ask ourselves is “What do our values say about how we should behave?”  This allows us to understand the alternative to the frills of recruitment.  A lot of times, this question prompts us to think of the prissy, perfect, cookie-cutter version of us that we imagine our founders would have wanted, but that’s not what we mean at all.  It really means, how can we better demonstrate, through actions, the things we value, in addition to being able to verbally communicate the things we value as an organization.  If we were to adequately demonstrate what we as an organization actually value, how should we behave?  What should we do?  What should our focus be?  Perhaps we wouldn’t give a tour of the house, but instead sit in our rooms with our roommate and share stories with PNM’s of how their friendship has changed our lives.  Perhaps instead of boasting our rank academically as it compares to the rest of the community, we might plaster the chapter room walls with all of our “A” papers from the past semester.  We’ve got to think outside the box and ask, “How can we better demonstrate through action, what we really care about?”

Values-Based Conversation:
Most sorority recruitment conversations live on the surface… they are filled with typical questions about a PNM’s hometown, major, residence hall, and summer activities – questions that we usually already know the answer to from their recruitment application or our creepy Facebook stalking since the moment she registered for recruitment.  These conversations lack substance, they lack depth, and they don’t actually inform good membership decisions.  When we think about values-based conversations , most of us go immediately to the creepy zone where we imagine an intense, awkward conversation comprised of us listing off our values and uncomfortably trying to create a conversation from there.  That’s not a good solution either.  Values-Based Conversations is centered around using our values-based criteria to drive conversation topics, questions, and information we should gather so that a woman can understand what we are looking for, how it relates to our values, and so we can determine if she will make a great member.  If we know sisterhood is an important component of our organization using values-based criteria we might identify that  relationships would also be important to the PNM.   We then have questions to ask and a conversation topic that is values-based: We can ask about her relationships with friends from high school, college, family, etc.  Now, we can not only ask if she has brothers and sisters, we can ask what her relationship is like with her brothers and sisters.  Those responses help us better understand if she would make a good sister, but also tell the PNM – “This is so important to us, we’re asking about it.”  The conversation might start with a sister saying, “You know Sally, sisterhood is something we really pride ourselves on as a chapter.  We are committed to our friendships with one-another.  Can you tell me about some of your close friends from high school?”  That might sound like an interview (we’ll get to that in another blog), but it’s the right way to have a conversation that is centered around communicating our values.

Values-Based Expectations:
What are we allowing from our members and what are we expecting from our members as well as potential members – especially during the recruitment process?  Having values-based expectations means having clearly communicated expectations of our chapter members, community members, and potential new members and holding each other accountable to those expectations.  What do we expect from our members during recruitment?  Much of the time, we expect the minimum – show up (not even on time because we build in extra time because we know they will be late), don’t be awkward, be nice, vote, don’t melt down, don’t get sick, and don’t lose your voice.  Why aren’t we expecting more from our members?  Show up on time, having amazing, meaningful, deep conversation, build relationships, help with setup, cleanup and tear-down, have a great attitude, help out – and if you don’t you don’t get to recruit and you don’t get to vote.  WHAT?!  CRAZY TALK!  I recognize this might be a stretch for some of you – kicking members out of recruitment – because we often need everybody regardless of whether we want them or not.  But think about how we can we just start communicating and expecting more from them – how can we ask them to live up to the promises they made when they joined?  Some of our members will rise to the challenge, others, well, might get stuck in the kitchen.

Additionally, Values-Based Expectations is also related to appropriately communicating the expectations of membership to potential members before they join.  Do you have members that don’t show up to anything? pay their dues? act a fool on the weekend?  think that sorority is for fun, frat dudes, and parties?  That’s not a membership problem, that’s a recruitment problem.  We’re not doing a good enough job clearly communicating what it takes to be a sorority woman.  We sugar coat things during recruitment because we’re afraid we might scare women away – that the responsibility might seem like too much.  We use phrases like “you get out what you put in.” to minimize the commitment that it takes to be a member.  That is like giving people permission to suck:  That is the precise reason we get crappy members who aren’t willing to commit.  We have to do a better job of clearly, authentically, and generously sharing all of the membership commitment information with potential members before they actually commit to the organization.  We have to clearly explain to them financial commitments instead of springing it on them on bid day that they need to bring a fat check to their meeting…tomorrow.  We have to clearly explain the time commitment, behavior expectations, involvement expectations, etc. etc.  Then when a woman joins, we are certain that she understands the commitment it takes to be a sorority woman…for the right reasons.

Now, don’t freak out…
Now, at this point some of you are overwhelmed at the amount of work there is to be done.  In all honestly, yes…there is, but it doesn’t all have to happen right now.  Like much of what we teach, it’s a progression.  Pick one thing, do that, master it, try it, play around with it – then add another.  Create a plan to slowly, but surely work your way there.  Leave the plan for future leaders – make it a part of your officer transition, but don’t try to do all of it at once.  Build a system, process, or plan get yourself there aggressively, but not necessarily quickly.  We’re happy to help…just ask.