At the Richmond Convention in the summer of 2018, the PIKE Membership Education Task Force (PMETF), a body composed of alumni and undergraduates who were commissioned at the 2016 New Orleans Convention, spent two years intensely studying the way PIKE conducted member development. They researched how our competitors conducted member development, how corporate onboarding and continuous learning occurred along with creating a few focus groups at the Chapter Executives Conference to gain an undergraduate perspective on our member development. The PMETF ultimately proposed a laundry list of legislation regarding PIKE Member Development moving forward to the Richmond Convention body. Many of those legislative items were adopted by the Convention body that summer, many of which you may be familiar with, including the adoption of the True PIKE Experience as the Fraternity’s vehicle of member development moving forward, ridding the Fraternity of ingress and dissolving the vague concept of “big brother” by adopting a more formalized mentor program. One of those proposed legislative items was to have the Fraternity shorten the timeframe in which we conduct new member education from eight weeks to four weeks. With prolonged contentious discussion on the floor surrounding an understandably sensitive issue, then International Vice President Mark C. Dziatczak (Wayne State, Delta Nu ’91) who chaired the PMETF withdrew the motion because other legislative items needed to be brought forth to the Convention floor and no ground was being made on the four-week new member education motion.
As a spectator to all of this, it was alarming to see how little perspective some of our members had when it comes to the historical context of the Fraternity, especially when the PMETF provided a thorough explanation as to why this type of change was necessary. It was also interesting to see what certain chapters thought works and doesn’t work in terms of new member education, and how some chapters thought that certain things in the Fraternity have always been done a particular way when that is not necessarily the case.
Perspective is extremely important when you are a fraternity man, especially in the context of new member education. What you think you know, or what you think has been done forever more than likely is not the case. I recently conducted a visit to a chapter to help them implement the True PIKE Experience member development program and when I was there I was sitting down with the executive board explaining some of the Convention outcomes as it related to member development, and how the four-week new member education legislation was withdrawn from the table because of the contention, and a member said to me, “Well Devon, I can see why it was contentious, chapters have been used to doing eight-week new member education for 50 years.” At that point I thought to myself, this member thinks we have done eight-week new member education for one-third of PIKE’s existence. For someone who is a 2010 initiate of my chapter, I know that is just not the case. That moment in time taught me that perspective is everything, and generally, depending on when you joined the Fraternity - you either have it or you don’t. Before I talk about the benefits of a four-week new member education program, I think it is important to give you some historical context so that you can see how fluid the Fraternity is and how it has evolved numerous times in its history.
Historical Context of New Member Education (Formally Pledging)
Did you know that for the first 47 years of Pi Kappa Alpha’s existence there was no such thing as a pledging process (new member process)? The idea of pledging was introduced by universities because they believed it would allow new students to matriculate easier to college life. Members were invited for initiation rather than pledging. It wasn’t until the 1915 Convention in San Francisco, CA that it was decided that a standard pledge ceremony would be written and added to the Ritual based on how universities were changing and demanding a matriculation period. This signifies the starting point of what would start the era of a pledging process. Throughout our history, the pledging process remained for the most part undefined until the 2004 Convention in St. Louis, MO. In what became known as the Modernization Convention, the convention body voted to ensure that the pledging time frame would last no longer than 12 weeks. A decade later at the 2014 Baltimore, MD Convention, the time frame for new member education was shortened to be no longer than eight weeks in length by the convention body. (To learn about the history of PIKE member development, be sure to check out the “Evolution of PIKE Member Development” article in the Winter 2018 edition of the Shield & Diamond).
Remember all of that talk about eight-week new member education being around for 50 years? Based on what you just read about our history, that was simply not the case. It is important to be open-minded to change, especially when that change can benefit you and your chapter more than you think. Below I will walk you through some of the benefits of shortening your new member process to four weeks, because whether you know it or not, that change is coming whether it is from Convention legislation or your University dictating it for you. These benefits are part of what the PMETF studied between 2016-2018 and ultimately became their recommendation to shorten to four weeks.
Changing Perspective – The Benefits of a Shortened Four-Week New Member Education Process
When the PMETF began to study the way that Pi Kappa Alpha was conducting and executing new member education programming, they ultimately found that despite the positive and impactful experiences that take place, the Fraternity industry has shown that long prospective new member periods can have some negative effects, including lower overall member retention and increase for potential Standards violations. Furthermore, chapters employing a four-week new member period had demonstrated higher member retention and improved scholastic performance. Professional, diligent, robust recruitment programs that recruit the most, best men coupled with a holistic membership development program that lasts throughout the collegiate years and holds members accountable to higher standards throughout their undergraduate experience yields dynamic results.
So, what does that mean? Let me break it down for you. Throughout their study they found that chapters who had anything less than an eight-week new member education program retained roughly 13% more of their members until graduation. Let me reiterate that - they retained 13% more of their members until graduation, so that has nothing to do with new member retention (which by the way also increased by 10% with groups who had already had four-week new member education programs). What the data told the PMETF was that groups who viewed new member education as onboarding got their new members trained/educated and involved within their chapters more quickly. Therefore, they are driving an affinity for the organization through a wholesome experience following the new member period rather than being force fed facts, and the new member education program feeling like a testing period that ultimately make new members feel as though initiation was the finish line rather than the starting point within the Fraternity.
Now if you’re one of those chapters that complains about having an apathy problem, it more than likely stemming from the length of your new member education program, the content that you cover or lack thereof and the questionable activities you might be doing. You have the ability to change that culture by making the shift to a four-week program. Trust me, your chapter will benefit in the long run.
Four-Week Post-Game Rush Idea
Have you ever heard of the concept Post-Game Rush? It is a concept that we talk about in recruitment regarding the ability of a chapter to recruit a second new member class following the initial recruitment class. Basically, if your recruitment chairman and his team are truly conducting 24/7/365 recruitment, then this should be no problem. Say you are the recruitment chairman and you’ve spent the entire summer recruiting an entire class of new members and that class starts their four-week new member education process at the outset of the semester. While that current class is underway with their new member education, you give them a look behind the curtain by teaching them PIKE’s recruitment concepts and tell them to bring you some men who you may have not had the opportunity to meet during your initial recruitment efforts around for an event or two. Simultaneously, you and your recruitment team should still be meeting some students on campus, interviewing them and extending bids as you see fit. When those first four weeks are done, you should ideally have been able to recruit some men to join your second four-week new member class. Regardless if you get 15, 10 or five new members in the second class, you are gaining more exposure to recruits before any other fraternity is and stealing all of the talent before the competition does. This will ultimately depend on your university’s IFC bylaws, so be sure to check those out. If they do not work in your favor to conduct the Post-Game Rush, then I recommend you join your local IFC and make the changes you want to see to your campus’ recruitment policies regarding open recruitment (the opposite of a formal process) and continuous open bidding.
Don’t be that guy who says that four-week new member education does not give you enough time to know the new guys and determine if there are any bad apples among the group. If you read the complement to this blog, The Purpose of New Member Education, it should clarify that for you. New member education is onboarding, and recruitment is where vetting occurs. This is very important to understand. Now, if you do find yourself with a man who may not be who you thought he was, then sure, remove him. As a good rule, it should be for the same reason that you would suspend/expel an initiated member. That’s how true accountability works.
Additionally, don’t be the guy who says that by having a four-week new member education process or by having two new member classes, it doesn’t allow them to form relationships or bond. That simply isn’t the case. See The Idea of Being One blog for more context on relationship building.
So now that you have the context, are you forward thinking enough to make this change and set a positive trajectory for your chapter or are you the one to be reactionary and fall behind the curve when these changes come? Remember - they ultimately will. Be like the founders and bring exceptional men into our Fraternity based on quality and character.
To ensure that your new member program reflects a quick and modern onboarding process, be sure to check out the New Member Educator’s handbook and the onboarding curriculum located in the myPIKE Resource Center.
Devon T. Teixeira
Director of Membership Development