I spent six years working in fraternity expansion – the process by which fraternity staff members establish new chapters at a campus – and we led the field for much of that time.
Of course, every fraternity claims that they are leading the field most of the time, but few of us realize just how much has changed with fraternity expansion over the past 10 years.
As I rose to roles requiring that I create our pitch materials to encourage schools to select my fraternity over others, expansion professionals from fraternities began to meet at conferences, share best practices, vouch for one another where possible, train together, and there is now even a conference specifically for fraternity (and some sorority) expansion/extension teams.
That is a lot of growth in a short period of time, and the heightened competition from so many organizations pursuing rapid, professional growth has resulted in some confusion – so I think this post may be of great value to anyone working in or considering expansion.
Fraternities have taken to one-upping one another as more campuses require that fraternities submit proposals and present in order to be able to develop a chapter. Unfortunately, there are no set standards by which to grade fraternities, and so these processes differ wildly from one another and are often based on hunches or a professional’s past experiences or biases.
Part of my job was to study my competition, and so I learned what campus professionals and students wanted, what other fraternities offered, and how we could highlight our organization’s strengths. There are folks out there with more experience, but my assumption is that they’ll agree with the following:
What Makes A Fraternity Expansion Successful?
1. Volunteers Beyond Year One
Names aren’t enough. A board isn’t enough. A promise that a chapter will at some point have a board is certainly not enough. Every chapter, new and old, needs long term advisory support.
This goes beyond the fraternity staff. Even if a staff member is present for a year – something I’ll get to in the 2nd list – they are still hundreds or thousands of miles away thereafter.
It’s important to know the people working with a chapter. It’s important to know that they are committed to its success. That goes beyond answering an email to all alumni within 60 miles of a campus, and it goes beyond showing up to a fraternity’s presentation. This can be hard to gauge, but some indicators of success include financial investments from the alumni prior to the establishment of a chapter.
Several fraternities now require that alumni assist in paying for the cost of staffing a fraternity recruitment campaign, and that typically results in a longer-term commitment from those alumni members.
2. A Personable, Improv-Capable Staff
I made it a key component of every interview I conducted to require candidates to play several games one would play at an improv theater. I’d also ask that they share one of their controversial beliefs with me, just to gauge their ability to manage otherwise uncomfortable situations.
A fraternity’s recruiting staff, in order to recruit the right type of men, need to be able to connect with a variety of men, think on their feet, work long hours, and be trusted to say “no” to men who may doom the fate of a chapter.
We had a couple men who were exceptional recruiters in that they could put up big numbers, but they recruited the wrong type of men and the chapters inevitably failed. It’s easy to see a pretty face, feel an extroverted personality, and assume someone will be a good recruiter.
Recruitment teams perform well when they can inspire a group of men and maintain the standards one would expect of an exceptional chapter.
How can you know if a fraternity is focused on a quality staff? Compare what fraternities are paying their recruiters, how much time they get off after an expansion, and get referrals from students at other universities regarding the quality of the fraternity staff. Also, they should be social media-savvy.
3. Luck & Teamwork
This is a message to every campus professional, fraternity board member, and fraternity executive – particularly if you’ve never worked as a recruiter yourself: Luck will always play a role in the success or failure of an expansion, don’t place unnecessary pressure on recruiting staff.
The two previously mentioned points will help mitigate situations in which luck is running low, but a successful recruitment effort ultimately depends on many unknown variables:
- How many referrals will the staff receive from campus professionals and sorority members?
- How many of those students are interested in joining or starting a fraternity?
- How many of the students a recruiter connects with can afford membership or find the cost to be of value?
- How many students will answer their phone when called
Campus professionals need to be available to recruiters and help them connect with student groups and other well-connected staff.
Fraternity boards and executives need to take an active role in recruiting volunteers and gearing the fraternity’s other activities toward expansion, including communication and educational programming. You may have a staff dedicated to recruiting students, but those students are joining a fraternity, and it’s painfully obvious when the rest of the organization is out of sync with an expansion team.
What Sounds Nice, But Is Ultimately Unnecessary to Success?
1. Residential Staff
The recent fad is to require that a fraternity station a staff member on a campus for a semester or a year. This is pulled from the sororities (who do everything right, right?) but typically means that a staff member is “based” out of a location and just travels to other chapters from there.
I’d say that one academic term (semester, trimester or quarter) would be the maximum amount of time to “require” of a fraternity staff. After that you should expect a few, 2-3 day visits. If they want to stay longer, that’s fine! It’s just an expensive expectation, and those student dues could be better used elsewhere.
More important than 24/7 support is that the expectations of a new or re-developed chapter should gradually increase over the course of several years.
Start by teaching founding members how to determine their niche, how to recruit members, how to hold members accountable, and then worry about the non-essential things (service, philanthropy, dance competitions, etc.).
I’d often visit a campus mere months after recruiting a class of founding fathers and hear a campus professional complain that they haven’t yet completely transformed the fraternity/sorority community. . . Um, duh? Most of them have never seen a gavel before.
2. Flair & Frills
Another out-of-control tactic fraternities are resorting to is throwing a bunch of money at an IFC. This is often directly facilitated by the campus professionals or decision making committee.
My staff would offer some basic recruitment training to IFC fraternities as an anti-competitive gesture. The promises made since then have gotten crazy.
Many organizations are providing what sororities refer to as “frills,” flashy, but ultimately meaningless expenditures designed to impress campus folks into selecting their team. Don’t fall for it.
At most, suggest a reduced rate of dues for founding members. Many drop before initiating because they are unsure if the financial cost and time commitment will be worth the benefit.
I’d choose that before requesting that a staff member stay on campus for a year (Remember, money does not grow on trees. Students are paying for this!)
3. Brand Recognition & Size
I once presented at a school against 2 much larger fraternities. After the presentation, we were told that the students liked us best, but that the other fraternities were larger, and so they decided to choose them and not us. That school recently suspended all FSL activities.
Volunteer capacities are different at every school. Staff members change over time. Luck can vary at any given point. A campus that was once the go to place for expansion can get burned out after many repeated expansions in a row.
Size and name recognition do not matter to students who never before considered Greek Life. Too many small fraternities are ignored due to their lack of brand recognition in the higher education community. That’s ridiculous.
Look at a fraternity’s recent success rate and look at whether they are investing their resources in staff and alumni or frills and promises they can’t possibly keep.
If you are a fraternity professional: Slow down. Make your expansions matter. What the heck do you need such a huge increase in dues revenue for? To put on more generic leadership programming? C’mon y’all.
The best way to encourage a successful fraternity expansion is to value the expansion process itself and to worry less about Olympic-style selection committees and more about what the environment is telling you will work.
The picture at the top of this post is from my time at Drexel University. We had an amazing team of volunteers in place, an entrepreneurial student body to work with, and my partner and I worked from 8am to 11pm almost every day over 6 weeks to make it happen.
On weekends we took the founding members on excursions in the city and we had regular coaching visits from other staff members and our external consultants. We taught them how to recruit and table while we were recruiting and it was a great success, but it was one success. Had we done the exact same thing this year it may not have turned out the same result.
Teamwork and compassion make fraternities great. Whether new or not. We are all Friend Clubs at the core.