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How to develop a sense of belonging when you can’t be together?

Looking to the past is more critical than ever as you build your organization’s future.

With no end in sight for the pandemic, organizations that rely heavily on recruitment must pivot from face-to-face interactions to online ones. How can your organization make the shift and thrive?

Belonging to an organization involves feeling like you are part of something greater than yourself. This notion develops not only through interactions with other members, but also through what you learn about the organization’s history, traditions, and values. As groups transition to virtual recruitment, they must find ways to mimic both of those pathways to belonging.

How can your organization do this?

1. Look to your history and master how to tell your organization’s story online to both new and current members.

In the past, individuals may have developed an affinity for your organization because they liked and were liked by current members. In the absence of networking events, parties, fundraising galas, etc., your digital platform becomes the primary vehicle for showcasing your group to potential new members and inspiring them to join. A compelling digital history increases the chances that people will join because they want to embrace your group’s values, greater purpose, and traditions. Members who understand and endorse your group in those ways have the potential to become more deeply involved and committed members.

An accessible digital history platform is also an essential tool to help current members better understand and promote your organization, and serves as a valuable resource during online orientation programs. It also overcomes previous geographical limitations and attracts people with similar interests to the same place. For example, once HistoryIT incorporated 150 years of historical materials into the Kappa Kappa Gamma Digital Archive, the fraternity was able to share those collections and the stories they contain with all of its members, many of whom will never be able to visit headquarters in person.

2. Remember, we are currently creating history.

A global health crisis and a reawakening of social injustice are impacting what we do today and where we go tomorrow.  Every person’s experience during this time must be recorded for posterity in a digital archive. Not only is this important for the future, it provides your organization with a way of engaging members now. Online interaction between members and prospective members is key to building relationships that would normally have developed in person. Connect members to initiates with similar personal interests.

3. Tell prospective members about previous members, events, and tradition.

As you build a sense of belonging, tell prospective members about previous members, events, and traditions through online exhibits, interactive engagements, and layered biographical stories. Alpha Chi Omega presents an interactive timeline so that visitors can see the organization’s milestones and achievements in relation to general history. Sigma Alpha Epsilon uses their digital history platform to tell the story about the Tiffany windows in their Memorial Temple. There are numerous ways to draw in potential members if your historical assets are digital, making it easy to share your history.

4. Create shared experiences.

Of course, many other online activities unrelated to history can help engage people. Shared experiences create strong connections and a sense of belonging. In addition to building one-on-one relationships, work on cultivating options for small group interaction.  Organize an online book club, have a movie watch party followed by a discussion, take an online cooking class together and compare notes on the results. Record feedback about these experiences and incorporate them into your digital archive, so that in the future you’ll be able to tell stories about the recruitment experience in 2020.

5. Seek input from potential members.

Seek input from potential members about how your organization can best move forward. Recruits who feel like their opinions matter become active and involved members. Students and collegiate members are asking questions about the evolution of your organization and it is critical that you find ways to answer their questions, being transparent about where you’ve been as an organization, how you’ve evolved, and where you are going.

Strategic virtual recruitment uses your organization’s past to help your present members build a stronger future.

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