Recruitment in Chicago (the bad)

In my last post, I discussed how recruitment is everywhere around you. In my recent trip to Chicago, I experienced some great recruitment efforts utilizing persistence and positive absurdity.

Unfortunately, not all recruitment efforts are successful in the Windy City. As fraternity and sorority members, a lot can be learned by observing these misfortunes, and implementing strategies to ensure they do not befall our chapters. Allow me to describe some of the recruitment failures I witnessed in Chicago.

Big Huge Party Guy:
I was enjoying a night out in The City of Broad Shoulders, when my friends and I decided to stop into a local watering hole. The place was empty – like PNC Park empty. The one unique thing that immediately caught my attention was the guy in the corner wearing a tuxedo and conversing solemnly with his friends. Not wanting to be bothered, our group decided to take a seat in the entirely empty back room; and that’s where we saw it…

An obnoxiously placed poster was hanging from the TV with a picture of who else, but Mr. Tuxedo. The poster was advertising Mr. Tuxedo’s big huge retirement party (he was 35, tops), and invited the entire city of Chicago out for the festivities. So why was there nobody there?

As fraternities and sororities, we are constantly trying to get people out to our events (recruitment, philanthropy, educational, etc.). We plan for a big huge crowd, get posters printed up, reserve the space, then when it comes time for the event, nobody shows up. It’s not enough to put up fliers promoting how wicked-sweet your event is going to be, you actually need to put in the time to talk to people about exactly what it is that you’re doing. Facebook events only go so far, and are way too easy to ignore. Word of mouth will forever be the best public relations tool that your organization can use.

Mr. Tuxedo wanted a big huge party for himself, except nobody showed up. Perhaps instead of inviting the world, he could have personally asked his true friends to join him. In my book, a night spent with a few close friends is far more beneficial than a night surrounded by superficial acquaintances. Do your big huge recruitment events often end up with you all dressed up with nobody to talk to? Might things have been different if instead of inviting the entire campus to your house, a healthy portion of your membership spent the night in small groups with potential new members having meaningful conversations and actually getting to know them?

The Saleswoman:
My two female friends, with whom I was staying with for the weekend, decided that a rainy day would be a perfect opportunity for us to walk around the city and do some touristy things. It wasn’t until an hour and a half later, when I found myself surrounded by handmade soaps and creams, that I realized that the entire excursion was a ruse for my friends to visit LUSH at the Macy’s Store.

While trying my hardest to look manly, I noticed a strange phenomenon; the women working at LUSH were really just trying to recruit my friends into buying their product. One saleswoman’s methods, in particular, caught my eye.

As my friends were shopping, the saleswoman walked up to one of them and declared, “I really like those shorts, they’re SO CUTE!”. My friend turned, thanked the saleswoman, then awkwardness ensued. I stood and watched for what felt like minutes as the saleswoman had no follow up, she just stood there, forcing a smile as she stared at my friend.

I couldn’t help but think of Panhellenic recruitment parties, and how this saleswoman obviously had never been trained on how to develop a meaningful conversation. Had she been, she would have known some great follow up questions to ask in order to keep the conversation going. Instead, she muttered, “Let me know if you need help with anything,” then walked away.

As social organizations, we pride ourselves on building deep relationships and lifelong friendships, all of which start with a simple conversation. Social excellence is a key to success in recruitment, and in life. If we could learn to initiate honest, meaningful conversations with complete strangers, just imagine how far we could go with our potential new members.

This Place:
I’m pretty sure that every city has one of these establishments. The nightclub where women dance in the windows as a way to entice patrons into the place. My guess is that the majority of the people reading this post have either never stepped foot into a place like this, or are ashamed to say that they have.

For the few people out there who are reading this, thinking to themselves, “That girl is my lighthouse beacon, calling me to the party”, I’m assuming you’re either a cast member on the Jersey Shore, or you are currently wearing more than one popped collar.

This lesson is mainly for the guys, but women should take heed as well. When you try to recruit using nothing but the temptation of alcohol and sex, you will find it incredibly difficult to find the quality of member you are looking for. No self respecting person would be lured in by a dancer in the window, and likewise your future chapter president isn’t going to be joining your organization because of that sweet party your house threw during recruitment.

Your best members join because they fully understand the values of your organization, it’s history, and the benefits of joining. I’m sure most of us know a brother or sister who joined for all the wrong reasons, and like me, you kick yourself every day for allowing your organization to be portrayed in such a false manner. In your recruitment strategy, ensure that you are placing the highest emphasis on the history, values, and benefits of your organization.

That pretty much wraps up my weekend of recruitment experiences in Chicago. Seeing these varied styles and tactics being utilized serves as not only great blog fodder, but superb reflection on how we as fraternity and sorority members are approaching recruitment.

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Recruitment in Chicago (the good)

Everywhere I go, I see recruitment. Through my years as a fraternity member and advisor, I’ve developed this perceptive ability to recognize various recruitment tactics and spot the success and failures of such efforts.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of going to Chicago. While I was enjoying the cities sites, sounds, and smells, I couldn’t help but notice the recruitment being directed towards me, and going on around me. Some businesses and individuals were doing it right, while others fell flat on their face.

The Good:
Positive Absurdity: If you have read some of my previous posts, then you already know that I am a big proponent of what Phired Up Productions is doing. One thing that Phired Up likes to talk about is the use of Positive Absurdity; doing something unique to break up the monotony of the day, get yourself recognized, and start conversations. While at a “fun-time adults-only” food and beverage establishment, I saw some definite positive absurdity in the form of Mega-Jenga. Yes, that’s right, Mega-Jenga:

There was really nothing special about this establishment, wooden booths, high-top tables, decorative sconces… oh yeah, and a 5 foot tall game of Jenga going on at the front of the place. As soon as I walked in the door, I was hit with the positive absurdity of the thing. I pretended like I wasn’t impressed with it, but secretly I was already envisioning the schematics in my head so I could build my own version.

Mega-Jenga not only brought patrons in the door, but it made them stick around. Strangers were conversing over intense games of Mega-Jenga, subconsciously connecting to the simpler times in their lives.

Imagine your chapter putting Mega-Jenga in the middle of your quad or student union. You could challenge passers-by to pull out a piece or two; if they can do it without knocking the whole thing over they get a piece of candy. If the whole thing comes crashing to the ground, they have to let you bend their ear for a minute. This is just one example of positive absurdity your chapter can use; there are a multitude of ways for your chapter to do something unique like this on your campus.

The primary reason for my visit was to see my friend (a Gamma Phi Beta, yay interfraternalism!) that I’ve known since my days as an undergrad. Although she’s been in Chicago for well over a year, and despite the fact that I lived just a couple hours away, this weekend was the first time I went out to visit her.

Between the hours I was working, the financial impairments I was faced with, and other interfering factors, I did not feel that I had the time or money to make such a commitment. If that sounds familiar it’s probably because you’ve heard it dozens of times from potential new members.

To her credit, my friend did a great job of recruiting me out to Chicago. Every so often I would get a text, facebook message or tweet from her inviting me out. She would let me know when the best festivals were in town, and when our mutual friends were coming to visit. As enticing as this was, I still couldn’t make it out. Despite the slew of “I’m working that weekend”, “I’ll be at a conference”, and “I’m broke!”, my friend kept inviting me.

Then, a month after I settled into my new city, and new position at Bradley University, I was finally in the right place time-wise and financially to make the trip. I called her Tuesday afternoon and let her know I was coming for the weekend. Needless to say, I had a blast in Chicago and will definitely be going back.

In your chapter’s recruitment process, you’re going to hear some legitimate reasons for why students can’t join your organization. Instead of writing these individuals off as a lost cause, do exactly like my friend did. Stay friends, keep inviting them to events, let them see the fun times their friends are having, and wait for that person to get to a place in their life where joining your organization will not be an overburdening experience.

These examples were the two best positive recruitment efforts I saw over the past weekend in Chicago. In my next post, I’ll talk about some of the poor recruitment efforts I saw, and how to fix them!

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Helicopter Parents: Invest in a Landing Pad

In case you haven’t heard, the majority of students currently enrolled at your college or university are described as the “Millennial Generation“. This generation of students, born sometime after 1983 is characterized by their self-expression, desire for education, love of family, focus on diversity, and their global perspective, among many others characteristics. These traits are the reason why the Millennial are often described as the next great generation.

Yet, this new generation of students on your campus comes attached with a surprise guest from another era. Yes, of course, I’m talking about the “helicopter parent“. That over-protective guardian who will do anything in their powers to ensure the success of their child. During my relatively brief time as student affairs professional, I have sat devoted numerous hours of discussion, presentations, and research to dealing with this issue. For the most part, these helicopter parents are seen as a nuisance to the profession, and a hindrance to the development of the student.

I, however, feel that as fraternity and sorority members, we have an incredibly unique opportunity to utilize the resource that is the helicopter parent to benefit our chapters. By keeping an eye out for the interests and needs of the parents of your members, you can effectively create an entirely new support mechanism for your chapter.

Simply put, these parents want to be involved in their students day-to-day activities in order to ensure that no harm befalls them, help their student make positive decisions along the way, and guide them down a path toward personal growth and professional success. To me, that has a lot of similarities to the mission of all of our fraternities and sororities.

So how can you effectively utilize this resource?

Give them the information they crave at the onset.
When a new member joins your organization, are you doing anything to communicate the values, mission and vision of your organization with the parents of that new member? The parents are often the ones paying the dues for your members, so at the very least you should be explaining to them how that money will be utilize to their child’s benefit.

Think about sending a letter home to all potential new members explaining your organization, and the benefits you provide. A personal phone goes an incredibly long way to show that you care about every single new member, and value the role their parent plays  in their child’s life.

Keep them informed.
Does your chapter regularly communicate with the parents of your members? As I mentioned earlier, helicopter parents love to know what’s going on in their child’s life. Fairly often, your members don’t necessarily do a great job of explaining all the great things that the chapter is doing; and that’s where you come in.

Consider a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly e-mail update sent out to parents. Parents who desire this information can opt-in to such a service. Keep it simple, let them know what the chapter has accomplished since your last update, as well as what is coming up in the near future. Provide them with information on your annual parents event which allows you to…

Get them involved.
Is your chapter inviting parents to visit the facilities, and experience what it’s like for their son or daughter to be a part of your organization? If a parent has no personal experience with fraternity and sorority life, then all they have to base their opinion on is what they’ve seen in the media, heard from others, or learned from their child. Even if the parent is a fraternity or sorority member, or already had another child join a fraternity or sorority, the experience gained within your chapter may vary drastically.

In order to fill this gap, why not host a parents weekend, a day just for moms/dads, or a special event during Homecoming or Parents Weekend at your school? Use this opportunity to showcase the chapter, as well as to allow parents to share in the experience with each other. Many of them are going through the same experiences, why not provide the opportunity for them to share those experiences?

As an added bonus, having such important guests coming to visit is a perfect excuse to get the entire chapter together to clean up the house. Consider planning such an event in the middle of the semester, when your place could use some serious cleaning.

Garner support from them.
If your chapter does any or all of the ideas I described above, then you will begin to build an entire new structure of support for your organization. In addition to your alumni/ae, national organization, and campus professional, a strong core of parents, if used effectively, can do great things for the chapter.

Get the parents on your side, and you will create an entire new group of advocates for your organization. You’ll be able to open the door to a plethora of new opportunities including professional networking and job placement, charitable and chapter fund-raising, programming support, and many others.

The helicopter parent can be your best friend or your worst enemy. How you choose utilize this resource is up to you.

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