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When Is a Sorority House Renovation a Bad Idea?


A sorority house renovation likely sits near the top of your holiday wish list--second only to the motorized faux luxury car you were never given as a child.

Yet your mom knew that if you ever climbed into that red plastic death trap, you’d flip it into a ditch within 5 minutes, screaming with a big booboo.

Similarly, a sorority house renovation might be an unprecedented disaster in the making for your chapter. The difference is that if a sorority house renovation goes awry, it impacts every woman in the chapter, and it’ll take more than a kiss on the knee to fix.

“But I really want one!” you protest, stomping your foot. It’s the winter of 8th grade all over again.

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t have it,” you demand.

Sorry to say, but we’re on your mom’s side. Like children’s gift ideas, when a house renovation is untenable, there are usually plenty of good reasons.

Many incredulous sisters may still wonder, When Is a Sorority House Renovation a Bad Idea? Pull up a chair. Pennington & Company is here to help keep sisters out of the proverbial ditch.

When a Sorority House Renovation Is More of a Want than a Need

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Before engaging in a house renovation project, assess the costs of renovation wants and needs. Needs should far outweigh wants.

Renovation needs include things like:

  • Required upgrades in safety equipment
  • Repairing normal wear and tear from aging, water or fire damage
  • Safety issues, such as damaged railings or stairways
  • Addition of living quarters, bathrooms, dining hall spaces and other amenities as the chapter grows
  • An expanded wing for chapter functions
  • New equipment for the house staff, such as for cooking and refrigeration
  • Aesthetic needs like restorations to the façade of the house or landscaping

Once you’ve assessed what the chapter truly needs out of a house renovation, take a good hard look at the more lavish costs on your list. These typically are entertainment-based renovation ideas, things like an expanded den full of flat-screen televisions, a new game room full of arcade machines, a heated pool or an upper-level deck add-on with a hot tub. Or they might be aesthetic overkill, like gilded stairwells and crystal chandeliers.

You can justify some of these things as recruitment tools, to keep in step with other chapters with similar perks, when the next sorority rush rolls around. Other renovation ideas may simply be out of reach for now. It’s up to you to set a realistic goal. A sorority house renovation without every cost justified is definitely a bad idea.

When Your Sorority House Renovation Is Poorly Planned

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If there’s one thing renovation planning requires a lot of, it’s research.

Compare the relative costs of similar properties in the housing market, calculating property insurance, taxes, and how potential housing costs offset for sisters. Talk with local architects, electricians and other contractors and builders to get a feel for the best deals. Sorority chapters win when they can reduce costs without compromising quality workmanship.

Plan every detail, including how long it might take to fund and complete a renovation project. A poorly planned sorority house renovation leads inevitably to spiraling costs, missed deadlines, and falling short of fundraising goals. Nobody wants to face that kind of failure. Plan now so you can have a clear idea of whether this renovation is a good idea.

When You Can’t Raise the Funds for a Sorority House Renovation

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Despite your best intentions, a house renovation isn’t in the cards if you can’t get alumnae to donate to your project. This means managing a long-term, major capital fundraising campaign with a goal of potentially more than a million dollars in gifts.

A chapter can’t take that for granted. You must be brutally honest about the prospects of raising the funds you need. To begin with, you should understand the nature of alumnae giving. Don’t expect all alumnae to donate to your renovation in equal amounts. Many will not give. Only about twenty percent of your alumnae will give, and of that twenty percent only a handful will make up the majority of your gifts.

Understand what motivates alumnae to give by engaging them regularly and keeping them involved. Requesting lump-sum donations is a short-sighted fundraising tactic. Instead, offer recurring and automated donations, and encourage piecemeal, additional donations over time. Facilitate annual, recurring donations, and encourage them over one-time gifts. This typically increases the overall amounts alumnae give.

Getting your sorority house renovation off the ground means engaging alumnae for the long haul. It’s no easy feat, and it takes sustained engagement efforts by the chapter. However, the results are well worth it.

Be realistic about what you can expect to bring in from alumnae donations. Ensure the math adds up. If it doesn’t, your sorority house renovation will have to wait.

A house renovation is costly and takes years to complete. Your sorority chapter should determine if a renovation is a pressing need, what the relative costs are, and if you’re capable of raising the money. Having a bad idea is one thing. Applying that bad idea to a project of this scale can spell disaster for your organization.

No one expects sisters and housing committee members to master every aspect of their house project. That’s what experts are for. Talking with professional fundraising consultants gives you an expert angle on whether your renovation is feasible, as well as how to achieve your funding goals and execute the project.

Are you worried your sorority house renovation is a bad idea? Or are you feeling confident about an upcoming renovation, certain your ideas are good? Let us know about your plans in the comments below.


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