Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Serious IFC (Part 2 of 2)

Last week, I described 5 reasons why many IFCs are not taken seriously. This week, my goal is to provide ten steps that any IFC can take to gain more credibility. There are many more answers than the ones I will give below, and the ones I give could use more explanation than I have room to provide. If you want any further details on my ideas, feel free to ask questions in the comment section or contact me directly. Here we go…

1: Define Your Purpose
If the purpose of your IFC is in question, then your mission as a council for the next year is to define it. If you accomplish nothing as an IFC except to agree upon a purpose (sometimes conveyed as a mission statement or statement of purpose), you still will move mountains. It’s that important. I encourage you to appoint a small task force of IFC delegates and officers to take on this task. This task force should work off a 6-month timeline, and do some or all of the following:
  • Review current documents, including the constitution, for evidence of purpose and mission.
  • Interview major stakeholders, such as fraternity officers and members, campus administrators, and other governing council officers.
  • Investigate IFC mission statements from peer institutions.
  • Consult resources available from the NIC, AFLV, and other entities.
  • Draft a 1-2 page document describing the findings and proposing a new statement of purpose for the IFC. The full IFC then discusses and debates the document.
Having a defined purpose can then inform how you structure committees, officer positions, and agendas for the IFC meetings.

2: Chart the Course

I’m a big fan of retreats to start a new era. It’s a great time for trust-building and vision-casting. The retreat can focus the group on the issues that matter to the fraternity system. Develop a list of 6-8 strategic priorities for the IFC. Such priorities could include: (a) increase fraternity membership, (b) update and ratify the IFC constitution, (c) develop a stronger working relationship with other governing councils, (d) build relationships with senior administrators, (e) provide more education and resources for chapter officers, etc. Your journey as an IFC will be easier with a map.

3: Get the Right People in the Room
In my opinion, the right people to attend IFC meetings and represent their chapters are the chapter presidents. I know how busy a chapter president is, but serving as an ambassador for the chapter, representing member interests, and building stronger interfraternal relationships are all part of his job description. He is the right person for the job.

4: Set a Professional Meeting Environment
I know a serious IFC when I see one. So do your delegates and stakeholders. If they visited your meeting, what would they experience and see? The most serious IFCs among us take intentional steps to ensure a professional environment for their meetings.

This includes location. Try to avoid the dingy, chalky classroom on the 3rd floor of some random academic building. It kills creativity. Also avoid the large lecture hall or auditorium, for these spaces inhibit natural conversation. Ideally, find a big open room in a central location, in which you can set long tables in a square, so that the delegates can all see each other. Trust me, it helps.

When the first delegate arrives, the room should be set and ready to go. Ideally, IFC officers are already present, floating around the room and greeting attendees. Light refreshments can’t hurt. Provide each delegate with a name placard that lists their first and last name, and their fraternity affiliation (or IFC officer position). These guys are going to be engaged in important debates – it helps if they can call each other by name.

Finally - call me old-fashioned, but shorts, ballcaps, and sandals will give one kind of atmosphere, and shirts, ties, and badges will give you another. I like the latter.

5: Make the Meetings Valuable
Serious IFCs spend time having thoughtful discussion and debate about the biggest issues confronting the fraternity system. In order to make space for this, reduce the amount of time spent giving reports and making announcements. For instance, items that do not require discussion can be e-mailed in advance, or distributed as handouts.

Once you’ve made the time, now you can talk about what matters. However, without some structure, delegates will simply stare at each other. One idea is to take the strategic priorities you develop at the retreat, assign a small task force of IFC delegates and officers to investigate and make recommendations on each priority, and then spend each meeting addressing a different priority. Each task force can present recommendations and lead the discussion (which is a great way to share leadership).

You may need to work up to this, but I believe that 75% of each IFC meeting should be spent discussing system-wide issues and strategic direction. IFC members should come prepared to be intellectually challenged by complex and consequential questions.

6: Take a Stand
While an IFC should always strive to be proactive, there will be times when a problem or issue is forced upon you. You may need to fight. For example, what if your host campus wanted to defer recruitment until the sophomore year? Many IFCs would wallow in self-pity while the policy changes. Be stronger than that. Start by passing a resolution in the IFC meeting condemning the new policy. Send the resolution, with a cover letter by the IFC president, to relevant campus administrators. Next, set up meetings with the administrators in order to share the resolution and the IFC’s concerns. Be persistent, but courteous. Involve external entities such as alumni, national offices, and the NIC. These are defining moments for a representative group like an IFC, and you’ll be remembered most for how you handle them. Be a champion for the fraternity system. Perhaps a quote from Teddy Roosevelt is appropriate:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood..."

7: Do an IFC Road Show
In order to increase visibility, send IFC officers out to chapter meetings at the start of each semester. The goal should be to share with the chapter members a few of the major IFC initiatives and issues. In addition, it’s a good time to listen to needs and concerns from the general members.

8: Learn the Power of the Written Letter
Yes, we live in an e-mail culture. It’s revolutionized how we do business and communicate with each other. Fine. I encourage you to break from the norm every now and then, and learn the power of the personalized letter. Invest in a stack of IFC letterhead, IFC envelopes, and a nice blue pen. Whenever a fraternity wins a national award, send them a letter. If a chapter receives publicity for a service project, send them a letter. Founders Day for one of your chapters? Send them a letter. Consider copying the Greek Advisor and the Chapter Advisor. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and the fraternity that receives the letter will likely post it on a bulletin board. That’s where important letters from important people typically go.

9: Have More Personalized Conversations
At the start of the new IFC year (new officers and delegates), the IFC President should set aside time to meet with the president of each fraternity represented on the IFC. If possible, include other IFC officers as well. The purpose of this meeting is for the IFC President to do 2 things: (1) build rapport, and (2) listen. Here is a good list of questions to start with:
  • What are your hopes and aspirations for your chapter?
  • How can the IFC help you achieve these aspirations?
  • What do you expect from the IFC in general?
  • How do you think your contributions can make the IFC stronger?
  • What priorities should the IFC address this year?

10: Set Up Regular Meetings with Senior Administrators

The IFC President and Officers should establish regular standing meetings with senior administrators. It is important that these meetings be proactive and positive, and generally accomplish 3 things: (1) inform the administrators of recent IFC and chapter accomplishments, (2) share concerns and questions from the delegates, and (3) listen to the needs and perspectives of the administrators. Such administrators would include: the President, the Vice President of Student Affairs, the Dean of Students, the Director of Housing (if applicable), and the Provost. These meetings may only occur once a semester, and that’s okay (unless there is an urgent issue). It’s about reminding them that you’re here and working to build a stronger fraternity system. By building a friendly and professional relationship, they are more likely to listen to you when it matters most.

Those are several of my ideas and I hope you've found them helpful. I plan to build out some of them in future posts. Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

If the fraternity movement is to succeed, it needs strong, active, and credible IFCs to help steer the ship. Here's your chance to lead. Seriously.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Serious IFC (Part 1 of 2)

When used correctly, the Interfraternity Council can be one of the most dynamic, forward-thinking, credible, and professional organizations on any campus. At many colleges and universities, however, the general sentiment is that the IFC is a “joke.” There is typically no one person to blame for this, and most IFC officers I talk with are working very hard to reverse this attitude. An unserious IFC likely didn’t lose its credibility overnight, and it will also take time to make it better.

This first post will examine what causes an IFC to become a “joke,” and then next week I’ll post practical strategies for becoming a more serious organization.

From my observations and work with IFCs, here are what I see as the biggest reasons many of them lack credibility:

Reason #1: The Meetings Are a Waste of Time
No – they’re not just a waste of time, they are a colossal waste of time. Watching Cheaper By the Dozen 2 each week for an entire year would be more productive. Of course, that would make each meeting longer, by about 1 hour and 45 minutes. If your IFC meeting agenda resembles this: (1) Call to Order, (2) Roll Call, (3) Officer Reports, (4) Announcements, (5) Adjourn, then your delegates may not take it very seriously. If everything that happens in your meeting could happen quicker and more effectively through Twitter, then you have a problem.

Reason #2: The Wrong People Are in the Room
I love sharing leadership. I love that we have officer positions for about everything in Greek-letter organizations (I’m talking to you Co-Assistant Facebook Fan Page Chair). It’s fun and adds to our uniqueness. But, there is one position I wouldn’t mind eliminating – the IFC delegate. It’s true – on some campuses and in some chapters, this position is held in high regard and taken very seriously. However, more often than not, this position is one of the last to be filled and desired by the eventual recipient as much as he would desire the Bird Flu. The IFC should be the place where the future direction of the fraternity system is charted, and most chapters are sending the poor freshman who thought that IFC was internet slang for “In-Fashion Clothes.”

Reason #3: “What Exactly Do They Do?”
Many IFCs are invisible. Nobody really knows that they exist. Or, if they are aware of the IFC, they still don’t know what they do. This is true for random students and senior administrators alike. If a random person were asked about the IFC, and the response is a shrug, questioning look, or “huh?” then you may not be seen as serious. The answer isn’t a publicity or marketing blitz – it’s becoming important enough to notice. Would you notice a meteor if it were a million light years away and looked like some random star in the sky? Probably not. What if that meteor was 100 yards away and coming right at you? Now you notice it. In many cases, we’ve allowed our IFCs to just be one little star within a sky that has millions. It’s time we start doing important work and get noticed.

Reason #4: Lack of Purpose
Invisibility can also be a signal for a deeper issue – lack of purpose. Let’s face it, many IFC officers and delegates are also unaware of what the IFC does and why it exists. That’s because we are unsure of our purpose. Think about it this way – if your IFC were to hibernate for 12 months, would anyone notice? Would the fraternity system be harmed by your absence? If your answer is “no,” then wrestle with this question – why is your IFC even here? Ask that question at your next IFC meeting and see what happens. You will likely get many different responses, and some confused looks. Defining a purpose is important. Making that purpose significant and inspiring is essential. This is work that you need to do for your particular IFC, but a good model is the NIC. The NIC’s purpose is to Advocate, Collaborate, and Educate. Sounds like a good one for an IFC as well.

Reason #5: The Wimp Factor
Nothing against wimps, but don’t be one. It kills credibility because it diminishes respect. Nobody respected George McFly until he stood up for Lorraine and laid out Biff. How often does your IFC take a stand? Do the chapters view the IFC as a champion for their rights? When some entity enacts a new policy that fraternities view as unjust, who speaks on their behalf? People take seriously those who they can rely upon, and those who are on their side. Conversely, how can you ever take seriously someone who always gets rolled over? Don't be a "yes man." Don't be a puppet. Be George McFly – the post “get your damn hands off her” George McFly.

What do you think? Are there other reasons I haven't considered? Tune in next week for some suggestions and advice.

For part 2 of this article, click here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

ENOUGH

Below is a new video essay I created, challenging us all to take a stand against the forces that jeopardize fraternal organizations today. This is not meant to highlight what's wrong with us, rather, to illustrate what's needed to realize our great potential. I also intend it to be a tribute to those brave enough to take a stand.

NOTE: You may need to let the video load for a minute before starting it (depending on your connection speed).

video