Brothers and Friends,
Like you, 2020 was a year I will never forget. Even with 20+ years of professional experience, that included at one point, moving from Assistant Executive Director of Sigma Pi to Chief Operating Officer of the Sigma Pi Educational Foundation in 2009 during the Great Recession, there was no gameplan on navigating a global pandemic such as we have endured. It has challenged not only myself but also our undergraduates, volunteers, board members, and staff. I can imagine you have many questions about the Fraternity, where we are, and what the future looks like. I want to take this opportunity to provide updates so you can see, as I do, that we will overcome the malevolent forces that seek to harm us.
Like many businesses and nonprofit organizations, the impact of COVID has not circumvented Sigma Pi. Still, our brothers’ and volunteers’ resolve and focus have decreased its impact that we were bracing for. In addition, the resiliency of our undergraduate leaders has been nothing short of impressive. These young brothers have had an experience that we, as alumni, cannot fathom. It has been encouraging watching them learn new skills, maintain focus, stay calm and work in new settings to operate their chapters in a virtual and socially distanced environment.
Upon entering the academic year, we spent many hours with various task forces and committees reviewing strategic decisions and policy changes that would be important for the navigation of COVID and the impact on our chapters across their campuses and communities. I will touch on some of those here and highlight various aspects of those decisions and their impact.
Did you know that upwards of 95% of the operating budget for Sigma Pi comes from undergraduate dues and fees? Knowing this, in addition to our scenario planning and a tremendous increase in our insurance program, due to decisions and actions of individual members, we knew that changes had to be made in how we bill for dues and fees.
In the summer of 2020, our Finance Task Force reviewed our invoicing model to determine the effectiveness and necessary changes. What we saw was that our multi-invoicing model was not only confusing but would not meet this challenge. Therefore, we changed the model from a multi-invoice system to a more streamlined model culminating in two invoices a year. We also lowered the new member and initiation fees to be more in line with the industry to improve competitiveness in recruiting against our peers. Upon the approval of those changes, we began holding Zoom calls with Chapter Presidents and their volunteers to update them on this change, so they had at least 60 days notice and time to prepare. The change allowed for putting more responsibility on current members (who receive the services Sigma Pi offers) and moved away from a recruitment projection-based budget model. In addition, it allows for improved cash flow for chapters as the previous model was higher in the fall. This was a strain on the chapters’ fall budget, which for over 80% of our chapters is their busiest season.
To help meet this new policy, our chapters made an important, possibly vital decision that is greatly benefiting Sigma Pi: to lower their local dues, on average upwards of 60%, in order to simply meet the membership dues obligation of Sigma Pi. Had our young men decided Sigma Pi was not worth it, I may have been writing a different letter to you today. They are the true heroes of Sigma Pi in my eyes. Why do I say this? As I mentioned previously, approximately 95% of the operating budget is from undergraduate dues and fees.
To help reduce the financial burden of operating Sigma Pi from our undergraduates, you will see an increase in requests for charitable donations via the Sigma Pi Educational Foundation and the soon-to-be-launched Sigma Pi University. We want to see that 95% number reduce overtime to 75% thanks to our alumni and friends’ philanthropic support, whose gifts can help provide the funding for programs. This would allow for the membership dues to be reallocated to other strategic initiatives in order to grow the Fraternity and expand our mission.
As we entered the year, we had projections for a decreased recruitment number of up to 50%. We ultimately utilized the budget projections based on a 20% decrease for both new members and initiates, with plans in place if it was better or worse. As the year progressed, we saw that we had to execute one of the other budget scenarios as we began to recognize a 40% decrease (this was also seen across the industry).
To give an idea of the overall recruitment impact as of December 31, 2020, we have seen 23 of our chapters, or 22%, exceed their three-year average in recruitment. On the other end, however, we have seen 18 chapters or 17% who did not report a new member class this fall, compared to years prior. For those in between, we have seen decreases from 4-90% below their three-year average. We do not anticipate this to rebound tremendously this spring.
Another factor that came into play as we entered the fall was the realization of a decrease of approximately 8% in active members. This was due to brothers not returning to school in the fall, deciding to take a gap year, or transferring to a school closer to home. Due to these factors’ culmination, I was forced to reduce our workforce further to mitigate utilizing the cash reserves.
However, even with all these occurrences, we have been prepared. The revised invoicing model change is currently proving to be a key factor in navigating the fiscal year’s remainder. In addition, we will be continuing to work with chapter officers and advisors to learn more about their campus protocols for Fall 2021.
In order to help our chapters with this new environment, Sigma Pi made two strategic investments into our chapters this year. The first was furthering our partnership with Plaid to develop and launch our new member education program called The Bayard Membership Experience. This program allows all new members across The Land of Sigma Pi to undergo the same education via learning modules. This program is a six-week program where new members learn about our history, financial management, conflict resolution, social media responsibility, health and safety, and other Greek-Lettered organizations. Chapters are still encouraged to provide education on their local history, organizational processes, and expectations.
The second investment was a partnership with PhiredUp to provide all of our chapters a CRM type of system called ChapterBuilder. This partnership provides our chapters with an enhanced moves management feature and increased ability to manage their recruitment process effectively. Unfortunately, not all groups took advantage of setting their chapters up on the system in the fall. However, we were able to use our Virtual Mid-Year Leadership Conference held in January for new officers to get all chapters on the system. This program also allows our volunteers to have access and better review their recruitment practices and advise on strategies.
Even with lower than average recruitment numbers, in addition to the stress from the pandemic, the resiliency of our chapter officers to navigate these issues: virtual and hybrid education, roster changes, and virtual recruitment, has been a growing process for them, and they have accepted the challenge.
On February 26, 2021, we will celebrate 124 years of Sigma Pi history. To help celebrate this achievement, we have launched a campaign for the month, called the 10 Stars Campaign. Thanks to an anonymous donor, up to the first $25,000 in new gifts will be matched. We ask that you consider joining with other alumni to provide a gift, at any level, to help celebrate our history as a Fraternity. To make a gift for this campaign, you can visit the 10 Stars Campaign landing page.
This year, one of our key initiatives was redeveloping the Sigma Pi Educational Foundation website to improve the donor giving experience. The reimagined platform allows for an improved navigation system to allow alumni and friends to more efficiently locate the funds and/or programs you want to invest in. There are various options for charitable giving: Delta Society for undergraduates, Owl Society for alumni under 35, Scholarships, Chapter Educational Funds, Mid Year Leadership Conference, and the Tony Siress Leadership Summit. Of note, since the launch of the Owl Society in January of 2021, 18 young alumni have already met the call.
125th Celebration of Sigma Pi
On February 26, 2022, Sigma Pi will turn 125 years old! With this outstanding milestone, we will be celebrating Convocation in San Antonio, TX, where the convention will be held at the Hilton Del Palacio from August 17-21, 2022.
With such an important anniversary, we will be reimagining the Convocation experience for alumni, undergraduates, and guests. We will not be holding the historical three days of business meetings, but rather we will limit business sessions in order to provide an enhanced educational and celebration atmosphere. Please know that we will be utilizing virtual technology to conduct business prior to convention. During the day, we will have various speakers and sessions for undergraduates and alumni. In the evenings, we will have assorted receptions and gatherings to celebrate our great Fraternity. We believe this will be a great time for our brothers to come together, share stories and experiences as Sigma Pi men, and celebrate our 125th birthday!!
Mark your calendars now, and be on the lookout this summer and fall for more information.