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It’s Time To Get Back To The Basics

by Matt Mattson

Sororities and fraternities are entering a new era. Are you ready for it?

If you’re a fraternity/sorority leader right now, you might not be fully aware of the challenges that await you. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but I do want to make sure you’re fully in the know. Let me share some truth with you real quick.

Our organizations are experiencing something they’re not used to: a stagnating market due to lower enrollment, changing student demographics, and (to some extent) reputation challenges. After 15+ years of upward membership growth, many organizations are tapering off or being confronted with the pains of membership decline.

This past year has been particularly challenging for many organizations. I’ve seen reports from national fraternity/sorority associations that make it clear that membership decline (or at least a clear plateau) is becoming the new reality. I’ve had anecdotal conversations with executive directors that tell me they’re losing major membership numbers through an increase in chapter closings, a reduction of recruitment demand, and an increasing problem of first semester member retention (new members are seeing their first semester as a “trial period”).
Generation Z is showing up to college with a demand for more culturally blended organizations, a demand for a direct return on investment, and a demand for modern organzations that meet their modern needs. Fraternities and sororities are, in many ways, struggling to keep up with this demand. Far more could be written on this topic alone (more info referenced in a link below).

We have been studying the marketplace both formally and observationally for over 16 years. Our company makes it our job to understand growth trends and the factors impacting them. Here are just a few other little nuggets to help you understand the reality in which you’re operating as a fraternity/sorority leader.

  • We have reached the enrollment cliff. College enrollment declined for 6th consecutive year.For the first time this year, this includes 4-year publics. Midwest hit hardest followed by northeast.
  •  4-year, 18-22 year-old, residential, mostly white, mostly socio-economically privileged students are no longer the “norm” on college campuses.
  • “Damaged Goods”: Today’s students are showing up to college with very different demands and needs than many fraternity communities are prepared to deliver. Higher levels of anxiety and medication. Low levels of experience with alcohol, drugs, or sex. Formative years included housing crash followed by massive societal discord. Don’t spend nearly as much time in-person with their friends. Dramatically over-programmed. Read more here.
  • An estimated 50+ campuses experienced some type of Greek Life “shut down” in the last year.
  • Risk-reducing marketing, intensive PNM education, technology (that helps build deeper PNM profiles), and recruitment structures are all hot topics for our company’s staff right now with campuses and other HQs.

So, if you’re a student leader (or a professional, for that matter), what do you do? There are a lot of challenges out there for you to face, but the truth of the matter is that fraternity and sorority, at its core, remains the same – we are in the relationship business.

It’s time for our organizations to GET BACK THE THE BASICS. We’ve grown lacksidasical over the past couple of decades (this isn’t your fault, obviously). Our organizations have grown used to high student enrollment and high demand. Because of that we got a little lazy. We can’t keep doing that and hope it’s going to work.

There is one path to success for our historic organizations that we love so much.

The picture that is attached to this post is from a work day our Phired Up team had in the office recently. We tried to outline, as simply as possible, our core philosophy that gets taught in everything that we do. No matter who we’re working with, whether it’s marketing, retention, on-boarding, technology, recruitment… whether its IFC, NPHC, Panhellenic, MGC, Local, north, south, east, west, PFA, NALFO, NAPA, AFA, AFLV, CCWL, SEIFC, etc., we always find ourselves going back to our core concepts.

You don’t have to understand everything in the picture. You don’t have to have read everything we’ve ever written or seen a Phired Up program. Let me give you a primer:

Focus on relationships. Meaningful relationships.

Systemize relationships for your organization. Maximize the amount of meaningful human connection that happens between your members and other human beings.

Shake more hands. Have more (great) conversations. Deepen your relationships constantly.

Don’t try to impress people, connect with people.

Fraternity and sorority is a relationship business. If you want to attract the right people to your organization, focus entirely on relationships. If you want to be a great leader, focus entirely on relationships. If you want to retain your members, focus entirely on relationships. If you want to help your members make healthier decisions, focus entirely on relationships.

Brotherhood. Sisterhood. These are just synonyms for relationships. Real, meaningful, heartfelt relationships that last and that are built around a common agreement on a way of living life.

It’s time to get back to the basics in fraternity/sorority. We have to be disciplined about consistently teaching the core elements of our organizations. People and purpose. Relationships that matter.

Read and watch this next.