Growth Is Fickle. Get Good At It.

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“Bigger is better” is an occasionally destructive mindset plaguing the American people. We imagine that the most popular politicians, rappers, or food chains produce the best content, but that is too far from the truth. 

No one considers McDonald’s the place to get the highest quality hamburger just because it has sold billions of them. 

Fraternities and Growth

Fraternities and sororities, despite their insistence that they adhere only to the highest of standards, often fall victim to the “Bigger is Better” mindset. 

The more we expect of fraternity chapters, and the more campus professionals and the public expect of fraternity/sorority central offices, the more members a chapter needs to be able to complete the leadership checklists and pay for the new programs. [1]

I remember being instructed to convince a chapter with over 100 members that they needed more members. . . it didn’t make sense. For What?

There wasn’t a reason other than we didn’t want them to think that they should stop growing, because growth is automatically good and bigger is automatically better. That mindset didn’t take their goals and ambitions into account, and they rightly questioned our motive. They weren’t in any risk, had a strong recruitment record, a strong local niche, and pulled potential members from consistent channels.

Exponential growth is not necessarily bad, but it is often placed on a pedestal among fraternity folk.  When we encourage a chapter to increase in size, we need to observe if the chapter “grows good,” otherwise we risk being caught off guard when the chapter eventually falls apart.

Things To Keep In Mind If You Are A Recruitment Officer A Fraternity/Sorority Professional, Or An Adviser

I spent 3 of my 4 undergraduate years on our recruitment team, then 6 more years recruiting and overseeing recruitment at my national fraternity. Here are some things our team(s) learned over the course of those 9 years of experience.

1. Have an idea of who you are and what you want to accomplish

The first step to good growth is defining a simple, functional vision for your chapter. Every organization needs to have a direction, and defining the type of things you want your chapter to do will help you sell the experience to the right people.

Chuck might be a good guy, sure, but if Chuck doesn’t like service, and you need him to complete 30 hours every semester, then Chuck should not be in your fraternity. As mentioned in a recent post: A vision trumps trophies when it comes to recruitment. [2] It also makes it easier to let go the people who don’t fit – pity bids are not real bids.

2. Take Note Of What You Have To Work With

You need to align where you want to be with what you have to work with right now. Fraternities (undergraduate chapters and central offices alike) are notorious for BIG PLANS with underwhelming results. Figure out which roles you need filled to accomplish your vision as well as how many of your members are going to be involved in the new member process before you start recruitment. 

You should only have 2-3 times (maximum) the number of new members as there are brothers who can commit to serve as co-educators, big brothers and mentors to the new members (10-20 hrs per week).

Your new members should have an idea of how they would like to participate in the life of the chapter after initiation, and you should spend a considerable amount of time during the new member process helping prepare them to do what they joined to do: contribute.

3. Identify Your Channels

While you are planning for the number of men you can reasonably prepare for membership, your recruitment team should use your vision to determine where you will pull members from. It is foolish to rely only on those men who apply for fraternity rush to fulfill your needs – particularly as college enrollment is set to drop.

If you want to be leadership-oriented, academically-oriented, faith-oriented, etc. – there are probably related clubs that your chapter should meet and collaborate with throughout the year. Position some members as orientation leaders or tour guides – you need members in places where they can refer quality potential members back to the recruitment team.

[For more tactical knowledge on how to make use of these relationships, consider PhiredUp’s resources]

4. 365 Recruitment Is More Inception, Less Smoker Party

When chapters hear “365 Recruitment” there is automatically the impression that “recruitment” needs to happen throughout the year. It does, but you don’t need to plan recruitment events throughout the year. Instead, you need to make sure that all of your events are geared toward recruitment. 

If you are planning a service event, invite some prospective members to help. They’ll get to know your chapter, you’ll get to see if they actually care about what you do, and you have effectively helped them understand what it is like to be a fraternity member. 

Doing this takes a lot of unnecessary work off of your recruitment officer/committee’s plate – their job after “formal recruitment” is simply to help figure out how to make each event something that can involve potential new members or how each event can be marketed to potential members.

5. Set Some Objective Pre-Requisites & Stick To Them

As mentioned in a post from last year [3], every potential member should know exactly how much membership will cost, the real requirement of time, the moral expectations of every member, and your chapter’s vision and goals. 

Do not wait until you are in debt to learn that a member cannot pay or commit 10 hours a week to the chapter because you were worried you’d “scare him off” if you told him upfront. Dead weight isn’t sexy. 

6. Shrug Off The Pressure From Above

Your alumni, campus professionals or fraternity/sorority central office will always want you to be bigger. Beyond the revenue and press releases and such it simply makes them feel secure that your chapter won’t shrink into oblivion – but it is important to recognize that growing wildly is not a recipe for stability.

Responsible growth means knowing why you are growing, planning ahead for what to do with your new members when they arrive, and re-assessing your situation when the time comes again to recruit more people. 

Good Growth Doesn’t Need To Be Slow

It might sound like I’m simply warning a chapter from growing too quickly, but it is all a matter of preparation. If you and your new members understand what needs to happen for the chapter to succeed then it is okay to grow quickly.

Just try not to expect that rate of growth to last forever, and try to accept that there will come a point where adding members offers limited benefit to your chapter experience.

I once consulted a chapter that had whittled down to 7 men. We spent some time together determining what type of man they wanted to recruit and which niches had not been filled by the other fraternities at their institution and determined that focusing on leadership positions on campus and attracting international students for cultural diversity would be their key selling points.

Within a year, they grew from 7 men to more than 20 men, then later to more than 30 men (at a school of <1,000 students), but every single potential member they talked to knew that the chapter aimed to serve as a representation for student leaders and broadening one’s cultural connections. 

They succeeded in good growth because they knew what they wanted to be, they knew the type of men they wanted to recruit, and the new members all knew exactly what they were joining and what was expected of them. Simply planning and communicating well helped the chapter be exactly what its leaders set out for it to be.


That’s it! What are some of your thoughts on “good growth”? Share on social media or in the comments below!

Questions or Thoughts?