By Sean Wagner – Associate Executive Vice President
Founders Day season is here. This year, on Robert Morrison’s 188th birthday, Phi Delta Theta celebrated its rich history throughout the United States and Canada. While events often occur on March 15, typically Founders Day events are scheduled from March-June depending on a chapter or alumni club’s traditions or schedule.
The great thing about Founders Day is that outside of practicing our Ritual, it is probably the most uniting and common thing that we do as Brothers of Phi Delta Theta. While chapters have many local traditions throughout the year, come spring time, brothers in California, Canada, and Connecticut are all participating in a very similar event involving a Founders, Gold, and Silver Legion Ceremony, that was preceded by a banquet or golf outing. The words of those ceremonies remind us of our commitment to the Fraternity and honor those who have come before us.
The Golden and Silver Legion ceremonies in particular commemorate those who have remained committed to Phi Delta Theta well beyond graduation. While GHQ does send Golden Legion certificates to all that qualify, many alums don’t make it to an event to actually participate in the ceremony, see other alums, and to connect with the active chapter. It isn’t because they don’t want to connect, it’s just because they feel like they don’t have a relationship. GHQ can send as many emails, solicitations, or emails but the bottom line is that alumni, for the most part, want to connect with the individuals who signed the same Bond that they did and/or who lived in the same house as they did. But things change, and the longer you are out of school, the more distant you feel from your alma mater and chapter because you don’t know anyone and don’t have a clue of what’s going on at the chapter. That is unless the chapter is going out of their way to maintain that relationship.
And why should the chapter try to maintain a relationship with their alumni? Outside of the fact that as Fraternity brothers it is our obligation, there are terrific benefits to the active chapter as a whole and its members in communicating with our graduate brothers. Phi Delta Theta alumni are leaders in industry, government, and communities and would love to support a chapter by serving as a volunteer, mentor, or by offering networking and possible opportunities for jobs or internships. And you never know, alums might throw a couple of bucks your way as well.
So how does a chapter build that relationship with alumni? The Fraternity provides a number of terrific resources in this area, and I will highlight a few of them in the rest of this post. However, there are three terrific presentations on PDT U that discuss this topic at great length. The first is an Alumni Relations Webinar hosted by Pennington and Company’s Patrick Alderdice that was recorded last fall. We also have two brand-new on-demand presentations prepared by Leadership Consultants, Justin Dandoy and Tucker Lee about Communicating with Your Alumni and Planning Alumni Events.
But in the meantime, here are a five basic concepts that I discuss with chapters whenever alumni relations comes up:
#1 – An alumni newsletter isn’t the only way to communicate with alumni
For years the only way we as a fraternity, felt we could communicate with our chapters was to send out a newsletter a few times a year. While newsletters are still a great way to communicate and should be regularly sent out, there are a number of new ways with technology that chapters can maintain that relationship with regular updates.
Considering we all spend a good chunk of our day on the world wide web, chapters need to be out there and to have a great website that they regularly update. A chapter website, social media activity and periodic e-newsletters are crucial. Leverage technology and get info out there to be consumed by your alums, they’ll love hearing about all of the great stuff going on and can check on you as frequently as they like, not just 3 times a year when that newsletter hits their mail box.
#2 – The old 80/20 Rule and we’re not talking Pareto’s Principle
We just talked about broadcasting chapter oriented information through technology and sharing that is mostly chapter-oriented, but when you’re actually putting together that alumni newsletter that will supplement your positive web touches, you want to keep it all about the alumni. Usually 80% of the content should be alumni centered and 20% should be chapter oriented. So how do you write about alums when you aren’t one? First off, utilize your own chapter advisory board and house corporation for updates, then ask them to help you reach out to alums in their era for updates and to help profile alums who have gone on to do great things and should be profiled. Typically you can find one alum in each decade who is connected or aware of the rest of his contemporaries, establish decade captains and have them help you gather these updates.
#3 – Don’t Lead With your Hand Out
While I mentioned earlier that a positive alumni relations program might lead to donations, that doesn’t mean that should be the focus of your efforts. It means that if you are effectively communicating with alumni, it will be a byproduct of what you’re doing. Never have donations be the centerpiece of your communication. Instead talk about contributions as one of the many ways that an alumnus can contribute. Also, understand that alumni want to contribute to things like scholarships, a library, or ritual equipment, not a big screen TV or for the general fund.
#4 – Just Because You Build It Doesn’t Mean They’re Going to Come
This goes back to communication, but essentially, chapters can plan the greatest Founders Day in the history of Phi Delta Theta, but unless they inform alumni about it, well in advance, no one is going to show up. Alumni have lives, families, and jobs and unless they know about an event well in advance, you aren’t going to make their calendar. The Alumni Secretary’s Manual does a great job of providing event time lines as well as lots of other great resources. But generally you should start planning a major event at least eight months prior to your scheduled date and should have a “Save the Date” out to alumni 4 months prior to the date. I mentioned decade captains previously; these same guys can be utilized to reach out to folks in their era to attend.
#5 – Start Early
Does your chapter conduct the alumni induction ceremony? If you don’t, you should consider it for the last chapter meeting of a semester prior to graduation for all of your seniors. By doing it you are reminding them of a similar ceremony they took following their time as a Phikeia and sending them off as an alumnus with a positive feeling about Phi Delta Theta regardless if they were chapter president or your laziest member.
While I could go on forever, I hope that I’ve provided you a few basic rules and plenty of resources and ideas to help revitalize the alumni relations program at your chapter. Part of my responsibilities here at GHQ is to oversee our alumni and volunteer programming, if you would like help with your efforts, please feel free to contact me or your leadership consultant. We’ll also be featuring a breakout session this summer at ELI all about Alumni Relations.