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Stop Trying to Sell Fraternity. Start Trying to Build Friendships.

by Colin Nelson-Pinkston

“When times are tough, and it’s crunch time, you go back to your training. Every time you wanted to count us out, we found a way to come back and respond.” 

These words came from Will Healy, the head football coach of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s 49ers after their first-ever win over a “Power 5” team after beating the Duke Blue Devils on September 3, 2021. There must be something special in the water at UNC-Charlotte because one week later, Matt Ramsay and the brothers of Pi Kappa Phi signed their largest new member class since rechartering in 2014. I sat down with Matt, the chapter’s current Vice President of Recruitment, to learn how he and his brothers turned in this stellar performance.

Editor’s Note: Phired Up is so proud to have provided coaching support to the UNCC Pi Kapp chapter this year. Pi Kappa Phi is a major national partner providing premium Phired Up education, technology, and coaching to many of its chapters. Our coaching was focused on helping this chapter create predictable, measurable, and consistent habits that led to real results. 

Matt was the first in his family to join a fraternity or sorority. Matt’s interactions and friendship with a brother named Chandler, the chapter president, student government president, and homecoming king, sold him on Pi Kappa Phi. Matt was initiated in the fall 2019 semester. Shortly after, he took over as the recruitment chairman, working under the chapter’s Vice President for Recruitment.

Before fall 2021, the chapter would typically spend one week planning for Formal Recruitment and then would recruit during the university’s Formal Recruitment week. Matt told me, “we tried to do the same thing everyone else was doing and didn’t really stand out.”

In the same vein, the chapter only had the Recruitment Chairman, Matt, and the Vice President of Recruitment focused on bringing in new members. The Recruitment Chairman’s focus was solely on outreach to potential new members. The Vice President of Recruitment took care of the logistics of planning events for Formal Recruitment.

The chapter’s growth system focused on planning events with the “big-ticket item to build hype” among the men registered to participate in fraternity recruitment. “We spent way too much money on a TopGolf event that did not close and did not build the results we wanted,” said Matt. After it was all said and done, the chapter had only two signed bids.

When Matt was elected Vice President of Recruitment, he brought a sense of continuity to the chapter’s recruitment efforts. Matt started by working with his alumni recruitment advisor, Curt Herzog, to figure out a way forward. Curt felt strongly that the chapter needed to continue leveraging social media and virtual meeting technology to build relationships with potential new members. As we know, “hybrid” recruitment is not a thing. Curt urged Matt to update the chapter’s growth system because “we are never going to stand out as long as we are doing what everyone else is doing.”

By only relying on the list of men registered for fraternity recruitment, the chapter missed out on a lot of quality fraternity members. Matt decided that the chapter would build its own lead list, filled with non-Greek men that members knew.

As soon as UNC-Charlotte sent out acceptance letters to the class of 2025, the chapter’s recruitment team scoured social media to build relationships with incoming students. Focused on finding people with “UNCC ‘25” in their bio, or by joining UNC-Charlotte Class of 2025 social media groups, including parent groups, Matt’s team built a presence by sharing their favorite things about Greek Life at Charlotte and showing their willingness to connect incoming students and families to relevant resources.

Matt and his recruitment team had an effective way of reaching out to the folks they met on social media. Below is a similar template which anyone can use when doing outreach on social media.

“My name is <Your Name>, I am a member of the Greek/Fraternity & Sorority community at <Your College or University>! With the semester approaching, here are a few of my favorite things about Greek Life, <List a few things you genuinely enjoy>. If you have any questions for us, let us know!”

Notice that Matt’s team didn’t say how their chapter was the best or try to sell fraternity. All they did was establish themselves as members of the Greek community at UNC-Charlotte who were willing to share helpful information.

Beyond just social media presence, the recruitment team split up the leads list, giving members ownership of reaching out and building friendships. “Even if we got 15 minutes to shake their hand and get to know them, we’d already done our part.” In these meetings, Matt’s team did not even talk about fraternity. Rather than asking, “what are you looking for in a fraternity?” Matt’s team asked questions like, “What are your goals coming into college?” or “What were you involved in during high school?” This approach allowed them to build a genuine connection.

Once the semester started, rather than hosting big events like their failed TopGolf event, the chapter’s focused on activities that lent themselves well to deep conversations between members and leads. Whether that was helping their new friends (leads) move in, grabbing lunch together, hitting the gym, or hanging out at the house, Matt’s intentional approach pushed the chapter’s attitude to be “let’s be friends” rather than “flexing by renting out a bay at TopGolf.”

Another successful tactic brought in about 25% of the chapter’s leads. This tactic utilized ChapterBuilder forms to build a pipeline of leads that came in automatically without the chapter having to find them. As Formal Recruitment neared, Pi Kappa Phi had a leads list of people they knew that was larger than the list of students registered for Formal Recruitment! These were not just names on a list. These were relationships built over the previous weeks and months.

Fast forward to bid day. The chapter had 25 signed bids, and after a few of these students transferred, the 21 new members made up the largest class since the chapter rechartering in 2014.

In addition to the tangible results of a large leads list and new member class, Matt also noticed how using ChapterBuilder impacted their success. When Matt was Recruitment Chairman in spring 2020, he sent over 200 text messages each day to potential new members by copying and pasting the same text. Matt said this was a huge time-suck, and it felt impersonal because he spent all his time sending the same text message rather than getting to know these leads. The bulk texting feature in ChapterBuilder was a gamechanger for Matt and his team because they could send a personalized text message to hundreds of leads in just a few minutes.

Matt also loved how ChapterBuilder got his members to work collaboratively on recruitment by giving every member a sense of ownership in the process. During each chapter meeting, Matt would pull up ChapterBuilder and show the recruitment team’s impact by looking at how many leads were added and contacted, which leads needed attention, and which brothers needed to reach out. Talk about accountability!

We asked Matt to share a few nuggets of wisdom for others leading growth in their chapter, and these points are word-for-word from Matt:

  1. “Stop thinking recruitment is seasonal. It is year-round. If you are not recruiting year-round, you are limiting your potential.”

  2. “Stop trying to sell fraternity. Start trying to build friendships. This is the secret! People will be disappointed if they do not receive the experience you sold them, but they will be excited about a friendship.”

  3. “Delegate! Involve the people around you to do things one-on-one with leads because it cannot just be on a few people to go out and recruit new members.”

Just like the UNC-Charlotte 49ers did not hang up their cleats for the season after the momentous win over Duke, Matt and his brothers did not stop recruiting after Formal Recruitment. Matt is already writing his chapter’s recruitment system into a playbook he can pass on and has a three-day recruitment workshop planned that will split each day into a section on values development, recruitment skills training, and end each day with a brotherhood event. The chapter already has a handful of leads ready to sign a bid in the spring, so things are looking strong!

If you are reading this, you can meet your growth goals (and we can help)! Email me at colin@techniphi.com to learn more.