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You Need a New Sorority House. How Do You Get Alumnae on Board?


Didn’t your parents ever tell you sorority houses don’t grow on trees? Well, technically there’s wood involved. But you know what we mean. They aren’t just sitting around waiting for you and your sisters to walk in the door and stake your claim.

Sorry to add more bad news, but they aren’t exactly cheap, either.

If you’ve been shopping around, though, you’re probably well aware of the costs. Let’s just say that after the first few numbers on the price tag, there are a lot of zeros. Since your chapter almost certainly doesn’t have the savings to dump into a new house, you’re going to have to fundraise like you’ve never fundraised before.

When you embark on this fundraising journey, your alumnae are going to shoot you those nervous glances that gazelles give cheetahs on the prowl. They know you’re about to pounce. You know they’re about to run like the wind. At the end of the day, this is the nature of Greek life in the wild. It’s best to let nature run its course.

Yet, alumnae aren’t just going to hand your chapter a new sorority house any more than a gazelle is going to stand still and become the willing dinner of a bloodthirsty feline.

Jokes aside, we here at Pennington & Company hope you sisters have a better relationship with your alumnae than predator and prey! That, of course, requires effort: effort to build meaningful relationships, and effort to express to your alumnae why exactly they should invest in your fundraising campaign.

We’ve already established that You Need a New Sorority House. But now we must answer the age-old question that’s plagued sorority fundraisers for generations: How Do You Get Alumnae on Board?

Alumnae Want You to Do Your Homework. There’s a Lot of Homework.

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With sorority house renovations, preparing for a major capital fundraising campaign can still be overwhelming and complicated. You’ll have to do a lot of research and come up with costs, an assessment of the project’s likely success and a plan for the long haul. However, the planning involved can become extremely extensive when pricing a new sorority house, whether as new construction or an existing building.

Start with some basics. Is this house going to be on or off campus? What are the comparative prices for properties, architects, builders or other associated housing costs? How about things like property taxes, insurance and how these housing costs translate to what sisters will pay to live there? Is there a need and a desire for enough sisters to move in and justify the cost of a new house? Which alumnae are likely to give the most, and what would motivate them to give? Have you built a campaign website and engaged your alumnae with a strong alumnae newsletter? How will you manage your donations?

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider right from the start. It might all seem a bit overwhelming for sisters to try to handle this on their own. Your national advisors might be able to help, but they have their own set of responsibilities and can’t dedicate unlimited resources to your fundraising efforts.

With a project of this magnitude, a chapter has to decide if they should hire professional fundraising consultants to ensure a successful capital fundraising campaign. It’s up to the sorority to decide, but we highly recommend engaging a fundraising company. If you do, you’re much more likely to see that brand-new sorority house you’ve been dreaming about become a reality.

A good fundraising company performs a pre-campaign feasibility study to assess the likelihood of a campaign’s success and then lay out a detailed plan to get alumnae to give. They’ll help you strengthen alumnae relationships and manage your gifts, all while constantly assessing your progress. They’ll make a professional impression and ensure alumnae can easily donate and receive updates about their giving and the progress of the project.

Like we said, there’s a lot of homework. Think of a good fundraising company as your chapter’s personal tutors.

Alumnae Want to Know You’re on Board with Them

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No matter what you do, some alumnae won’t be motivated to donate to your chapter’s campaign. That doesn’t mean alumnae are doing anything wrong or that you should blame your fundraising failure on them.

In fact, it’s much more likely that coming up short in fundraising goals is the fault of the chapter, not the alumnae. This could be true for a few reasons.

  • You focused too much on soliciting the same level of donations from all alumnae.
  • You didn’t focus enough on engaging the alumnae who’re willing to give more.
  • You failed to understand what motivates alumnae to give.
  • You haven’t shown alumnae proper appreciation for past or current giving.
  • You didn’t show alumnae you’re on board with them, by offering them options for giving.

All these points are crucial, but the last one can really make an immediate, positive impact on alumnae giving and doesn’t require too much invested time on their part or the chapter’s.

Only a handful of alumnae will make up the majority of donations to your capital campaign, while many others will either give lesser amounts or not give at all. This is a reality chapters should be prepared for. However, you’re much more likely to entice alumnae to give in general if you offer them payment options.

Not many alumnae are going to be dropping satchels at your feet filled with gold coins and painted with dollar signs, like they just came from Scrooge McDuck’s house or something.

Seeing as you don’t live in a cartoon, it’s best to offer alumnae automated and recurring donations. This means alumnae can pay at regular intervals in lesser amounts, and an automatic payment can be set up so they don’t have to be constantly reminded of upcoming donation needs. For long-term goals, it helps alumnae feel engaged from day one until a project’s completion. It also improves your chapter’s likelihood of garnering donations in the long run.

To get alumnae on board with donating to a new sorority house project, what matters most is that you’ve got both your and their best interest at heart. That means doing your research, possibly hiring fundraising professionals, engaging alumnae in meaningful relationships and offering them donation options that let them know you’ve got their backs.

Are you about to start a fundraising campaign for a new sorority house or some other project? Are you already in the middle of one, or have you completed one in the past? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!