by Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre
Phired Up and TechniPhi are committed to helping sororities and fraternities attract, select, secure and retain the right members for their organizations.
Our team launched a survey of the industry late fall 2020 to assess the impact of COVID-19 on overall fraternity/sorority growth. Two survey tools were put into circulation: one aimed at campus-based professionals and one aimed at current members (including those who had just joined during that term). Below is a report of the results.
In total 82 campus-based professionals and 218 students participated in the surveys. This report should not be viewed as a full analysis of the entire industry, but instead a sample snapshot that provides some meaningful insights. We offer this freely as a contribution to the overall data gathering and sharing that is happening throughout the sorority and fraternity world right now.
We want to provide the industry (you) direct access to our survey results. You’ll find links to “dashboards” that are produced by our survey tool below.
It is clear (and we didn’t need this survey to tell us) that fewer people joined the fraternities and sororities that are reflected in this survey. Professionals reported significantly fewer members joined the chapters on their campuses during fall 2020.
90% of professionals reported that fewer people joined IFC chapters.
100% of professionals reported that fewer people joined their MGC chapters.
94% of professionals reported that fewer people joined their NPHC chapters.
86% of professionals reported that fewer people joined their Panhellenic chapters.
Fall 2020 saw a major shift to virtual/digital/on-line joining processes. With a variance based on the council, between 74% and 96% of professionals reported that the joining processes on their campus were conducted mostly or completely on-line during the fall 2020 term. 96% of the students who completed the survey indicated that their chapter’s joining process was conducted either mostly or completely on-line.
There is definitely a pool of students who might have joined a sorority or fraternity but chose not to because of COVID-19. 61% of new members who joined during the fall 2020 term reported that they knew at least some other students who chose to wait to join because of COVID-19.
Chapter leadership was the group that reported the lowest satisfaction with digital recruitment. Many professionals highlighted the beauty of online recruitment as simpler, more cost effective, and more authentic than the usual in-person processes and felt more favorably about it. In general students felt OK about a digital recruitment experience (some hated it and some loved it but most just indicated mixed feelings). Notably, when reporting about Panhellenic chapters, 60% of campus-based professionals like virtual recruitment better. This way of recruiting should have the most positive yield for this council. For all other councils there was a sense of it being “pretty good” or “just OK”.
Of the new members who joined during fall 2020 who responded to the survey, 67% indicated that they joined because they were “craving connection.” This was by far the top reason indicated for people choosing to join. Another notable point is that 50% of the new member who joined during this fall 2020 term indicated that they “saw something on social media” and that was a primary factor in their decision to pursue membership.
About 2/3 of our respondents, whether students or professionals were concerned to a greater degree about chapters being able to retain their membership.
72% of professionals reported some higher level of concern about their IFC chapters ability to retain members that joined in fall 2020 compared to the previous year.
59% of professionals reported some higher level of concern about their MGC chapters ability to retain members that joined in fall 2020 compared to the previous year.
43% of professionals reported some higher level of concern about their NPHC chapters ability to retain members that joined in fall 2020 compared to the previous year.
66% of professionals reported some higher level of concern about their Panhellenic chapters ability to retain members that joined in fall 2020 compared to the previous year.
A Call For Inclusivity
A number of comments from student participants in the survey related to inclusivity are very important to pull out and consider. It should be no surprise to any reader that today’s students are demanding a more inclusive and equitable fraternity and sorority experience, and we firmly believe that building a more inclusive and equitable joining process is one of the most important tactics to move forward in this area.
“Membership policies need to be more clear and inclusive of trans folx”
“Give an equal promotion to the other sororities, not just promoting the Panhellenic sororities that have hundred of girls. As an MGC sorority, historically we are smaller and a lot more close knit, therefore we do not get a lot of exposure by the universities and greek life as a whole because we are overlooked by Panhellenic.”
“We need clearer policies for LGBTQ potential members and POC who are less likely or intimidated by joining Greek life.”
IFC Lacked Adaptability
Take a moment to read through the responses to this question posed to professionals related to IFC recruitment, “How did this council change their recruitment efforts in terms of attracting new members this year?” You’ll see a high level of responses indicating disappointment or an overall assessment that the IFC chapters lacked adaptability. On a positive note, professionals reported that some IFCs improved their social media utilization and extended their recruitment periods with positive results. Here are some examples indicating a heavy theme of a lack of adaptability.
“They attempted to do more council-based recruitment, but it wasn’t [sic] highly effective (mostly due to a lack of marketing on their part)”
“Because we were 100% remote (campus closed) the fraternities didn’t really do anything to attract new members. One or two may have connected with a few people online, but nothing significant.”
“They had plans to promote recruitment as a whole this year and get students registered, but ultimately did not execute well.”
“They were resistant and refused to plan until last moment. They did Zoom and took advice from Panhellenic women. They struggled to connect with PNMs without traditional pre events.”
“That’s the problem, the individual chapters didn’t change much.”
Many MGC Chapters Did Not Take New Members
Take a moment to read through the responses to this question posed to professionals related to MGC chapter joining processes, “How did the chapters in this council change the way they attracted and secured new members this fall?” Professionals noted the impact of individual chapters (and more likely their inter/national organizations) putting a hold on new members joining during the fall 2020 term.
“Many of the chapters chose not to recruit at all this semester.”
“Very little effort put in; many national orgs for culturally based groups did not allow chapters to recruit virtually.”
“Nationally/regionally a number of chapter chose to not host intake this semester.”
“Some national orgs have a pause placed on intake….we can’t change that, but are disappointed.”
NPHC Chapters Might Feel Long-term Impact
Take a moment to read through the responses to this question posed to professionals related to NPHC chapter joining processes, “How did the chapters in this council change the way they attracted and secured new members this fall?” Professionals noted the fact that many NPHC chapters did not adapt to a new joining process, did not conduct intake at all, and might experience long-term negative impact related to visibility on campus.
“they did nothing different.”
“NPHC organizations were not permitted to host any in-person events, and it dramatically impacted their visibility and opportunities on campus, particularly during a time where they would typically have “shown up” for voter registration, social justice activities, etc.”
“NPHC chose not to do any intake in Fall 2020 virtually. They were recommended to do this by their local volunteer teams.”
“Strict rules from national/HQ about what they could or could not do, which may have impacted their ability or willingness to recruit.”
A Mixed Bag of Panhellenic Adjustments
Take a moment to read through the responses to this question posed to professionals related to Panhellenic chapter joining processes, “How did this council change their recruitment efforts in terms of attracting new members this year?” There was a wide range of responses from professionals. Some indicating positive adjustments that the Panhellenic community was able to make, and others indicating a lack of adaptability that created negative results. The following comments give a good snapshot of that mixed bag of feelings.
“We struggled to recruit a lot this year…our recruitment team was not invested and more upset that it wasn’t a “normal recruitment” we had a hard time getting them to actually recruit girls and focus. This was a rough year, and a lot of the new members have already dropped.”
“Panhellenic had to dramatically pivot on their plans multiple times throughout the summer, ultimately needing to change their dates in light of a campus moratorium. This dramatically negatively impacted registration numbers, and they also had to follow the new NPC guidelines re: total. We have organizations that still have double-digit numbers of spaces in total to fill, but are struggling to get there when they are also burned out and trying to still be successful students.”
“Panhellenic did a great job pivoting to 100% virtual sorority recruitment. They utilized instagram for most of their advertising and each chapter did their part in getting women excited and registered.”
“The council leaned into social media and virtual presentations which forced them to really think about their messages and how they will be viewed not just by PNMs, but the broader world. They moved into much more meaningful reasons to join a sorority as their message.”
Special Inclusion | Data Points from Panhellenic CampusDirector and ChapterBuilder Users
Phired Up’s sister company, TechniPhi, owns the CampusDirector formal recruitment tool used by the majority of the industry’s Panhellenic communities (and other councils as well). We thought it would be helpful to provide comparative data from within that tool about Panhellenic recruitment in fall 2020 when compared to the previous fall. Here are a handful of notable statistics.
We compared 166 schools on total PNMS registered, active in round 1, total matched, and total matched to first choice.
In 2019, this subset of schools registered 70,785 potential members. In 2020, that number fell to 60,812, a decrease of 9,973 (14%) total registrations.
When we look at those that were active in the first round comparatively, 2019 saw 63,725 (90%) total PNMs active in the first round of recruitment (those that showed up after registering) and 2020 saw 55,530 (91%) .
The story here gets pretty fascinating. As it turns out, these communities are only down in aggregate by 2,773 total members. In 2019, 79% of those active in round one matched to a sorority chapter. In 2020 that number was 86%. This means a net increase of 7% from round 1 to matched.
In both 2019 and 2020, 88% of potential new members were matched to their first choice organization.
COB efforts were on the rise this year. Our ChapterBuilder relationship management tool (built to serve an unstructured, year-round, relationship-based approach to recruitment) went from hosting 41 Panhellenic chapter accounts in 2019 to 165 in just the Fall of 2020. Total number of Panhellenic potential members recorded in our ChapterBuilder system in 2019 was 9,789. In the fall of 2020 alone that number has increased to a record 38,346.
The total number of potential members with recorded active contact through this medium this Fall was 21,171 (up from 2019′s number of 6,149). This tells us the pool is just different but it is there. If the deficit in formal recruitment looks like a few thousand women and the small subsection of chapters that we know of with recorded continuous recruitment efforts has generated a pool of 30,000 potential members there is a great deal of hope.
58% of professional survey respondents indicated that they felt much more stress than last year related to the recruitment/intake process on their campus. 96% of general members that took the survey reported feeling at least somewhat stressed. 56% of council leaders said this year’s recruitment was much more stressful than years past.
The qualitative results from these surveys include so many powerful comments that are full of wisdom and tell the story of this incredibly challenging term for our industry. We want to highlight some of the comments that we found most compelling.
Comments from Professionals
“My budget and staff has been cut, but we are expected to output the same amount of work while navigating a complete unknown (all while suddenly being public health experts). It’s exhausting – and we all just need a break!”
“I think there have been great conversations about how changing recruitment this year has caused a re-evaluation of how we do recruitment and what things are important for recruitment. Some aspects that our students felt were incredibly important to recruitment (that couldn’t happen this year) turned out to not impact their recruitment at hardly all and recruitment methods they had never thought about turned out to be highly impactful.”
“We cannot play around with Panhellenic frills any longer. No more nudge, nudge, wink, wink that we don’t do frill recruitment. It is time to force the movement to actual conversations. For the IFC, it is a complete eye opener that they have nothing substantial to offer other than a party. The groups that were successful in recruitment could actually identify why new members should join other than a party. Unfortunately, that was not the mainstream and most fraternities just sat on their hands for the fall because they didn’t know how to recruit without a party and alcohol. MGC/NPHC had a little more luxury to sit out for a semester and not conduct intake, but that will not be the case moving forward. The national organizations are going to have to learn how to help their chapters recruit in a pandemic both virtually and in-person.”
“Covid didn’t cause the problem/challenges we are seeing, but it sure has revealed them. Chapters that are strong in this area remain strong because of many factors (student leader ability to pivot, creativity, support from hq and advisors, good track record of recruitment) those that didn’t do well did so because of previous deficiencies (see list above)”
“I don’t know what to tell my chapters or how to help them. They are resistant to change and don’t take input from me (or even Phired Up who we hosted in August). I think it will be “adapt or die” but I don’t know where that leaves me as an FSA.”
“I fear that some culturally based orgs might die off…the global pandemic represents an existential threat for MGC/NPHC in ways that it doesn’t for IFC & PHC.”
Comments from Students
“FSL doesn’t need all the pomp and circumstance to recruit good members. In fact, the quality of members we have this year are better than previous years because we removed all the superficial things like the house and the food and the decorations – it was purely about values and character and personality. FSL has to adapt in regards to COVID, but also in regards to the growing cultural discouragement of greek life. Removing all those superficial things and focusing more on philanthropy and sisterhood and character is one way to do that.”
“You can’t keep people when things are virtual. It’s not fun or interesting.”
“people are going to go out for these organizations no matter what. people are realizing the values of these organizations in a pandemic. we don’t need to be perfectly made/dressed up at 7 am for girls to want to join.”
“Hard to get to know guys online. Not as many guys came out to rush (I think fun events get more people to come out and give it a chance). We did the best with what we had to work with, but I hope this is not a pattern for next year/future recruitments.”
“I was a Rho Gamma this year, and I felt that leading these girls through recruitment like this was a bit misleading because we are selling them on a dream of a sorority or an experience that we know they can’t have because of the restrictions of Covid. A lot of girls dropped out of the process because they didn’t feel they could really get connected to the chapters and they didn’t like the idea of shelling out thousands of dollars to not have the proper experience of a sorority and I agree. Had I been entering as a freshman this year in the same position there is no way I would have joined a chapter.”
“I liked not having to stand in heels all day, worry about picking up and handing off girls, and scream at them as they entered the house. This felt like more of a real connection-style recruitment because everything else was stripped away.”
“The size of recruitment was depressing. Being online takes all the personal connection out of it. No one wants to join FSL when it’s shut down.”
The results of this survey should be viewed as helpful insights, but through a critical lens. A larger sample of the industry should be sought to gain a more thorough picture of the overall impact of COVID-19 on the joining process. The data set related to the student-focused survey is weighted heavily (69% of respondents) toward members of Panhellenic sororities. There is also some indication that there may have been confusion among student respondents between the labeling of Panhellenic sororities and NPHC organizations. The results from the survey of professionals should be viewed, in our opinion, as significantly more valid than the results from the survey of students.
These surveys are meant to provide a snapshot of fall 2020 fraternity/sorority recruitment and intake experience. We offer no particular advocacy for what should remain or what should change in the process based solely on these results.
As our industry seeks to move forward from the fall 2020 term, there is an opportunity to learn important lessons that will likely shape our future. Adaptability matters. True human connection remains forever paramount to the experience of college students. The level of stress felt from COVID-19’s impact on our industry is significant, unsustainable, and can not be ignored. There are aspects of the recruitment/intake process that happened in fall 2020 that should be kept and built upon as lasting innovations, and there are aspects that many hope they will never have to experience again. Undoubtedly, significantly fewer students received the potentially life changing gift of sorority and fraternity during fall 2020 and it is likely that the impact of that fact will be felt for years to come by chapters, campus communities, inter/national organizations, and the students themselves.