Thursday, August 27, 2015

Is the Era of Big Greek Government Upon Us?

I wonder which of the following feels more like progress to you:  the day in which the fraternity movement relies on a strong centralized power structure to keep it accountable to what it promotes and stands for,  or the day in which all fraternity organizations are committed and responsible enough to manage their own affairs and hold their own chapters accountable to their own values and ideals?  Which of those scenarios lie closer to your ideal? 

And, based upon your ideal, how would you assess this moment in our history?

For me, I come from the Ayn Rand school that teaches that if every individual lived to their highest potential, everything else takes care of itself.  It’s a lofty ideal, but I choose to support initiatives that bring us closer to that, not push us further away.

If every national fraternity lived to its own highest ideal, then our movement is healthy and progressive.  We’re not there yet, but let’s take actions with the assumption that we want to get there.

What are some signs that we’re moving away from this ideal?  The creation of bigger
unifying structures, for one.  It’s a natural inclination in times of crisis to want some big overarching structure to take the wheel.  For example, during the Great Depression, government grew substantially because we trusted it would make things better.  When we are fearful, we put too much trust in heroes.  Our belief that a crisis is too big to handle causes us to place irrational faith in institutions. 

Fraternity and sorority life could be in a crisis moment.  It’s hard to tell.  Membership doesn’t seem to be affected yet, but public perception continues to sink faster than my beloved Browns playoff hopes (yes I do realize it’s only the preseason).  At the minimum, many fraternity and sorority national leaders believe this to be a crisis moment.  This has led to increased involvement in Washington DC, leadership changes in umbrella organizations like the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), and talk of a new organization to supplant the NIC.

It’s a great tradition in fraternity and sorority life that when all else fails, let’s just make another organization.

“Big government” in fraternity life is not a new phenomenon.  I  heard a speech from Jeff Cufaude many years ago in which he quipped that most fraternity board members are probably small-government conservatives in their political ideology but more than willing to let their national organizations become centralized and controlling institutions.  Chapter shenanigans over the years have led to the policy manuals getting thicker, not slimmer.  The NIC unified around standards that member organizations were tasked to enforce.  For better or worse, these standards imposed a way of being on these groups.

If we were choosing three words to describe the last 3 decades of fraternity life, I nominate “Thou Shalt Not.”

Fraternity leaders are exploring a new initiative – possibly a new trade association – called the Interfraternal Collaboration Effort, or ICE.  There are many new strategies being discussed in this effort and many smart people involved.  I’m far enough removed to pass proper judgment on if ICE has the right approach.  As an observation, ICE is different from the NIC is a very apparent way.  It’s more. 

It wants to do more, staff more, involve itself on campuses more,  spend more, and cost more. 

Thus, here we are in a moment of crisis and one answer seems to be to consolidate at the top.  To put more into the tip of the pyramid.  To put money behind probably the biggest centralized effort in the history of our movement.   

Hey – this could work.  But do you know what else could?

How about national fraternities having the guts to hold their own chapters accountable to their own standards.  To have the courage to pull more charters, even from those elite institutions with the influential alumni.  To take a stand about what it means to be a member of the organization and stick with it even when it hurts the bottom line to do so.  

Before the leaders of our national organizations put even greater resources into a unified structure, they ought to ensure that their own house is in order as much as possible.  After all, a unifying structure shouldn’t exist to clean up your fraternity’s mess. 

Outsourcing the individual responsibility each fraternity has to manage the behavior and experience of its own members is about as far away from progress as I can imagine.  I suppose you could say we’ve already been moving down that road by expecting campus personnel to enforce our own standards.

I’m not na├»ve.  I understand that there is frustration in the Greek world and it’s searching for a solution.  And there are some central efforts needed to protect fraternities and sororities from dangers like campus’s enacting all-Greek suspensions.

I would favor a solution in which the vast majority of responsibility falls to individual national groups to address their own issues, complimented by a small and lean association that does a few things very well.  In any discussion about new or renewed umbrella organizations going forward, I hope someone is advocating for that ratio.

Fraternity and sorority chapters should understand a very important thing: your Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council are not there to solve your problems.  That’s why you are there.  Handing the keys over to an umbrella entity to make your experience safe, healthy, and significant is like expecting your church to make you holy.  The church can provide a forum for education and reflection, but it’s ultimately your decision to behave in the appropriate way.

Your personal experience, your chapter’s success, and your organization’s destiny still lie in your hands.  Seize it.  And don’t give it away.



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Choice of A New Generation

Guest Essay by Matt Mattson

(Matt and his team at Innova are starting a new campaign called ReThink Greek. It’s a free marketing initiative focused towards the characteristics of Generation Z.  Out of respect for the thought-leading work Matt has done with Phired Up Productions and Innova, I’m excited to share his perspective below.  I’m posting this not as a commercial for the campaign, but rather for his cogent thoughts on our need as Greeks to adapt to changing demographics.)


Greek Life has been dramatically impacted each time new generations have emerged as college students. Especially recent generations.

Gen X brought uncertainty, instability, and a decline in membership. Turns out slackers and grunge rock didn't jive too well with fraternities and sororities.

Gen Y, the Millenials, brought a massive influx of students on college campuses, a new level of inclusivity, and a bunch of technology that has changed the way the world sees Greek Life. We're bigger and easier to notice now. For better or worse.

Generation Z is trickling into our student bodies right now, and they'll undoubtedly bring their fair share of change to fraternity/sorority life. Here's a great resource to understand more about this new wave of students if you're interested.

We better get ready. It’s likely we’ll need to reimagine the way we communicate with this new generation. I know we think we know what we're doing because some of our groups have been around for over 150 years, but this new group of students is smarter than us. The research tells us that they can sniff out a "sales pitch" like no other group before. Their IQs are through the roof. They expect more diversity than most of our organizations can currently represent. They don't want "connections" to help get them a job -- they're going to start their own companies. Their definitions of race and gender are far more blended than most of our organizations are ready for. They see the world differently than many of us. If they're going to be into Greek Life, it's going to be on their own terms.

We need to be the choice of a new generation. We can be, but we must begin today to rethink how we share our story as Greeks.

It's time for our industry to start playing offense, not just mediocre defense. When it comes to telling the story of Greek Life, currently there is no single narrative about the fraternity/sorority experience. There is no proactive story-telling mechanism. The only "P.R." we do as an industry is a defensive "we're sorry" stance when something terrible happens and hits the news. We're better than that.

Think, for a moment, of Greek Life as a single entity. We're huge, powerful, and influential. We should act like it in the way we communicate with the outside world. We have 1 million undergraduates and 9 million total members. We have well over 120 major inter/national organizations. We have hundreds of millions of dollars flowing through our fraternal economy annually. We own massive amounts of prime real estate in nearly every state in the union. The list goes on. We're Fortune 500 level, and if we want to capture the attention of the best students from Generation Z, it's time we start marketing like the big guys too.

Here's the thing. Nobody differentiates between your organization and mine. Whether you're IFC, NPC, professional, honorary, NPHC, NALFO, NAPA, NMGC, or anything else... our stories are connected.

This new generation will make up our entire market over the next several years. Let's seek out the best of them to reshape our fraternities and sororities. Let's be brave enough to put the power in their hands to "ReThink Greek." They're coming whether we're ready for them or not. We can sit back and let them happen to the industry (as we've arguably done with past generational shifts), or we can actively seek the highest quality (and lowest risk) individuals from the pool to shape the future of fraternity/sorority life. Greek Life can be the choice of a new generation.



______________________________________

To learn more about the ReThink Greek initiative:
Campuses and HQs, visit: www.innovagreek.com/rethinkgreek
View the ReThink Greek website: www.ReThinkGreek.com

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Chapter President’s Guide to Starting the Year Off Right

The chaos of August is about to set in on college campuses across the land.  And you, Mr. Chapter President, are about to lead your troops for another few months.  Don’t make it a weak finish!  The following ideas can make the difference between your year being just another ordinary one or a truly impactful one.  It’s all about paying attention to the details and how you start a new semester. Here are some tips to help you start right:

1. Prepare a chapter retreat.

World-class athletes get themselves “into the zone” before they take the field.  That’s what a retreat can do for your chapter.  Retreats are not just all fun and games.  Good ones have a purpose, and I suggest the purpose be twofold: (1) assess the previous year and (2) set goals for the coming year.  Did you attend your organization’s convention or leadership conference this past summer?  Here is a good chance to summarize some of the best of what you learned.  See this post for more ideas to help you prepare a successful retreat. 

Power tip: Invite your advisors and campus staff to help facilitate this retreat.  They have the skillset to do this and would be honored to take part in something that’s so positive and forward-thinking. 


2. Get the team back together.

Huddle up with your officer team as soon as you can to review early plans for the year.  Likely there are some immediate needs in terms of finance and recruitment.  It’s also a way to make sure they are as invested in the remainder of this year as you are.   

Power tip: If you have the means, treat them to dinner (or coffee or ice cream) as part of this meeting.  Show them how much you value their commitment and leadership.


3. Visit with your Greek Advisor.

Schedule a time early on to reconnect with your Greek Advisor in person.  They remain your greatest supporter and advocate on campus.  Besides just catching up, use this meeting as a way to update him/her on how you assessed the previous year and the goals you have for the coming year (great way to pass along the retreat output if you had that first).  Be sure to thank the Greek advisor and ask him/her for any thoughts on how your chapter can perform strongly this year. Listen as much as you speak.


Power tip:  Bring along a small token of appreciation.  Maybe a food product from your hometown – nothing too elaborate or expensive.  It’s just a nice courtesy that your advisor will appreciate.  Also – be sure to compliment him/her on how tan and well-rested he/she looks!


4. Greet your brothers/sisters.

This one may be a challenge for the very large chapters, but it’s not impossible.  Can you stretch yourself to personally say hello and shake the hand of every single member within the first two weeks of returning to campus?  There is no greater show of leadership than personal interaction.  It trumps any speech you can give or any decision you make.  Perhaps tie this to an invitation to the first chapter meeting of the year, so that you can get some brothers/sisters reconnected who have drifted away.  It’s easy to dismiss an email or phone message.  It’s difficult to dismiss a personal greeting and invitation.  Plus, it shows that you care about the most important thing any chapter president should care about – the members. 

Power tip: If you have a chapter house, move in early so you can be there (and your other officers too) to help move in your brothers/sisters.  Plus you can say hello to the parents and make sure they know who you are.


5. Hug your house manager.

He/she may need it this time of year.

Power tip: Don't let it linger.


6. Meet your chapter advisor for coffee.

For many of the same reasons you want to connect with your Greek advisor, now’s a great time to build the relationship with your chapter advisor.  The reason I suggest coffee or some other way that feels less procedural is because it immediately makes it a more relational conversation.  It also shows maturity because that’s how many modern meetings are conducted between colleagues these days. 

Power tip: If you don’t already have a system in place, be sure to use this meeting as a way to establish a regular communication pattern with your advisor.  And then stay strict to that – another sign of leadership maturity (don’t let your advisor ever wonder if you’ve vanished).


7. Prepare extra hard for the first chapter meeting.

Many times, this first meeting of the semester is the one of the most well-attended.  Spend time preparing so that it comes off as professional, efficient, and effective.  Don’t shy away from a little humor and fun in this meeting as well.  If you want members to come back, they need to see value to the experience. 

Power tip: Start the meeting with an open forum for members to share the best thing that happened to them over the summer.  Don’t be too cautious with what’s shared and how – let the personality of the group take over.  You’re likely to find laughs and applause as a result.


Best wishes to a great start to the year, and thank you for accepting the role of chapter president.  If you spend the time to do those things above, and be rigorous in your preparation and planning, then you will find yourself more relaxed and able to enjoy this experience.  Ready, set, go!