Program Profile: The Foundation Chapter of Theta Chi’s Chapter Challenge

The Foundation Chapter of Theta Chi’s “Chapter Challenge” began when staff identified a need to make giving more interactive and for alumni to have a stake in its success. To do this, they looked for options using traditional web and print media in an innovative way to reach their fundraising goals and increase alumni engagement throughout the challenge.

“With numerous success stories of the use of giving ‘thermometers’ and competitions among teams, we worked to devise a way to bring this into the fabric of Theta Chi giving,” said Philip Thornton, Chief Development Officer for Theta Chi.

Gathering inspiration from fraternal foundation peers and ideas shared at FFE’s 2016 and 2017 Greek Retreats, Theta Chi launched its first year-long Chapter Challenge, which encourages competitive fundraising and chapter loyalty among alumni. A digital component was added to the Theta Chi website to track giving amounts visually with a leaderboard ranking chapters by giving total in real time. They implemented another best practice learned from Greek Retreat by giving Theta Chi’s annual fund, the designated allocation for Chapter Challenge gifts, a new name—the Excellence Fund. This change more accurately communicates the purpose of the Fund, which helps Theta Chi Fraternity strive for excellence in leadership and academics through financial support of educational programs and scholarships.

The Chapter Challenge only tracks unrestricted gifts to the Excellence Fund, and does not include any chapter-designated gifts. Each Challenge runs on a January 1 – December 31 cycle, and an extensive recognition process is planned to honor the most engaged and generous participants, and their chapters, as identified by the website leaderboard.

The left-hand side of the Challenge leaderboard recognizes the chapter of every single donor who has made a gift, putting chapters on the map at any giving level. The right-hand side of the leaderboard showcases the top 40 fundraising chapters along with their school logo and total raised. The top 10 chapters at the end of the Challenge will be recognized at the next Theta Chi Convention. These chapters will also receive a plaque to hang in the chapter house or facility, and their accomplishment will be displayed on a recognition wall at Theta Chi Fraternity Headquarters.

“The ultimate goal of the Chapter Challenge is to make giving to the Foundation a fun, competitive and interactive way to support Theta Chi,” Thornton said. “It also provides opportunities to celebrate more alumni participation within the Fraternity and Foundation.”

Engaging volunteers

Another benefit of the Challenge is the addition of new volunteer opportunities for alumni who are interested in another way of supporting Theta Chi, or have previously not found a way to get involved. The role of a chapter “captain” was created for the Challenge to evangelize the giving process with communication to fellow alumni about the program and its impact. So far, Theta Chi has tapped 17 alumni to serve in this role, and they have been effective in soliciting donors on the Foundation’s behalf. “While there are numerous awards for collegiate members to earn from us and their campuses, there’s not the same amount of recognition for alumni within Theta Chi or from their alma mater,” said Joe Macko, Theta Chi’s Director of Development. “The Chapter Challenge is a purely alumni-driven project where we can tangibly demonstrate which chapter has the most loyal alumni. This is a way for a chapter to show they have the best alumni support in Theta Chi.”

Days of giving

Because of the unique design of the Chapter Challenge, there is a great deal of focus on opportunities to push a designated “day of giving” to a single chapter. While there are giving days across Theta Chi like Giving Tuesday, Founders Day, and year-end giving, the Foundation is now adding giving days specific to a chapter such as their local founding date, the university founding date, and other milestones or anniversaries. These additional touchpoints allow a chapter captain more reason to connect with potential donors. While many donors are not moved by the idea of having their name on a donor wall, they are moved by competition and seeing their chapter name and alma mater’s logo raised high above their peers.

Live streaming/updating

The Chapter Challenge page is updated manually on a weekly basis, increasing the level of excitement and ongoing urgency around the competition. On Fraternity-wide days of giving, the Challenge can be updated live to reflect immediate online gifts, thus allowing brothers to see, in real time, the impact their gift has on the Challenge totals. If a chapter-specific giving day has been established, a staff person can be designated to update the Challenge minute by minute to encourage support.


Although 2017 is the first year-long Chapter Challenge contributing to the Excellence Fund, Theta Chi has already identified numerous long-term Foundation goals that the Challenge can accomplish. The first is the need to engage more members in the development process. While chapter captains in the Challenge are not soliciting major gifts, they do solicit the crucial $50 – $100 gifts from many current non-donors. Because new donor acquisition is the most costly and time-consuming development task, it is cost-effective to engage the organization’s own members as aid in the process. “It is easy for a volunteer to contact a peer, show him the Challenge page, and ask, ‘Hey, you can see we are $82 behind our rival chapter in giving. Will you make that tax-deductible gift to help our chapter move up the rankings ahead of them?,’” Macko said.

Additionally, the Foundation has developed a new interactive way for donors to participate in philanthropy using a channel and technology that may attract a new audience. Overall the Chapter Challenge is making giving a part of the everyday conversation within Theta Chi, further encouraging a culture of philanthropy. With chapter captains becoming committed advocates and having already raised thousands of dollars on behalf of the Foundation, there is great potential for continuation and growth of the Chapter Challenge for years to come.