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Small Chapters: 5 Ways to Get the Most Bang for Buck

There are mega-chapters out there with flourishing membership, the ones with letters everyone wants to wear. They’re the envy of whichever campus’s Greek organizations they find themselves among. You know the ones. They have the best parties. They’ve got the biggest house on campus, they win Greek Week every single year, and you see them everywhere. So what makes that chapter so great? Well, we’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s not their numbers. As counter-intuitive as that seems, a large chapter can be either a great one or a terrible one, which may include even teetering on the edge of financial collapse or soon-to-be kicked off campus for ethical violations. That, or they could be so awesome that the grass really is greener, like, gated community, professionally maintained greener.

The point is this: If you’re part of a small chapter, your envy is misplaced.

Just as large chapters can be good or bad, the same is true of the chapter of fewer members. It comes down to a few things: Is your membership small but of consistent quality? Do you hold true to your ideals and mission, and are these things realistic and achievable? Is your budgeting on point? These are things every chapter needs to hold to in order to be successful as an organization, regardless of how many members sport their letters. That said, of course money a.k.a. dues is the central force of making things happen in your chapter, and of course more members means more money in that immediate sense. But any size chapter is sustainable with the right approach. We’ll prove it to you. OmegaFi is here to help you out, and humbly present a set of guidelines for Small Chapters: 5 Ways to Get the Most Bang for Buck.

5. Efficiency Is the Name of the Game

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If your chapter has few members--say, 15 to 35, possibly a bit more or fewer--you probably already know that efficiency is the name of the game. That means setting attainable goals, and achieving them on a regular basis. For this, don’t look to the big chapters as examples of what to do. If they’ve got the cash, they’re likely going to be a lot more lavish with their presence on campus.

So, what can you do with what you’ve got?

If it makes sense for your chapter, you might even consider using a service like OmegaFi’s Vault to help streamline your budgeting needs. Either way, it definitely helps to think outside the box a bit in terms of planning events. Saving money while also providing a quality experience to members is a tough game, but it’s one you’ve got to be good at with a small chapter. You can have that cool foam party you were looking forward to all year, but the spring formal might have to be put on budget mode to make room for funding the semester’s philanthropy event. Trade that ballroom for the local high school basketball court--metaphorically. Seriously, please don’t break into the local high school.

4. Look Ahead

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Successful small chapters are always looking ahead. Why? Simply put, the margin for error is much tighter than with bigger chapters, and budgeting is a lot more challenging when there’s virtually no wiggle room. One of the things you’ll want to keep in your sights is recruitment needs, since numbers are already a focal point. It’s perfectly fine to remain small and sustainable, or to seek rapid (but realistic) growth, though you should really be clear on what your goals are for recruitment either way. Who’s graduating? How many new members came in this semester? How many new members will you need in the coming semesters to reach your goals? Remember that members equal membership dues in terms of budgeting for future needs (for example, are you eventually going to move chapter meetings out of that one member’s apartment, and finally get a chapter house?). Savings are also a key tactic to buffer small chapters from having to disband or other hardships, if you can pull it off. Every little bit helps, and during the better years, it’s a good idea to put some cash into the coffers.

3. Seek Quality Members

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Quality members are perhaps more likely to pay dues on time, but it’s not all about the money. They’re also more likely to chip in when they’re needed, even during exam week. Each member has to do more in a small chapter, so you want members who ideally are really interested in helping make your chapter all it can be. Sometimes there will be hours of work with little reward, and it takes someone who believes in what your letters stand for to do that effectively. That means you should also represent your letters and ideals when speaking with potential new members, and in general. Be the kind of member you want in your chapter, and you’ll attract those who will help your organization become sustainable and distinguished in character.

2. Team Up with Other Chapters

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This could mean that for planning events, you either team up with chapters of your same organization from other chapters (road trip!), or other fraternity or sororities on your campus. It would depend on the event, of course. For instance for Greek Week, you might team up with a big chapter to even out the disadvantage. Or for formals, socials, retreats, and other events, you might cut costs by teaming up with one of the bigger chapters of your own organization. Be sure to make the deal equitable and not just mooch off the other chapters’ bigger budgets; perhaps you’ll extend an invitation to come visit and you’ll show them a good time when spring break rolls around. If all else fails, and you find yourself needing to budget for a social, these tips and tricks might help.

1. One Size Does Not Fit All

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Not all small chapters are alike. You will have specific goals based on a lot of different factors, such as how long the chapter has been on campus, your housing needs, cost of living, your campus’s specific polices on Greek life, and your relationship with other chapters, among other things. What does your ideal membership look like? What kinds of members are ideal for the small chapter experience you’re offering? Is this a pioneering effort? Ultimately, go with your gut when you’re trying to figure out how best to allocate money to the budget. Focus on the elements that best help grow or maintain your chapter and its ideals, let your hard work pay off, and the rest will be icing.

Are you part of a small chapter? Are you brimming with advice on how those who’re light on membership can get more bang for their buck? Let us know in the comments below.

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