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The Alumni Next Door: Dangers of Dwindling Fraternity Engagement


You might think: Local fraternity alumni are easy to engage because they can drop in to pretty much any chapter event.

They can also just walk in the door of an alumni organization and start volunteering. Dialing them up doesn’t require adjusting time zones in your head.

Local fraternity engagement seems like a foregone conclusion. Right?

Actually, the alumni next door need as much attention as long-distance alumni, and they’re much easier to neglect. This poses a big danger for a chapter that doesn’t employ the right engagement strategies across the board on a regular basis.

Just because you see an alumnus pop in the chapter house once a week doesn’t mean you’ve engaged him.

In fact, those visits can have a negative impact without the right behavior and actions by brothers and fellow alumni.

Take this fictional example of Chris. Chris graduated about eight years ago. He works in finance downtown in the same city as his alma mater. He stops by for chapter barbeques when he can—although invitations are always short notice.

Yet the house is always a mess and something’s always damaged. Brothers barely talk to him.

Local alumni boards have targeted him for joining as a volunteer, but they haven’t tried very often or hard. They haven’t really shown him the benefits of volunteering on top of his busy work schedule.

On top of that, he’s been asked to donate. He’s capable of making a sizable gift, but when he’s asked for money he doesn’t feel that his impact is meaningful and feels like all the chapter ever needs him for is some quick cash.

He rarely gets a newsletter, and it doesn’t interest him when it does arrive in his email spam folder.

Over time, Chris simply disengages with the chapter.

What’s gone wrong?

Just about everything, as it turns out. The chapter may have lost an important ally and potential asset in their own back yard.

Let’s examine why.

Pennington & Company wants to tell you a cautionary tale of The Alumni Next Door and the Dangers of Dwindling Fraternity Engagement.

Stop Focusing on Long-Distance Alumni Engagement Only

It’s easy to get fixated on targeting long-distance alumni as a more difficult group to engage and solicit for donations.

But having this lopsided type of engagement can deteriorate your local base donors and volunteers. Your engagement should be the same for every alumnus across the board.

Using an up-to-date biographical database of your alumni helps.

When you use this information for targeted engagement, don’t focus efforts by where they live (except when it comes to things like events that might be held in their areas). Instead, ensure there are consistent efforts to reach out to all alumni.

When alumni give to a capital fundraising campaign or help the chapter in some other way . . .

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Always say thanks.

Don’t just send a form “thank you” letter:

  • Call them. Alumni are way more likely to give again if they feel that personal connection of their contribution.

  • Pay attention to their recruitment recommendations.

  • Keep the house clean and engage them in meaningful conversation when they visit.

  • Invite them to events that interest them with plenty of advanced notice.

  • Figure out who isn’t attending events. Sit down with them to strategize how to get them interested.

Those who’re less engaged and thus need more focus might be the closest to home.

Don’t let them out of your sight.

Print Isn’t Dead: Why You Should Mail Alumni Newsletters

We often get wrapped up in the age of electronic communication.

Social media dominates how we keep in touch with one another.

While it’s true that social media can have a positive impact on fraternity engagement when used effectively, it’s a mistake to rely on it as a panacea.

Not all alumni are on Facebook or Instagram, and even when they are, they may eventually tune out the barrage of constant information flowing out of the chapter accounts.

Or they might just not be logged in when you post, and your communications get lost in cyberspace.

Not everyone has an email they check actively, either.

Let’s think about that in terms of your alumni newsletters.

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"Make sure you seek alumni involvement with an even hand"

Many chapters get the idea that it’s better to go fully electronic with their newsletters, producing a PDF every six months and emailing it out.

You’re going to miss out on engaging a huge percentage of your alumni base this way. These newsletters may go to their spam folders or not reach some alumni at all.

Sure, a print newsletter costs money. Budgets are tight. We get it.

Yet by simply printing a high-quality newsletter and mailing it out every two to three months, you’re going to reach many more alumni than you would otherwise. We find that producing both print and electronic versions of a newsletter works best.

And be sure to spend the postage to send it to the alumni you see often, too, even if you could drive it over yourself. It’s cheaper than gas, and they’ll appreciate the gesture.

Alumni Who Engage Alumni Win

When alumni can’t get other alumni involved in fundraising and volunteer opportunities, it’s a major sign that engagement has gone off the rails.

Alumni boards should be the main conduit of communication and getting local alumni to fill bigger roles with the chapter. Recruiting alumni to fill volunteer roles that fit their availabilities and skill sets should be a major priority for executives on these boards.

Additionally, running annual capital campaigns and other coordinated fundraising efforts should be heavily managed by chapter alumni, not just undergraduate brothers.

Getting local alumni involved in volunteer roles and engaging them often makes a world of difference.

Also, peers who fill executive roles on these boards can solicit other alumni for engagement more easily than undergrads, because they share the graduate member perspective.

However you choose to engage your fraternity alumni, make sure you seek their involvement with an even hand—whether they live across the world or down the block.

Pennington & Company has helped 800 organizations over 25 years to engage their alumni in meaningful ways and reach their capital campaign fundraising goals. Get in touch to discuss how we can help your chapter today.

What questions or comments do you have about engaging local alumni? Let us know in the comments below!