It has been anecdotally reported that as many as 1 in 5 students QUIT fraternity and sorority each year. As a fraternity/sorority leader, you know from experience that far more than that become disengaged or completely disappear before they graduate. Retaining the best of the best of our fraternity/sorority members is a major challenge that requires thoughtful, intentional, and educated effort.
Phired Up provides research and training services to help fraternities and sororities KEEP more of the members they recruit. Watch the video and read the article below to discover what we’ve been learning!
My name is Dr. Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre and I am the Research Director and Retention Specialist at Phired Up Productions. I’ve been around for a while and wrote a cool book with our CEO back in the early days. I get to do a lot of stuff with some of the most brilliant minds in the inter/national fraternal world and am asked to speak about research and a host of other things to groups of people a lot. I am humbled everyday.
I’d like to tell you a little bit of my sorority story as a means of sharing some of the lessons we’ve learned from our research studying “Why do people leave fraternities and sororities?”
I prefer to be known as just Colleen or, as our staff affectionately refers to me, “Coco”. Coco is not a name that was given to me by our staff members, it was given to me by a very special and unexpected little girl in my world. In her second year of life she was trying to say “Colleen” to no avail and her mother taught her to say “Coco” instead and it stuck. Her mother is my favorite chapter sorority sister of all time and one of my best friends to this day even 14 long years after my initiation. Since I have made a living out of working with fraternities and sororities in some capacity in the last decade it may surprise you to know that one of my two very best and closest sorority sisters is, in fact, a left member. She chose to disaffiliate, de-sisterize, go in-active, turn in the pin, release, remove, self-suspend, pull a Murphy- whatever you call it- in her third year of college and there was nothing I could do alone to keep her in the chapter. She left because she chose to be a mother to that precious little girl and did not feel too terribly supported in that decision by our chapter of the sorority.
Something else that might surprise you to know about me is that I used to be a horrible recruiter. Like used car salesman kind of horrible. My sense was more is better, and if we could recruit more women faster that would be even better — and recruiting a lot of women faster and without a lot of questions was the best. I did a lot to grow the quantity of members in my organization as an undergraduate woman. I was great at selling the sorority experience because my experience was great. I sold the experience to a lot of people, some of whom I neglected to tell in addition to getting to be a part of the awesomest sisterhood in America there were pretty hefty dues and attendance requirements associated with membership. Some women I recruited during my collegiate years in this way are now, sadly, left members. They left because they did not really understand or buy in to what they were joining in the first place.
I was President of my chapter in college. It’s one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life, but getting there was full of awful drama. Drama that, to this day, makes me queasy. I ran against another person for the office and during the months leading up to our election day some pretty scary campaigns were waged against one another and it divided the chapter. Conflict was all around us by the time we got to the election. In the end I won (probably by 51% or something). In the end, we lost a lot of women. The aftermath of that conflict was that many folks chose to become left members. Women, who, today are business owners, tremendous mothers, teachers, coaches, executives, philanthropists, artists, and friends.
As a part of our retention research, I have had the opportunity to talk to over 200 men and over 1,000 women who have selected to leave the fraternity/ sorority experience. I have asked them, through surveys and conversations, what made them choose to leave their organizations. I have heard stories that made me laugh and some that made me cry – stories that haunt me as an advisor and researcher, stories that make me want to “fix it.” I know that for all those men and women who have left there are thousands more who disengage every year and just stop showing up – they stop caring – and I’d be willing to bet the reasons they stop caring are the same reasons some folks just leave. I can say with utmost confidence for women and with an informed hypothesis for men (note the disparity in participant gender identification) that people leave our organizations because of lack of connection, misaligned expectations, and discord.
Lack of Connection: A sense or feeling that one does not belong or matter to an organization
Mis-aligned Expectations: Not understanding or being encouraged to embrace the expectations of membership OR being sold and told one thing while being recruited and experiencing another
Discord: Conflict stemming from factions, cliques, bullying, or issues with leadership that upsets the harmony of an organization and/or an individuals place in an organization
But what about money…time… lack of parental support…competing priorities… the smelly food in our house… not wanting to live in our house… what about all those other things?! What about all those reasons people normally give to us as to why they are dropping out?!
I hate to break it to you, but for most people those are the surface reasons they give; I heard them often as chapter president. When we dig a little deeper as to what is really happening the truth is revealed and mostly it is about lack of connection, misaligned expectations, and discord.
This year, we will be launch a training initiative on retention and membership engagement. We are already piloting several educational pieces with one of our phavorite clients and early returns seem positive. In this initiative we will teach members and advisors how to hone in on six core elements within their organizations to retain members:
- Align Expectations,
- Focus on People,
- Focus on Purpose,
- Help People Matter,
- Help People Learn and Grow,
- and Repeat.
The core of this message is that deep authentic relationships are the best way to retain and engage our members.
People join people. People leave people. The heartbeat of our organizations is authentic relationships about belonging, connecting, understanding, and accountability. When good relationships are at play, entire chapters don’t divide over an election gone wrong. When authenticity and vulnerability are practiced, folks take time to explain to all members involved why they need to do what they are being asked to do; people know how to “sell” an experience in tandem with being open about expectations. When relationships are strong we are there for each other without judgment or condition. We understand that our core purpose is best conceptualized in the wake of personal crisis or unexpected blessing by saying “how can we help?” instead of “what did you do?” When relationships are important we put people first. When we put people first we retain them and keep them engaged in the membership experience.
Let’s keep more of the wonderful members we work so hard to recruit. The real reasons they’re leaving is becoming more and more clear through our research and conversations. The ways to keep them are simple and achievable. We’d love to have a conversation with you about how we can help the fraternities and sororities you care about keep more high quality people. Feel free to contact us about our training and research services related to retention and engagement.