On March 9, 2020, the International Fraternity sent it first message to chapters regarding COVID-19. A little more than a year later, it is almost hard to imagine life in “the before times.” The pandemic has changed much of our day-to-day lives, as well as how Delta Upsilon has had to operate. Fortunately, what did not change was DU’s mission of Building Better Men and our commitment to creating an enriching membership experience.
For nearly 200 years, DU brotherhood has taken on many forms, with virtual recruitment, Zoom meetings, and physically distanced gatherings being added to the mix this past year. Delta Upsilon looks forward to life returning to “normal.” We miss meeting brothers in person, performing hands-on service, and the bustle of a busy classroom or quad. At the same time, it would be foolhardy not to learn from the lessons of the past year. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. For all of the challenges 2020 brought, it also brought opportunity.
For several years now, Delta Upsilon has talked about the changing landscape of higher education and how the needs and desires of today’s college student are different than they were even 10 years ago. The Fraternity has made good on our promise to provide a modern fraternity experience in many ways. We have developed new and enhanced educational programming, placed an emphasis on building cultural competencies, and began assessing our members to make tailored, data-driven decisions. But the last year has brought a jolt that cannot be ignored. Virtual classes and remote work will not disappear once the pandemic is under control. Technology will continue to broaden our reach and connect us with others across the globe.
The question is: How can Delta Upsilon and our peers capitalize on this moment to reimagine fraternity life?
In this article, we will discuss the steps the International Fraternity and our chapters have taken to continue to operate and build brotherhood throughout the pandemic. Main areas of focus for the past year included recruitment, chapter support, educational programming and finances. Understanding the adjustments to these areas will help guide considerations and plans for the future.
If there is anything the pandemic has taught us, change is what you make of it. Together, we will continue to build a powerful fraternity experience designed to stand the test of time.
RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION
Member recruitment and retention have been a top priority during this past school year and will continue to be as DU moves into the 2021-2022 academic year. As a Fraternity, we cannot ignore the simple fact that from a business standpoint, strong membership numbers keep chapters financially afloat. More importantly, men are coming into college searching for connection and belonging. Fraternities provide that and so much more. Especially now, when the pandemic has left so many feeling isolated, brotherhood connections are more important than ever. Fraternity membership is an opportunity to give students the support they need to thrive academically, socially and mentally.
Despite these benefits of membership, the pandemic brought concerns across the interfraternal community as we moved into fall 2020 regarding membership retention. With some campuses shifting to fully remote learning, new remote student options at other institutions, event/gathering size restrictions or limitations, and financial insecurity for many, DU was uncertain how many men would return to campus. And if they did, would they want to retain their membership? Would they find the return on investment from their membership experience?
Fortunately, for Delta Upsilon, the answer to those questions was yes. Despite other NIC fraternities experiencing significant drops in returning membership, DU’s return rates for fall 2020 were on par with normal year-over-year rates.
On the recruitment front, chapters shifted to either fully virtual or hybrid model recruitment efforts depending on decisions made by their campus administration or IFC. In total, 20 DU chapters participated in fully virtual recruitment. DU’s other 47 chapters were allowed in-person events but with gathering size limitations. This shift created space for chapters to get creative with their recruitment efforts. For chapters, virtual events leveraged technology to host Zoom hangouts and video game tournaments via Discord, JackBox games and more. Any in-person activities consisted of small group events to stay in-line with social distancing and gathering size guidelines.
To help chapters make plans for recruitment, the International Fraternity offered individualized recruitment coaching sessions to all chapters. Facilitated by Director of Chapter Development & Growth Hayden Rahn, Oregon ’16, these sessions were geared toward Vice Presidents of Recruitment, Recruitment Committee members and chapter advisors. Sessions focused on each chapter’s unique recruiting situation, campus guidelines and more to create recruitment plans tailored to chapter needs.
“The recruitment coaching sessions focused on ways in which each chapter could adapt and enhance their recruitment process during the pandemic and bring in quality men to the chapter,” Rahn explained. “The coaching sessions were beneficial in helping chapters evaluate what they were currently doing in recruitment and figure out what else they needed to be doing to be successful.”
In total, 58 chapters (86% of DU chapters) participated in at least one recruitment coaching sessions leading up to fall and spring recruitments, with many chapters having multiple sessions with Rahn and/or their staff liaison.
As was expected, overall recruitment numbers for the 2020-2021 academic year were slightly lower than in years past. As of April 15, 2021, DU had seen a 14% decline from last year. However, these recruitment results were greater than expected and significantly higher than the North American Interfraternity Conference average. In a survey conducted by the NIC, member fraternities self-reported an average 29.4 percent decline in recruitment numbers in fall 2020. As of our publication date, spring and yearly numbers have not been released.
“So many factors were at play when it came to member recruitment and retention this year,” said Delta Upsilon Executive Director Justin Kirk, Boise State ’00. “Financially, would men and their families be able to afford returning to school? Were there extra available funds for fraternity membership? Would incoming students decide membership this year was worth the return on investment? With so many unknowns, Fraternity leadership proactively made conservative membership estimates. Fortunately, our chapters as a whole well out-performed projections and were able to show the value of fraternity membership at this moment in time. The hard work our brothers put in has left the Fraternity in solid footing as we look toward the future and out of this pandemic.”
Moving into the 2021-2022 academic year, recruitment and retention will continue to be a major focus for the International Fraternity. While the country remains hopeful that time and vaccinations will put an end to many of the restrictions brought on by the pandemic, there may be continued health and safety guidelines for the fall semester, and the economic effects of COVID-19 will likely affect student and family finances for years to come.
To plan for the 2021-2022 academic year, Delta Upsilon is launching a brand new program called Amplify DU: Recruitment Training Program. This summer virtual program will start in June and end in August. It will feature five recruitment webinars for chapter Vice Presidents of Recruitment, up to two additional Recruitment Chairs/Assistant VPs per chapter, and advisors. VPs Recruitment will also participate in small group meetings and guided GroupMe message discussions facilitated by alumni Recruitment Coaches. Small groups will consist of 6-10 chapters based on similar characteristics (campus type, recruitment timeframe, housed/unhoused chapters, etc.) and provide more focused recruitment coaching. As part of the training program, all participating chapters will be eligible for incentives based on recruitment performance this upcoming year.
DU's recruitment training efforts will compliment a North American Interfraternity Conference marketing campaign aimed to promote fraternity membership to high school students, parents and unaffiliated students.
“Incoming freshmen have had nearly half of their high school experience turned on its head, missing out on many traditional high school experiences,” Kirk said. “As they come to college, it is our opportunity to provide them a support system and experience that guides them through the transition to college in a positive, healthy environment. It is highly likely these men will be looking to partake in as much of a traditional college experience as they can. Fraternities can and should be a part of that.”
Member recruitment efforts are just a part of chapter operations adjustments that have had to be made during the pandemic. Since March 2020, chapter meetings, brotherhood activities, social events, philanthropy, service and more have also moved to digital or hybrid formats. Like with recruitment, this meant virtual or small group meetings, socially distanced in-person activities, video game tournaments and more.
When planning chapter activities, chapters paid special attention to keeping meetings brief and direct while offering opportunities for brothers to spend time with one another. For many chapters, including the Syracuse Chapter, this shift in operations has been beneficial. Because many of the normal options for social events and campus involvement were limited or canceled, it gave the chapter members more buy-in and opportunity to build a stronger brotherhood.
“In a regular semester, everything's given to you, everything's kind of on the platter,” said Syracuse Chapter President Austin Kornbluth, Syracuse ’22. “This year has forced guys to really think about something that they enjoy and making the most out of it. People are constantly trying to come up with new ideas. And when you get almost a hundred guys putting their heads together to try and think of something that they could do in smaller groups, it's unbelievable.”
Events in the Syracuse Chapter have included weekly game nights for those living in the chapter house, virtual poker nights, and small group dinners at local restaurants. The men have also expanded their mentorship program with alumni, with more than 50 alumni paired with undergraduates to offer career and life advice.
Several chapters have also seen great success in online fundraising for philanthropic purposes. This includes traditional online giving forms, as well as popular Bingo cards on social media. With these Bingo fundraisers, chapters or individuals post a graphic with a grid containing different dollar amounts. The goal is to have enough followers donate the various amounts that it fills a row or completes the card. Chapters have used such campaigns to fundraise for the Global Service Initiative; diversity, equity and inclusion organizations; local food banks; mental health organizations; and much more.
“Across the board, we have seen chapters get really creative with their chapter programming this year,” said Senior Director of Chapter Development Michelle Marchand. “This has not only created stronger brotherhood connections, but it has also forced a lot of chapters to re-evaluate the things they will do moving forward. Being forced to do things in a new or different way this year is going to be beneficial for many chapters. It has opened a lot of eyes in terms of how processes could be streamlined, what areas or events need more or less attention, and what brotherhood can look like.”
To further support chapters this year, International Headquarters staff has continued to have more frequent than usual touchpoints with chapter officers and advisors. Each year, staff receive a portfolio of chapters for which to serve as their liaison with the International Fraternity. Traditionally, each chapter receives at least one in-person visit from its liaison per year, as well as regular phone calls, texts and emails. With staff travel halted since March 2020, liaisons have been connecting virtually with their chapters on a weekly basis. Topics of discussion are wide-ranging, from recruitment to chapter morale to whatever the chapter has going on at that particular time.
The San Jose Chapter is one chapter that has seen the benefits of increased touchpoints with staff. Even with strong support from alumni advisors, the chapter has grown tremendously with support from staff. Chapter President Nate Carpenter, San Jose ’22, has been meeting weekly with his staff liaison.
“Nicole [staff liaison] has been a great resource that has kept me on track and focused on deadlines,” Nate said. “She offers support in any way she can.”
Moving forward, staff liaisons will continue to have increased virtual touchpoints outside of in-person visits. Much of this work will focus on recruitment efforts and strengthening chapter operations, including how to continue doing things that have worked well for them during the pandemic.
With a mission of Building Better Men, Delta Upsilon was called to continue its efforts to provide relevant programming for its members during the pandemic. At the outset of remote learning for students in spring 2020, the Fraternity began to offer a series of webinars and roundtable discussions with topics ranging from how to build brotherhood virtually to how graduating seniors can stay involved in DU after graduation and more. A Justice in July series also featured three webinars around diversity, equity and inclusion. In total, 15 webinars were held from April through October 2021. Recordings of these webinars can be found at deltau.org/program-library.
Due to continued health and safety concerns, the Fraternity’s annual Presidents Academy and Regional Leadership Academy were moved to virtual formats for the first time ever in 2021. Held Jan. 8-10, the Presidents Academy offered much of its traditional programming line-up via Zoom. As with the in-person program, multiple general sessions were held in additions to Presidents being split into small groups for further discussion and activities. Each small group was facilitated by a trained Delta Upsilon volunteer. In total, 64 Presidents attended the 2021 virtual Presidents Academy, the highest percentage of Presidents to attend in a number of years.
Two sessions of the virtual Regional Leadership Academy were held the following month, on Feb. 6 and Feb. 13. Traditionally, this officer training program is held in five different geographic locations throughout the month. To alleviate Zoom fatigue and entice more registrants, the online programming featured five and a half hours of programming over an afternoon. Start times for the Feb. 6 and Feb. 13 RLAs varied to accommodate brothers’ schedules across different time zones. Attendees were able to choose the weekend that worked best for them and were encouraged to attend the same RLA as their fellow chapter officers. Over the two weekends, 463 brothers attended RLA, the largest RLA attendance in years.
“Training our incoming chapter officers through the Presidents Academy and RLA was perhaps more important this year than ever before,” said Senior Director of Educational Programs Noah Borton. “Unlike the officers before them, this group of leaders took office in the middle of a pandemic when life on campus was not normal. That is a big undertaking, and it is our responsibility as a Fraternity to make sure they are as prepared as possible to lead their chapters and support their brothers. Without the barriers of travel, we were thrilled that so many of our incoming and emerging leaders were able to join us.”
Those who attended the virtual Presidents Academy and RLA were impressed with the programming. This year’s post-event evaluations specifically asked how brothers felt about the online format. Responses will help guide the Fraternity in determining if virtual sessions should be offered in the future to supplement in-person programming.
Parker Vulgamore, Kansas State ’23, has had the opportunity to attend DU educational programs both online and in person. Having attended the 2020 Regional Leadership Academy in Kansas City, he enjoyed the opportunity to meet with and learn from members of other chapters. During the 2021 virtual Presidents Academy, he was excited by how easy it was to connect with other brothers online.
“I was glad to see the opportunity to meet and connect with other chapter leaders was still an important aspect of the program,” Vulgamore said. “In fact, since travel and distance weren't an issue virtually, it made it even easier to connect with chapters all over the country that I may not have otherwise had the chance to meet. The small group sessions and breakout rooms allowed for great peer-led discussions where we could openly discuss the unique challenges and successes of our chapters.”
In addition to DU’s virtual educational programming, the DU Educational Foundation provided scholarships for 41 undergraduate brothers to attend the Association of Fraternal Leadership and Values’ (AFLV) virtual program. AFLV is the premier association for programming in the fraternal industry. 2021’s virtual program featured programs spread throughout the month of February and opportunity for DU brothers in attendance to connect with one another.
In summer 2021, DU is excited to welcome back in-person programming with the DU Emerging Leaders Experience and Leadership Institute, both to be held in New Orleans. DUEL will take place July 29-Aug. 1, with LI July 30-Aug. 1. Due to international travel restraints and logistics, both summer 2021 Global Service Initiative trips have been canceled.
With health and safety at top of mind, the 2021 LI will have limited attendance to accommodate for physical distancing during sessions. Attendees will still experience dynamic educational programming, participate in the Undergraduate Convention and Assembly of Trustees, and celebrate one another through awards recognition. For more information about DU's summer educational programs, visit deltau.org.
DU's Summer Programs
June - August, 2021
This virtual recruitment training program will offer dynamic recruitment training for chapters. It will feature five recruitment webinars for chapter Vice Presidents of Recruitment and up to two additional Recruitment Chairs/Assistant VPs per chapter and advisors. VPs Recruitment will have additional small group meetings and guided GroupMe message discussions facilitated by alumni Recruitment Coaches. Small groups will consist of 6-10 chapters based on similar characteristics. Learn more at deltau.org/recruitment-programming.
July 29-Aug. 1, 2021
The 2021 DU Emerging Leaders Experience (DUEL) will be held in-person in New Orleans. Designed for up to 30 first- and second-year students, DUEL has participants use the StrengthsQuest Inventory to identify, analyze and understand their personal leadership. They will immerse themselves into conversations regarding diversity and shared values to create a personal vision of the future for themselves and their chapter. Learn more at deltau.org/emerging-leaders-experience.
July 30-Aug, 1, 2021
The 2021 DU Leadership Institute will be held in-person in New Orleans. This year's program is limited to a maximum of 200, the bulk of whom will be undergraduates. LI will feature the Undergraduate Convention, Assembly of Trustees, educational programming, awards presentations and brotherhood. Learn more at deltau.org/LI.
Fraternity FinancesThe COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial hardships for many, including DU undergraduates, their families, our chapters and the International Fraternity. As detailed in the summer 2020 issue of the DU Quarterly (see deltau.org/quarterly), the Fraternity took a number of steps in spring and summer to ensure the financial strength of the Fraternity, which included: approving a deficit budget with the plan to use reserve funds if needed, reducing the operating budget by one-third by doing things such as reducing staff size and halting all travel, as well as using reserve funds to reduce chapter’s Loss Prevention billing. (The average chapter saw a 9 percent decrease in its Loss Prevention billing than the year prior.)
This planning, along with membership recruitment and retention efforts for the year exceeding the Fraternity’s conservative budget projections, allowed DU to provide additional relief to chapters during the 2020-2021 academic year.
- There were no registration fees for the 2021 Regional Leadership Academy. (Presidents Academy never has a registration fee thanks to funding from the DU Educational Foundation.)
- The chapter fee of $1,125 for the spring term was credited to chapters that had its Chapter President fully participate in Presidents Academy and at least five members fully participate in the Regional Leadership Academy programming. In total, 65 chapters had their Spring Chapter Fee credited back, totaling $73,125 in savings for chapters.
- Chapters who had a significant variance between their Loss Prevention Assessment and Fall Roster received a credit equal to the difference. This resulted in a cumulative $51,000 back to those chapters.
- All associate chapters and all chapters operating in a virtual only class schedule for the fall semester received a 50 percent fall membership fee credit, totaling $32,500 back to chapters.
The International Fraternity and Educational Foundation were also able to take advantage of Economic Injury Disaster and Paycheck Protection Program loans. As the 2020-2021 academic year comes to a close, the Fraternity continues to evaluate budget needs and the possibility of additional relief to chapters.
“Thanks to strong financial planning by the Fraternity’s Executive Committee, the International Fraternity is poised to come out of the pandemic on stable footing,” Kirk said. “We are proud of the relief that we have been able to provide chapters and brothers. As always, fiscal responsibility will be a top priority so that we can fund current programs and operations and plan for the future.”
In a time of uncertainty for many, brothers have also been generous with their financial contributions to the DU Educational Foundation this past year. In November, it held its most successful Founders Day of Giving to date, raising more than $123,000. With the close of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, there is still time for brothers to give to the DU Educational Foundation at deltau.org/give.