by James Robilotta

What will your organization’s membership numbers look like this year? The whole student body is up for grabs! First year students are hungry to find anyone with similar interests so they can feel less alone. Second-year students who wanted to take their first year to “focus on academics, a/k/a figure out what college is all about,” are now eager to put more on their plate. Some third year students are realizing their second year friends are on a different path so now they’re looking to join organizations that will help their resumes and connections. Fourth year students who weren’t already involved want to make a last ditch effort to leave a legacy.

So what’s your org’s recruitment angle going to be? Popularity? Parties? Pizza? Or other things that start with “P” purely for the sake of alliteration? You have a lot of marketing options but here’s a quick newsflash—8.5″ by 11″ paper fliers DO NOT work! They are the lazy, inside-the-box marketing strategy. The only thing they are great for creating is unread mosaic art pieces on college campuses—not for telling people about your organization/program/etc.

So what are we to do?? Let’s start with these three things:

What you already knew: All organizations are looking for students with specific passions that match their club’s mission (Hey! Education major you should join the Education Club!) What is typically NOT done despite knowing that last statement: developing a marketing strategy to entice those individuals specifically. Example: Chemistry Club—instead of doing a flyer that says First Chemistry Club meeting on September 15… free pizza, get creative. Cut the paper so that it looks like hexane ring and put the time and location of the meeting in “methyl groups” off of the ring, and if you want to have free pizza at the meeting make each of the carbons a piece of pepperoni instead. People are going to walk by the other flyer and barely bat an eye at it, but it’s the chemistry major that will stop, read it, chuckle and retain the info. Also, ask some teachers if you can plug the chemistry club for three minutes at the beginning of their next class. On club day, don’t have just a tri-fold board with long paragraphs and faded pictures taped to it. Instead, have wooden molecule making kits to engage passing students with, and while they reconstruct a sucrose, engage them in a conversation and hit ‘em with the sales pitch! This approach will work with all clubs that have a specific angle, but it will not work if you’re awkward about it. Which leads me unintentionally but perfectly to my next point…

My Dad likes to tell me from time to time that there aren’t enough “o’s” in “smooth” for me. (Please note that this line usually comes out when I’m flirting with the Applebee’s waitress right after I ordered “her finest Arnold Palmer” and she rolls her eyes at me—but that’s besides the point) Let me back up. There are two reasons people join organizations:

1) They care about what that club cares about
2) They met someone in the club that made them feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Let’s have an honest moment about fraternities and sororities. If you were to line up the mission statements, creeds, mottos, etc. of most fraternities and sororities you would see that virtually all of them focus on the same things: scholarship, leadership, citizenship, brother/sisterhood, service, and personal/professional development. My fraternity, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. has 4 of those words in our statement of purpose! So when an interested student is walking around during recruitment and they are bombarded by the same messages, the thing they will remember is how you made them feel.

The key to recruiting new members into your organization is authentic interactions where you retain the person’s name and at least one interesting fact about them. Recruitment is not about your organization, it’s about the person who just sheepishly walked up to your table and is looking for someone to make them feel like they belong. If you can authentically interact with interested members and sell the experience of what it’s like to be involved in your organization smoothly (remember when I started this section off with being smooth and didn’t get back to it until just now?) then you will watch the members pour in. Don’t turn it into a sales pitchÔit won’t work. Focus on the other person for the majority of the conversation and it will eventually work its way back to what you want to talk about. Since you showed them that you care about them as a person first, they will be much more open to hear what your organization has to offer them.

Think of increasing your club’s numbers like fishing on a boat. The thing you as leaders have to do now is hook them. I see it all of the time&3212;first meeting of the year and they have 20 new members, by the third meeting they are down to eight, and by the fifth meeting, they’re down to four. Pizza is great, but even free food isn’t enough incentive to sit in a crappy meeting week in and week out. Hook your new members by learning what their strengths are and assigning them tasks based on those strengths (i.e., detail-oriented people get logistical tasks whereas creative types are assigned to promotional efforts). Also, put them on committees where their voice is more likely to be heard. Lastly, and potentially most importantly, individually follow up with new members around campus and learn about them as people. Students are more likely to stay involved if they know people genuinely care about them as people first and club members second.

The bottom line is the more intentional you are up top, in your marketing designs, initial interactions and first few meeting agendas, the stronger your recruitment class will be and the more likely they will be involved for longer.

Feel free to shoot me some cool ideas you’ve thought about on this topic on Twitter: @JamesTRobo, particularly if you have more chemistry club ideas. ☺

James Robilotta will make you laugh, and you’ll learn a whole lot more. He’s serious about student leadership and helping your organization succeed. Bring James to your campus for a healthy dose of real talk.

Learn more about James and his keynotes at campuspeak.com/robilotta.