This is often a good thing, because it can create competition, which can yield creativity. Competition can fuel a marketplace of innovation in how to improve the fraternity experience. There are chapter meetings, board rooms and staff meetings throughout the country in which groups are trying to figure out how to out-do and out-perform their peers. To be considered the next big thing.
They have a 4-year member development plan? Well, we need one of those! They had their convention where? Well let’s go here instead. They took a group of students to a different country? Well, our next leadership conference will be on the moon!
Apart from competition, or trying to keep up with the Joneses, groups will actively try to develop to brand new shiny initiatives simply to become the envy of the industry. That’s just the nature of a crowded marketplace in which it’s difficult to stand out. And again, this is not a bad thing, and can have great benefits.
But I still witness some of these projects and programs, and wonder if they are purpose-driven, or publicity-driven? It’s the macro version of the student who does service in a developing country. Are they there for the service or just to get a new Facebook cover photo?
Sometimes, organizations look like they have A.D.D. They are pushing out a different idea or approach each month, each quarter, each year. They can’t seem to focus. Jeff Cufaude described a concept in his TED talk called “Intention Deficit Disorder” or I.D.D. , which may more accurately describe what is going on. When we don’t make choices based upon our intended purpose as an organization – when we aren’t intentionally focused on mission - then we can look like a mad scientist just trying to do whatever comes into our scattered mind.
In crowded and noisy world, our desire to stand out as organizations seems more important sometimes than our desire to be intentional. And why is this an issue? It can take us further and further away from what we should be focusing on, and what really matters. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should.
Have you heard of mission drift? It’s the dangerous practice of some organizations who start to believe that they can do things they weren’t meant to do. They drift away from their mission like an untethered raft.
For chapter leaders - if you want to be or build the next big thing – then at least make sure it fits your intended purpose as an organization. Instead of striving to have the party that everyone talks about, have the service project that they’ll be talking about for decades. Instead of creating a buzz with catchy or borderline-offensive T-shirts, create a buzz by being the members who showed up in force for the Take Back the Night rally. Instead of being noteworthy for your YouTube video, become noteworthy for your actions. Instead of creating the homecoming float with the wow factor, well, go ahead and do that one. You gotta have some fun too.
For those at the national staff or board level, where can we spot some mission drift as well? Are all of our programs intentionally serving our purpose? For example, if the purpose of a fraternity headquarters is to build chapters and serve chapters, is that what you’re truly doing? Is that how staff resources are being deployed?
Just something I’ve noticed: a lot of national organizations seem to have shifted to planning events and experiences that are focused on a small cohort doing some really exceptional adventurous experience. Sounds great, and I’m sure those members’ lives are changed forever. But, how many more members’ lives would be changed by a laser-focus on building higher quality chapter experiences? Maybe both can happen, but we ought to be asking these questions.
The national organization that quietly focuses on the core – the chapters – probably doesn’t get the benefit of buzz that another organization gets from their “mind-blowing experience” events.
For those at the IFC or Panhellenic level – you have to be careful to avoid getting swept up in the notion that your intended purpose is to do big splashy events (like an All-Greek BBQ). You tend to want to find the next big thing in an event. Your intended purpose is to govern the Greek community and to advocate for it. Maybe the next big thing for you is to focus on those things and regain relevance as a council.
Overall, it’s interesting for me as someone now indirectly connected to the infrastructure of the fraternity/sorority movement to see the race for “the next big thing.” Maybe we should all take a breath and remember that maybe it’s not our job to be or build the next big thing. Our founders kinda did that already. How might that realization clarify our work?