fraternity advisor

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Question:

What kinds of things should a fraternity look for in an alumni advisor? What things should they avoid? Is age an issue?

Answer:

I have been asked this question time and again by groups when their advisor has left or they are a new fraternity. The first thing I tell them is to have a list of expectations for their next advisor. It can be something simple (come to meetings once a semester/quarter) or extensive (meetings/talk to the new members/etc). Once they have done that, then I tell them to start their search.

In a perfect world, you should have a group of people who are willing to advise the fraternity. In my fraternity structure (Phi Kappa Psi) we ask for at least 3 Brothers to work with the groups. One serves as the Chapter Advisor and the other 2 as assistants. That doesn’t always work (places where there aren’t a lot of alums, etc) so we require that there be at least 1 guy there.

You want your chapter advisor to have some enthusiasm for the job. You want him to be excited about the possibility to mentor the group. You would like him to be excited about FRATERNITY – not just your fraternity or just your Chapter, but for him to understand that you are a part of something much bigger than your little speck on campus. You need him to understand that to help protect the undergraduates from all of the things that might get in the way of their excellence.

You also want him to be excited about the chapter. He needs to speak of his membership in the present (I’m a Phi Psi, not, I was a Phi Psi). He has to be the biggest cheerleader for them, while also tempering that with some realism. I often say that my job is to be a cross between a slightly stern Dad and a cool uncle.

Age? If it’s someone from the same chapter, then you’d like them to be at least 5-7 years out of school. That way he’s not really friends with anyone currently in school. That can make for some pretty interesting conflicts. If he’s not from the chapter, or it’s a colony situation, then age doesn’t matter at all, so long as he has a good head on his shoulders and wants to help the undergrads succeed.

As the school year has already started for one of my chapters and is about to start for the other one, I’m really excited about the year. I know that I’m going to change the lives of some young men and I can’t wait.

Fraternally,

Marc A.S. Dumas

– This answer was written by Marc A.S. Dumas, an alumni brother from Phi Kappa Psi and new contributor for the thefraternityadvisor.com. If you are interested in writing for thefraternityadvisor.com – let us know (CLICK HERE)!

About Marc:

In 1991 Marc helped found the Colony that later became his Chapter (in 1993) of Phi Kappa Psi at DePaul University in Chicago. When they started there was only 1 national fraternity on campus and a bunch of locals. While he was in school, he served as the #3 officer in the Chapter, and was elected President of the school’s Greek Council, the first African American ever elected before or since. He was awarded his chapter’s Brother of the Year 2 years in a row, Fraternity Man of the Year in 1993 and Student Affairs Senior Leader of the Year. Now they are the oldest of 6 national groups and the system is growing everyday, with 4 more groups scheduled to come in the next 3 years. He has served as the Chapter Advisor since 1999, after stints as the House Corporation President and President of the Chicago Alumni Association. In his time as Advisor, his chapter has doubled in size, increased its community service by 65% and its grades have gone up 1 full point (from 2.09 to 3.1). He has been awarded the Chapter Advisor of the Year award 8 times at DePaul. In 2003, he decided to help start a Colony at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a year later they were chartered with 37 men. With the exception of 2 years (he was having children and my wife made me drop one) I’ve been their only Chapter Advisor. He has been awarded the National Chapter Advisor of the Year award in 2003 and been a finalist 4 times.

Marc lives in Chicago where he works in sales (he sells apparel and promo merchandise to college groups) and raises his 2 children, Olivia (6) and TJ (3).






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2 thoughts on “Fraternity Chapter Advisor – What to Look For…

  1. Optimally the chapter isn’t involved in the decision at all. It is a national appointment. Clearly they don’t know the options, but there should be alumni involved in the decision. You don’t just want the chapter’s choice, because that’s not likely to be the guy that’ll come down on them when needed, and you don’t want them thinking the advisor is answerable to the chapter.

    I hear the age thing a lot, and I don’t disagree with it, but there’s a bit more to it. I’m 15 years older than these guys, but I still relate on a personal level and treat them with mutual respect. That leads to friendships. You have to be cognizant of potential for those “interesting situations” regardless of how old you are.

    One of the best things I think advisors bring to the table is breadth and depth of vision. Chapters & IFCs make a lot of dumb decisions they don’t even know they’re making. My school’s IFC decided they wanted to do rush three weeks into school so the girls would be off silence from their recruitment & to line up bid acceptance with the home opener football game. That sounds nice, but do you know how many people won’t be in the rush pool because you gave them three weeks to find friends and entertainment without you? Do you know how much you’re going to spend trying to look competitive with everyone else during that delay? Do you know how much disciplinary attention is going to be on you until bids are actually out? Do you understand things like your cost per bid accepted and how long you have to retain a guy as an active before you break even? Undergrads are smart motivated folks, but they don’t always think things far enough through. Sometimes is because they’re not thinking out of the box, but a lot of it is because they don’t have the business experience most moderately successful adults do. That perspective is important to help them make good decisions.

    The other thing I’d say is you have to look at what your board is going to be doing before you decide the people to fill it. Advising the chapter & mentoring officers is obvious. But, you also have an alumni association & housing corp out there too (if you don’t that’ll be top of your list to fix). You can’t have those three separate entities running off in different directions or working against each other. The governing/advisory board is by default (regardless if it’s structured this way in the rules or not) the central coordinating board to keep everyone on the same page. It ends up like a corporate board of directors overseeing multiple subsidiaries or departments. You need to think about either selecting people that can dual role in those responsibilities or have some people focused on that while others are focused more on being advisors.

    You probably need certain skill sets. We try to have an accountant as financial advisor & also able to do internal audits for chapter, alumni assoc, & housing corp. It’s always nice to have a lawyer. You’re going to need to divide up your best talent with the alumni assoc & housing corp or they’re going to be starved for leadership.

    I like setting defined terms as well. You can get someone to get to a 2yr term that won’t take an open-ended assignment, or to stay active through that term because they know it has an ending. That gives you the chance to rotate people in and out or move around positions. That’s important to keep people from burning out & keep fresh thinking coming in. There’s nothing to say people can’t stay in place for multiple terms, but just having terms period sure does make things better.

    The right answer is going to be different everywhere. This is just things to think about.

  2. Great insight Marc. I think the biggest mistake I see in this area is undergraduates choose a brother who just graduated to be their advisor. This brother probably doesn’t have the experience necessary and is too close to the undergraduates to really help guide the fraternity.

    I really like the idea of having three advisors and setting clear expectations. That is considerate of the advisors and a very good idea.

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