Find a Growth Strategy That Fits: Part I

by National Panhellenic Conference | @NPCWomen

Membership growth is vital to our industry. Without growth, many communities will face difficult realities, such as diminishing chapter sizes, fewer community members, and budget constraints. Due to declining sorority membership, there is a great need for customized growth strategies tailored to each campus. This article provides various options, situations, and approaches when advising students and other stakeholders to develop a specific growth strategy. Although this article references Panhellenic terminology, the ideas apply to all councils.

Defining Growth

There are dozens of ways to determine the best ways to grow. The key is for those involved in growth discussions to share a consistent definition and clearly understand the ultimate goal. For example, growth within fully or partially structured recruitment can focus on increasing the number of women registered and retaining them through the process. Increasing the number of women recruited will lead to growth in chapter size and community through primary recruitment. Continuous open bidding (COB) can also provide growth by adding women to the community through a more organic joining process. Additionally, a campus could experience growth by adding another chapter to the sorority community through extension.

Growth might also result from a focus on retention of sorority members throughout their time on campus. According to research by Dyad Strategies, women are more likely to remain in a sorority if they feel a sense of belonging (McCreary & Schutts, 2022). Asking questions like the ones listed below can prompt critical thinking for ways to strengthen and improve the community’s retention efforts:

  • Are the membership expectations clear and accurate portrayals of the experience?
  • How are the members of chapters growing personally as women and as sisters?
  • Does the sorority experience drive a connection between women and offer a sense of belonging?

 Role of the FSA in Growth

Fraternity/sorority advisors (FSAs) are vital to their community’s success. An FSA can be an ambassador for healthy and sustainable growth. FSAs can encourage growth when working with council officers and coaching chapter leaders. Building consensus and uniting the community is needed to see progress. FSAs can work with alumnae volunteers, headquarters counterparts, and on-campus faculty advisors to help implement the Panhellenic community growth plan.

 Trust as a Foundation in Growth

Inspiring a culture of trust is necessary for growth. For College Panhellenics, positive change cannot occur if there is a lack of trust between stakeholders. If a Panhellenic community establishes and nurtures a culture of trust, change and growth can flourish.

New ideas are encouraged and developed in safe spaces that allow creative brainstorming. Communities that work together to foster open and honest dialogue about their challenges have discussions about meeting potential new members’ needs, not just conversations regarding rules and accountability. Members and delegates who trust their fellow community members have an open and hopeful mindset to new possibilities. Panhellenic officers should cultivate dialogue and engagement that produces trust and growth for all key stakeholders.

Data Collection and Assessing Growth

FSAs can be helpful to their community when taking the lead on data collection by tracking recruitment numbers, creating a system for COB, and assessing retention throughout the membership lifecycle for the community. Recruitment statistics are insightful and necessary because the data points are consistent and communicate year-over-year progress. Many campuses benefit from using release figure methodology (RFM) data for evaluation and analysis. If a campus does not use RFM, these essential data points are a great place to start: the number of women interested (use an interest form), the number of women to whom chapters extend bids, the number of women pledged, chapter sizes, and total. Qualitative surveys of new members can also be valuable as they can capture the story and the lived experience of community members.

Capturing data can be manageable. Someone does not have to be a statistics wiz to implement foundational data collection. The NPC website has sample recruitment evaluations to serve as a starting point. Data should not only be collected during primary recruitment but also in the non-primary recruitment term. Collecting chapter and community recruitment data for continuous open bidding (COB) can be essential when defining growth for the community. Other data points to collect regarding PNMs could be women who withdraw during primary recruitment and join through COB later that term, the next term, or the following year through primary recruitment.

Removing Barriers to Membership

Another strategy for growing the community is to remove barriers to membership through a collaborative and transparent recruitment audit that incorporates various stakeholders, including staff, recent PNMs, chapter representatives, Panhellenic officers, and inter/national member organization representatives. Processes and procedures that create barriers can be identified and removed or adjusted. These barriers could range from those that create difficulty for individuals with physical differences to navigate between events on time to unnecessary costs tied to the recruitment process. Leverage the audit results to address barriers and improve the overall recruitment process.

Recruitment registration is an easy win for removing barriers to membership. A quick audit can provide direction for College Panhellenics. Consider the recruitment registration time window and the requirements for registration. The time it takes for a PNM to register should not hinder joining – the FSA can encourage the College Panhellenic to open registration early and close it as late as possible. Particularly those campuses with delayed recruitment (Dyad, 2022) should wait to close registration after classes begin so that College Panhellenic officers can use promotional events and marketing to drive interest.

Transparency is a critical component of growth. PNMs leave our communities due to misaligned expectations and the need for more connection (Phired Up, 2016). College Panhellenic communities can create clear and transparent systems to communicate the current membership experience. This transparency starts before recruitment with outreach, messaging, registration, PNM orientation, recruitment counselor guidance, and conversations during recruitment events. 

Growth by Changing Recruitment Styles

An emerging growth strategy is changing recruitment style. NPC supports three primary recruitment styles: fully structured, partially structured, and continuous recruitment. These three styles have varying elements to meet the needs of PNMs and enhance the overall recruitment experience.

Discover the style that best fits a community by completing the recruitment style assessment on the NPC website. This style assessment begins with a review of the recruitment data from the previous three years; it also encourages the examination of other essential factors before shifting styles. Also, evaluate factors such as women’s undergraduate enrollment, the number of students interested in sorority life, and the number of women joining sororities outside primary recruitment.

An open dialogue is encouraged about the realities of the recruitment experience and the ideal goals and outcomes that growth would provide. Changing recruitment styles is one way to achieve growth, but it is not a magic wand. The sorority community should adopt a “yes, and” mindset as they customize a multi-faceted growth strategy.

Growth through Extension

Adding a chapter is a traditional strategy that FSAs may consider for growth. The NPC extension process is detailed and starts well before the to-do lists, procedures, and associated activities. The first step for a campus-based professional when considering extension is knowing the readiness factors that contribute to extension success today.

Primary readiness considerations include:

  • Data should indicate enough PNMs and non-affiliated women to support the existing and new chapters. Enrollment numbers and PNM interest projections must look sustainable.
  • Beyond the numbers, the community must identify other factors necessary for success, such as comparable housing and alumnae/advisor support.
  • Tangible and intangible support offered to an incoming chapter, such as facilities, lead generation, and marketing, should be discussed.
  • Develop a timeline for extension and establishing a new chapter, including community education and engagement.

Communities should develop a transparent “why” for extension. Panhellenic should set a defined goal and understand how adding a chapter strengthens that goal. An incoming organization requires support from the community; it cannot “solve” a community’s challenges.

When a community is ready for extension, it will have prepared the existing chapters and community to warmly welcome, encourage, and support a newly established organization before initiating the process. If a community is experiencing a lack of Panhellenic spirit, extension is not the answer; a supportive atmosphere and community environment must exist before any extension can be successful. Robust onboarding fosters success for all.

After adding a chapter, the extension process continues as the Panhellenic supports it. The newest chapter needs time to stabilize before the community considers extension again.

Exchange is not growth – adding and closing a chapter is a constant replacement cycle versus growing the community with healthy extension. It often can feel like a balancing act when member organizations seek growth and others seek parity. FSAs can help by guiding their community to thoroughly carry out the exploratory stage before embarking on extension.

 Next Steps

There are many means to accomplish growth. Improving numerous elements of the recruitment experience, such as removing barriers to membership, improving PNM awareness and education, adding values and connection-based engagement, or considering extension, are options to layer together to create a growth strategy. As more campuses initiate conversations around growing Panhellenic communities, it is important to remember that growth plans should be multifaceted and unique to the campus. Continuous assessment and implementation lead to success. This article has provided many examples of the various avenues a campus could consider when discussing growth and creating a detailed strategy. Part II of this article will explain the importance of marketing the sorority experience through messaging that matters.

 

References

McCreary, G., & Schutts, J. (2022). The impact of recruitment timing and structure on  fraternity and sorority chapter culture [White Paper]. Dyad Strategies. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a1e24579f8dce42bdd24f28/t/62b9fae92ca4e4411d74e980/1656355562558/2022+Whitepaper.pdf

Phired Up (2016) How to keep the members you recruit: A guide for retention & engagement. Phired Up. https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/5bedc8521b35278d680e478b/5de6acbdb3b65607f7e6b031_How%20to%20Keep%20the%20Members%20You%20Recruit%20-%20Phired%20Up%20%26%20TechniPhi%20FREE%20Resource.pdf

 

About the National Panhellenic Conference

Made up of 26 women’s-only inter/national member organizations, the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) is the world’s largest trade association specifically charged with advancing the sorority experience. Through its advocacy, NPC seeks to enlist nearly 5 million collegiate and alumnae sorority women in its efforts to showcase the transformational power of the sorority experience.

As values-based organizations, the 26 members of NPC live their missions, with their members providing millions of dollars in philanthropic support to dozens of worthy causes and pursuing millions of additional hours in community service. From supporting victims of sexual assault, to leading bystander intervention programs, to fighting for body-positive campus cultures, sorority women are at the forefront of solving some of the most pressing challenges facing collegiate women today.

NPC also supports a national network of collegiate and alumnae Panhellenic associations that are crucial to nurturing healthy fraternity and sorority communities. Through its programs and initiatives, NPC encourages the sharing of information, resources, and best practices to ensure the sorority experience continues to meet the needs of today’s collegiate women.

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