Numbers Game: Inside the PIKE Growth System

by Matt Farrell

Over 70 HQs and campuses use ChapterBuilder to manage growth, and we’re constantly asked “who has the best system to get people buying in?”

One group our team points people to Pi Kappa Alpha, and as I had never worked directly with the organization before, I had trouble explaining why. That is, until I had the opportunity to attend PIKE University and find out for myself.

Image-1I got to chat with Director of Membership Growth, Caleb Vander Lugt, who explained further how Pike combines the ChapterBuilder software and their vision. His story will help you build a growth system of your own.

MF: Let’s go back to your undergrad. How’d you join?

CV: So I went to a small school in Michigan, Adrian College. I didn’t care much about fraternities. I was busy with a lot of stuff and found most of my free time spent hanging out with guys who I guess happened to be Pikes. I honestly never thought anything off it, but one day they offered me a bid and I was comfortable enough that it made the rest of the decision much easier. I just thought it was a happy accident.

MF: Guessing it wasn’t…

CV: Once I came on the Fraternity staff, I realized we focus solely on the idea of helping our members create relationships with individuals on campus. Recruitment is the art of making friends. It really is that simple. Every resource we provide goes back to that goal.

MF: That’s great. Devil’s advocate: I’m sure some people find that a little cheesy. Especially in an era where recruitment numbers are starting to go down everywhere. How does the International Fraternity make recruitment such a big priority?

CV: Everyone has the mindset that if we stopped recruiting tomorrow, we’d cease to exist in three years, if not sooner. We know it’s the lifeblood of our or any organization.

MF: How do you explain it to the chapters? Threats don’t usually work for motivation.

CV: We want to continuously give our chapters the chance to create their ideal fraternity. Through that, they’re going to be able to create the ideal college experience they want to have. We know how important that is to our members. That message is universal–we bring it everywhere we go.

MF: I love that. Most groups only use that tactic on expansion or extension. Tell us how you bring that into chapter visits.

CV: We start all internal. We gauge involvement from the full chapter before even looking at what’s going on campus. We know that if it’s a one- or two-man job then no matter how good their outreach is, they’re going to burn out.

MF: Then what?

CV: We identify what specific areas of recruitment are overwhelming for our chapters. Once we have identified where the chapter is facing the most obstacles, we can create a strategic plan to overcome them. Very often it stems from the chapter’s involvement. With that in mind, we try to engage all members of the chapter into the chapter’s recruitment program, and ChapterBuilder helps us do that. Ideally, we want the chapter to come to that realization on their own.

MF: Now I see where you bring ChapterBuilder in.

CV: Yeah, we don’t force people into it. At the same time, ChapterBuilder is a resource of tracking member engagement in recruitment. By chapter’s not using it, we miss out on the frequency and manner in which they recruit. While we are always encouraging our chapters to adopt the software into their recruitment programs, we try to focus on all the groups who are using it so we can better understand their trends and how they’re adapting to engage potential new members.

MF: That’s so interesting. Most of our partners make their primary focus on getting non-users to use it. And it’s usually before the chapters even understand how it helps them.

CV: Our chapter usage is smaller than people think. We’re about 60-65% but we’re playing the long game and have seen it steadily rise. The resource has the ability to isolate chapters’ activity by reviewing their engagement with potential new members during their recruitment periods. From there we can help them find the problem and create resources and strategies to solve it.

MF: Recruitment technology can be overwhelming for chapters. How do you break it down?

CV: First, we try to ensure the chapters feel comfortable using the software and are knowledgeable on the various features that are available. We try not to overwhelm them if they are first-time users, but we want them to realize the potential the software has to make their process more efficient. The letter grading scale and mass communication within Chapter Builder are the two features that are most used. Letter grading helps the chapters identify where PNMs stand within the recruitment process. From there they can engage the members of their own chapter to progress each friendship one level at a time.

Mass personalized communication is just a massive time saver. The process would be a lot tougher if members had to manually text PNMs individually. It would take too long or they wouldn’t send intentional communication by name.

MF: The one-two punch, right? I hope you don’t mind sharing that. Might be my favorite recruitment trick and it’s not even ours.

CV: It’s a staple for us (laughs). No one enjoys an awkward “what’s your name?” handshake. Instead, we lead with our name. “Hi, I’m Caleb, what’s your name?”. You will introduce yourself back to me, I’ll repeat your name out loud to ensure I have it correct, and away we go. First impressions are everything. It shows you genuinely care. It’s distinguishable of PIKEs.

MF: It’s so good. OK last question. I’ve loved my time with you guys but I know there’s still always going to be critics. “PIKE will just take everyone with a pulse, you only care about numbers and not quality.” How do you respond to that?

CV: On every campus, the strongest organizations are often some of the biggest. They don’t have to be the biggest, but they’re typically in the top three. Our approach is to be competitive in size so our groups, therefore our members, have greater opportunities to do more of everything else. The groups, by virtue of sheer size, are going to have: more exposure, more opportunities to engage the community, perhaps more influence, etcetera, but that all stems from their recruitment program.

Quality is something we’re always looking at and trying to improve. We want to give our men every opportunity to be intentional with their membership selection. Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive. They both can exist together. That’s the area the tech helps us with the most.

A final note from Pi Kappa Alpha CEO Justin Buck:

“Getting the right people on the bus” is the most critical step for any type of organization to ensure continued success, especially fraternities. Any solution which allows our members to quickly identify the best individuals, communicate with them effectively, and help them become Pikes is something we want to pursue aggressively. We still have work to do to get all PIKE chapters and their members fully immersed with this technology. And just as important is doing so year round – recruitment is a 24/7/365 game and you never know when you’re going to meet the next True PIKE.