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.



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