My answer was prompted by this reader question:
My fraternity owns a 100 year old house and it’s starting to show its age.
We are an 80 man chapter and growing, but this will come to a halt if we don’t figure out a way to build a new house; Since 3 fraternities are building new houses now and 2 more are scheduled to be built by 2016.
What are some ways we could finance a new housing project? We have a limited alumni base because we were not on campus from 1970 to 1995. And our International office doesn’t finance new chapter facilities.
Are there any proven ways to fund raise quickly? Via alumni and undergrads. Would partnering with a developer be beneficial to us? What are some other ways we could get this project underway in the near future?
First off, I am glad you liked The Fraternity Leader. It is very rewarding to hear comments like yours. I do appreciate it.
Your situation is a tough one. Unfortunately, there isn’t a blanket answer that will lead to a new house. Every situation is different.
However, in nearly every situation it will be almost impossible to accomplish this without alumni help. Here are the steps I would take to get them on board and make buying a new house a reality:
1 – Inform Your Alumni That You Need a New House
The very first thing I would do is inform the alumni of your need, and let them know you are starting a fundraising campaign for a new house. Send a newsletter and include pictures. Explain how the situation is eroding your competitive advantage on campus.
Making the alumni aware of the situation is important, but asking for their help at this stage isn’t. You can’t expect your alumni to assist until you prove that you can help yourself. You actions will show your commitment. You need to start with you.
Let them know you will be asking for their help later. You just want to make them aware of what you are doing now.
2 – Increase Dues and Start a House Fund
How committed is the chapter to the vision of having a new house? Are the brothers willing to put their money where their mouth is?
If so, I would increase dues $50 a man per semester. Fifty bucks isn’t a lot of money, but it will be a quick infusion of cash into the project. At your current size, this will lead to $8000 a year.
Be sure to put this money in a completely separate bank account that is ear-marked as the house fund. I would make it so that withdrawals on this account can only be made with the cosignature of the president of the alumni association. The last thing you want is the chapter raiding the account to throw a party a few semesters from now. If the brothers aren’t willing to cough up an extra fifty bucks a semester, I question how badly the chapter wants a new house.
3 – Start Fundraising!
I would host a fundraiser per semester where the proceeds go to this account. I have listed a ton of great fundraising ideas on the site, so I won’t dwell on potential ideas. However, I want to reiterate the cardinal rules of fundraising.
First, make it fun for brothers. They have enough things in their life that is a drag. Don’t make fraternity a drag. There are plenty of ways to make money for the chapter that can be a lot of fun for the brothers.
Two, maximize your strength. For most of you, your social program is very strong. Use your social program to fundraise for you. Host a social event where you charge at the door. You should be able to score an easy couple of grand by doing this.
Three, maximize fundraising opportunities at things you already do – like eat. There are plenty of restaurants that will give your organization a kickback for having your fraternity and all your friends eat there. This can turn into a recurring activity and be a lot of fun. See this article for example: Moe’s Fundraiser.
4 – Take Care of Your Own Business
Do you have brothers who owe back dues? Holding them accountable may be the best and quickest fundraiser your chapter can have.
Do you have brothers on your national/school roster who are no longer part of the chapter? It doesn’t make sense to pay for these guys if they are no longer part of the chapter, so be sure to remove them.
Does your fraternity waste money on unnecessary things? Cut the waste and make sure you are spending your efficiently and effectively.
5 – Grow the Chapter
Continue to grow. More brothers means more revenue for the chapter and for your newly created house fund. More brothers also means bigger fundraisers. More brothers means more guys who can come up with more ideas. Bigger is better in this instance.
Further, growth is probably the #1 sign for a strong chapter. Your chapter has to be strong to accomplish a project like this one. If you are growing at a rapid pace, your chapter will be excited and motivated. This will have a positive impact on all aspects of your chapter.
6 – Take Care of Your Current House
If you don’t take care of the house you have, you cannot expect your alumni to support you in getting a new house. I realize your current house is old and not in the best shape. However, by showing you have respect for what you currently have it will show your alumni that you can be trusted with a sizable investment.
There are plenty of things you can do to take care of the house that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Take care of the yard. Clean the house. Paint where it is needed. Actions speak louder than words. Show your alumni that the house is important to you.
7 – Set Up an Alumni Campaign
If your fraternity is committed to this campaign, it shouldn’t take too long before you will have raised about $25,000 – $50,000 in your house fund. A sizable amount for sure, but not enough to get a new house. You will have proven that you are willing to help yourself – a huge step when you ask others for help. This is when you go to your alumni to take your campaign to the next level.
Set up a meeting with your alumni association. Be prepared to discuss the following:
– Why the chapter needs the house.
– An explanation of what the chapter has done so far with the house fund.
– Details about the new house and what the chapter wants.
– Assistance on taking the fundraising campaign to the next level.
At this stage, the undergraduate chapter has to be willing to give control of the project to the alumni association. Of course, the undergrads should stay committed to the project. However, to make this dream a reality, it will require the commitment of the alumni.
8 – Get Outside Support for the New House
Once the campaign is set up, it is time to spread the word. Send another newsletter to your alumni and inform them of where you are in your campaign. Explain to them you will continue to do the measures in place, but you need their help to make your dream a reality.
Explain in the communication the details you shared with your alumni association. The alumni brothers who aren’t that involved need to understand why the house is needed and they need to know about the commitment from the chapter.
Finally, ask the alumni brothers would be willing to participate in the house fundraising committee. Your success will greatly increase if you have your alumni brothers asking other alumni to donate.
These next steps will also include making calls to alumni brothers asking for donations. It probably should also include an alumni fundraising event or two at the chapter. Maybe the chapter has a dinner at homecoming for all alumni brothers and the proceeds go to the house fund.
Don’t limit your reach to just alumni brothers though. Asking friends and family for donations is appropriate.
One way to get brothers to increase their commitment level is to make sure they are recognized for their contributions. Create a plaque that is displayed in the house that lists brothers who have given. Make sure there are several giving tiers listed which encourages brothers to give at a higher giving level. Maybe you should offer up the naming rights to rooms in the house. This is a great way to drive additional giving dollars.
9 – Let the Alumni Lead
This is will be a big challenge. If the chapter has done everything right, it will be very difficult to give control to the alumni association. You have to let them take the lead though.
There are several benefits to getting the alumni to take the lead. Obviously, they will have an easier time recruiting other alumni to help support the campaign. Also, undergraduates are not in college for a long time. Four or five years may seem like a long time, but it really isn’t. For the sake of continuity, it is essential that someone is part of the program who won’t disappear once they graduate.
Also, don’t forget that the undergraduate brothers become alumni brothers in those few short years. As brothers graduate, hopefully they will remain committed and involved with the house project.
Finally, when it is time to pull the trigger an actually buy the house, this is something that should be done by your housing corporation – an alumni based organization. This should be done in conjunction with your national headquarters.
10 – Congratulations on the New House!
If you get to this stage, congratulations. You have done a hell of a job as Chapter President. You will have left your legacy on your chapter, and YOU will be remembered for years to come.
Remember though that something of this magnitude is never accomplished by one person alone. Be sure that those who were especially instrumental in the campaign are continually recognized for their efforts. This is especially true for the alumni that were involved.
To recap, the chapter has to prove that they are willing to help themselves before they should consider getting the alumni involved. However, if you can prove that you are serious about this fundraising campaign, a motivated alumni group can make a new house a reality.
Here is another article that may help:
This question was submitted by one of our readers. If you have a question you want me to answer go here to submit it: Fraternity Advice.