We often hear our friends in the Greek industry say preserving their history is essential to the organization’s future, but they’re not sure if they can rally the support of their members. Are they really that interested? Will they truly want to engage?
Fraternity and sorority leaders also voice concerns over the ability to fundraise for a digital preservation project. They know of a few members who advocate for saving the organization’s history, but question the financial commitment of the larger group.
Pi Kappa Alpha has answered both those queries with their incredibly successful 2022 Founders Day of Giving Campaign. By listening to their members and demonstrating the value of access to history, PIKE reimagined their annual fundraiser and saw an increase in donations — a 790% increase.
PIKE’s Decision to Save History
In 2018 PIKE celebrated their 150th anniversary. The Fraternity heard their members’ call to reaffirm their commitment to preserve, enhance and make accessible the organization’s historic records.
A limited number of PIKE members are able to make the journey to the Fraternity’s Memorial Headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee — home to the organization’s archives, exhibitions and a memorial honoring PIKE’s military heroes. Those who do have the opportunity to engage with their shared past quickly understand that they belong to something larger than themselves.
PIKE knew they wanted to provide broader access to their collective history in order to share this experience with their hundreds of thousands of members across the globe. But the situation with their archives was overwhelming and with only one staff member dedicated to the project, they needed assistance. HistoryIT happily helped make their preservation goals a reality.
How to Make a Digital Archive
HistoryIT’s team of history savers took action to implement our three phase approach to digital preservation — strategize, digitize, share. (More on that here, if you’re interested.)
We traveled to the Memorial Headquarters for a five day assessment of their archival storage facilities and curated spaces. We also conducted 13 interviews with stakeholders to understand what made PIKE’s history unique and what the organization valued most. Based on the findings, our digital preservation experts developed a strategy and action plan for saving and sharing the Fraternity’s legacy.
To date, HistoryIT has digitally preserved approximately 86,000 items, comprised of approximately 316,000 digital assets, from PIKE’s archives. For the materials we have digitally preserved thus far, all details, including more than 5.4 million tags, have been uploaded to Odyssey, our proprietary software. Using Odyssey, we created PIKE’s digital history site, which will continue to grow as we process additional materials.
The Fraternity’s digital museum includes photos, letters, scrapbooks, audio recordings and so much more. Visitors can explore PIKE’s history through various curated experiences from Prominent PIKEs to the PIKEs in Service exhibition and the Gold Star Heroes Memorial.
Making Digital Preservation a Reality
To get the project off the ground, PIKE covered the cost of initial phases using Fraternity funding, Major Gifts from Insiders, donations via the digital museum and circulation of a brochure that directed interested parties where to contribute.
In order to make a firm, long-lasting commitment to the preservation of the Fraternity’s history, the organization established The Pi Kappa Alpha Historical Society. Through this process PIKE created a single entity responsible for caring for and preserving the Fraternity’s history. As many Greek organizations can attest, with HQ’s physical archives, incoming donations, preservation projects, storytelling and chapter history — it can get complicated rather quickly. The Historical Society could oversee keeping things organized and moving forward.
Additionally, the Historical Society created a central place for alumni to direct their charitable giving. As a benefit to donors, because the Historical Society is a 501c3, their contributions are tax deductible.
Creative Fraternity Fundraising
PIKE wanted to grow their digital collection, especially their Gold Star Heroes Memorial, and to find new ways to fund their preservation efforts. With a digital archive available to demonstrate what access to history looks like as well as the structure of the Historical Society in place, PIKE was ready to test the interest level of those who expressed concern back in 2018.
The Fraternity’s Foundation looked to their upcoming annual Founders Day of Giving campaign and decided to focus those efforts on the theme “Look to the Past to Build the Future.” They provided three categories for giving: digital museum maintenance costs, digital preservation of the Gold Star Heroes collection and support for a dedicated staff position, Sandra Newsom, Archivist of the Historical Society. PIKE also provided unique donation quantities to help direct contributions, including $154 for their 154th year and $300 for the cost of preserving one Gold Star Hero.
With a $40k matching gift secured to encourage contributions, the Fraternity’s Foundation got to work executing the campaign. Over the course of a week, the team, led by Cecily Hurt, Sr. Director of Annual Giving, sent out seven emails soliciting donations. They also shared five posts on social media, all of which utilized images accessible in the digital archive.
The communications saw remarkable engagement. The email campaign had an average open rate of 34% and an average of 528 unique clicks per email, with one message receiving 3,278 unique clicks. On Facebook, the five posts saw a total of 1,116 reactions, with the highest being 593. A significant increase from the single post in 2021’s Founders Day of Giving campaign that received 47 reactions. On Instagram, the same number of posts garnered 9,596 reactions, with the highest being 2,613. That’s up from last year’s single post with 713 reactions.
All of this to say — yes, your members care about your history, enjoy learning about it and will absolutely engage with it.
The campaign also had dramatic growth in every aspect of donations. The standout being a total of $95k dollars raised — a 790% increase over the previous year. They also saw a 270% increase in the total number of donors and a 160% increase in new donors, which means a fresh pool of potential contributors. The campaign garnered a 300% increase in the average gift amount and a 550% increase in the number of gifts of $1,000 or more.
As a result, PIKE now has funding to complete their digital preservation Gold Star Heroes project — ensuring those legacies are available to future generations. They also raised enough to support the archivist position and establish an endowment that will perpetually cover the hosting costs for the digital museum.
“The Historical Society and preservation initiatives have become a new and exciting option for our donors,” said Ryan Collett, Chief Development Officer of Pi Kappa Alpha Foundation. “We’ve found a subset of donors who are extremely passionate about history and these alumni have now donated for the first time or have multiplied their current level of giving as these historical initiatives align with their passions!”
Based on the response to the 2022 Founders Day of Giving, PIKE extended their fundraising efforts to Convention just a few months later and raised an additional $80k, $25k of which was a matching gift. These funds can go towards a growing list of preservation projects.
When asked for his thoughts on the fundraising efforts at Convention, Collett said, “My initial reaction was that this would not be possible. Most of our alumni attending Convention were already donors so this would require our current donors to give more. I was very skeptical, but the response we received was overwhelming!”
So if you’re wondering whether or not your members would be willing to financially support your digital preservation efforts, the answer is a big heck yes.
Preserving the History of Greek Life
To fully preserve a sorority or fraternity’s history, the organization needs to think beyond the collections stored at headquarters. Each chapter has their own archival materials that tell the very important story of the experience during those pivotal collegiate years. Saving and sharing the history of chapters is essential to preserving the legacy of a Greek organization.
When asked about plans to address chapter history, Collett shared, “We’re just getting started! We recently added a student to our Historical Society Board and one of our first tasks has been to do a complete re-write of the chapter historian manual. In the process, we’ve realized that the historian plays an integral role to not only document the current operations for a future historical perspective, but to help recover our lost history.”
PIKE fully recognizes the importance of preserving their complete history and plans to dedicate their 2023 Founders Day of Giving to fundraising for the digital preservation of chapter history. We cannot wait to see how their members turn out in support.
Saving Your History
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably keen to discover creative fundraising ideas to engage donors that will support your organization’s goals. History plays a vital role in communicating your fraternity or sorority’s legacy and future. Not only do your members want to ensure that it’s preserved — and accessible — for future generations, but they also want to know about the history of the cause they’re contributing to and how it relates to them.
Learn more about how HistoryIT can help to save your history and give your team the tools they need to put your history to use at historyit.com/greeks. Or drop us a line to set up a meeting to chat about how we can support your specific goals.
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