Why Retention Matters Most

By Dr. Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre

We talk a lot about recruitment of new members, but what about sustaining that membership for a lifetime? Too often members enthusiastically join an organization only to lose their passion a few short months later. At Phired Up, our team is particularly curious about why these members withdraw from their organization. Why do people swear their lives to a fraternity or sorority and then leave? What makes people exit organizations they once pledged to love forever?

We have heard from hundreds of “left members” (people who resigned membership of their own accord). What we’ve learned about their top reasons of resignation are surprising. Here are two of the most common reasons:

1. Mis-aligned expectations. – “I thought I was getting into one thing, and it was totally different after a while.”

2. Lack of Connection.“I did not matter to the organization in the way I thought I would.” At Phired Up, we call this reason: “people join people and people leave people.”

As leaders of fraternities and sororities, your primary job is to conceptualize the core purpose of your organization through example and action. This means understanding what your group is all about, communicating that purpose, and acting on it.

To help make this happen, start by examining current practices. How does your organization communicate who they are? Are we lying (to ourselves and others) or telling half-truths? Are we sugar coating the nature of membership? Why?

How often are we considering our people first? Are we focusing on listening to our members? Do we teach inclusion? Are we intentional about making sure everyone has a place? How often do we ask members what they think and how they are feeling?

It’s likely your group is somewhere between having no retention focus and being rock stars at retaining members. The truth is, retention is work because it’s about building and maintaining meaningful relationships, knowing your people, and communicating your actual experience to the outside world.

Ready to start building better retention practices? Start by doing these four things:

1. Evaluate your roster. Who is disengaged? Why? Can someone intentionally and deliberately build a relationship with that person to include and understand them more?

2. Evaluate your recruitment strategies. Be more real. Let’s be honest, you don’t have football throwing barbecue parties on the lawn everyday of the year. You don’t always dress in matching lily prints and love everyone all the time. How can you showcase the beautiful, and sometimes broken, reality of your group? Be honest about time, money, values, and day-to-day experience.

3. Put your people first. Work to make each person in your group know their specific purpose. Share it with them and appreciate them.

4. Ask questions. Evaluate your membership’s current feelings by asking them what they like and don’t like about their membership and what they need more of.

What sustains people in relationships, religions, on diets, and in brand loyalty? Getting what they thought they would get, and feeling like they are an important piece of the whole. By promoting the truth about what it’s like to be part of your organization during recruitment, and through taking active measures to help each member feel important, you can instill a similar sense of loyalty in your members and boost your chapter’s retention results.