deadbeat fraternity

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Question:

I am part of a local fraternity and as such our alumni base is limited and focused to this one chapter, as we only exist at our school. This is both a blessing, due to their loyalty the fraternity, and a curse, when more recent graduates decide to take advantage of our hospitality.

We’ve recently been struggling with the issue of members of the fraternity that are initiated, but do not graduate from the school. The academics themselves are rigorous and challenging so some initiated members have failed out, withdrawn, transferred, etc.

Issues then arise when they return to visit and expect the same level of respect and reverence an alumni that graduated from the college and has been a part of our alum association for 2, 4, or 5+ years. Typically they’ll return and then take advantage of an event we’re throwing and not donate, gift or contribute any assets to the event.

Some of these men, while we respect them and enjoy their company, occasionally have outstanding debt with the fraternity or just regularly take advantage without ever returning the favor, so to speak.
We’re unsure how to handle the matter, particularly when the members are our peers, of similar age, etc. and have done nothing to earn the status of alumni, the additional requirement being they did not graduate from the school.


Answer:

This is an issue that even larger national and international fraternities face. I have seen this in my own fraternity and in other chapters where I went to school. They spend one year in the your fraternity, they can’t handle the school for various reasons (money, conduct, waking up before 11am for their 9am and 10am classes), then they keep coming back. These are also the guys that tend to be VERY negative influences on your newest and prospective members. Hopefully, these four tips can help you start dealing with these folks effectively.

1)      No pay, no stay

–          I help manage a housing complex, so this mantra is something I use all the time. Apply this to your chapter. These guys have outstanding balances. They owe you this money and probably have for a long time. When you have more formal events, have initiations, and alumni retreats, these guys do not get to come. It really is that simple. No pay, no invite. Granted, an incentive to pay all (or even most) of an outstanding balance may help you as well.

2)      Make it unpleasant when they come back

–          If these folks keep coming back, try looking at what enables them to come back and cause so many issues. Are they being enabled? Are there no real consequences or deterrents for them? You’d be surprised how many will stop coming if they don’t want to be annoyed / harassed / given flack while they are there. Remember, no one likes being asked “where’s my money” every single time you see them (see tip #1).

3)      Have a conversation

–          Where is the harm in this? Why not pull these yahoo’s aside and just have a civil conversation? You can even go out of your way to bring this group together and outline what is going on. Getting all hopped up about it isn’t always the best way to go about fixing the problem. Keep it level and keep it simple. You’d be surprised how this turns out.

4)      Chill out

–          Look at the last bit of #3. Stay calm. There are worse things. A lot of times these guys are still young a little bit wild, but will level out. It is inevitable. You can’t necessarily control what is going on with your alums, but you can more closely control what is going within the active chapter. Why waste your energy? Channel it towards what can do the most immediate good and have a more tangible impact. More positively contributing active members will lead to more positively contributing alumni.

This question was submitted by one of our readers. If you have a question you want me to answer go here to submit it: Fraternity Advice.

This answer was written by Joe Russo, an alumni brother from Phi Delta Theta and contributor for the thefraternityadvisor.com. If you are interested in writing for thefraternityadvisor.com – let us know (CLICK HERE)!






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3 thoughts on “How to Deal with Deadbeat Fraternity Alumni

  1. My bad Joe & Pat. I missed that.

    I’m with Joe on the back dues. I just think it’s a good idea to try to work it out. In my experience, there’s often a dispute about what’s owed. If that can be worked out, or if a payment plan or reduced settlement is offered, you can often get some kind of solution. It’s better than ending the relationship forever with bad blood. In reality, it’s in the past anyway. He owes for a semester that’s over. You got through it. You weren’t borrowing money to cover his lack of payment. Whatever you get from him now would be pure bonus to the current semester. I’m not saying let everyone walk away owing a debt, but try to work it out rather than just stomping on the guy.

    However, I wanted to decloud the issue of guys who owe versus alumni in general. The OP’s question seemed pretty disrespectful toward guys who left school without graduating or perhaps even younger alumni in general. That’s not okay. Brothers are brothers regardless if they’re President, JIs, from another chapter, left school, or graduated 50 years ago. If you’re looking for parties for just your immediate group of friends, go start a party club because that’s not a fraternity is.

  2. Dennis – Joe Russo wrote the above article – not me. That being said, I really like what he said.

    There are two things that stand out to me. First, the guys who owe back dues. I am a strong proponent of holding brother accountable. However, it might be a good idea in certain circumstances to have a talk with the brother discretely and agree that the debt will be forgiven if a portion is paid. That is a way to make sure everyone wins.

    The second thing it it seems like you just don’t like these alumni. This is troubling and a lot harder problem to solve without it being messy.

    Remember above all else that these guys are brothers and should be treated as such. And you should always be able to pull a brother and have a private talk with him about issues that are bothering you.

  3. I don’t know if I disagree with Pat on this or not. I want to make a distinction between guys that walk away owing you a big balance and guys that left in otherwise good standing.

    If a guy leaves you owing a balance, you have to make a judgement call. Do you send them to collections and restrict them from showing up to events, or do you write it off and get on with life.

    Obviously if a guy can pay and didn’t then you need to send them to collections. If they were removed for disciplinary problems, collections. If they owe a big balance or expect to still come around with any regularity then yeah. If you’re sending them to collections then, just like an active in major debt to the chapter, they should be restricted from going to events.

    Before you send someone to collections though, you need to talk to them. A lot of times you’ll find they have legitimate complaints and were wrongly charged penalties. If you can resolve some of those problems and come to some settlement arrangement, you’ll usually get paid at least something. If not, then yeah to collections they go.

    That said, you’re better off writing some bad debt off. If you send someone to collections, the chances are they aren’t going to be around or supportive of your chapter for a very long time if ever. A lot of times it isn’t worth the hard feelings and burnt bridge to collect moderate amounts from a guy that’s gone anyway.

    Now, I want to put a distinct break in here where we put aside past debt or disciplinary issues that should prevent an alumnus from coming around for a while. Lets talk about the guy that left in good standing.

    Alumni are alumni. I don’t know what your ritual says, but every fraternity I know of says your are a full and equal brother from the day of your initiation till death – barring formal removal for betrayal of your oath, the ritual, or or extremely major violation of standards (like getting arrested for rape or something). It absolutely does not matter if they left school last year or they graduated years ago. It doesn’t matter if they were president back in the day or never held a position. It doesn’t matter if they donate hundreds of thousands of dollars or can’t give you anything. You should make no distinction; you should be showing respect for those that came before you; and you should, be treating them just like any dues paying full member of the fraternity. With national fraternities, you extend that same courtesy to strangers from other chapters when they walk up your porch and know the right handshake. There is no question in any of this. That’s a cornerstone of brotherhood. If any chapter of any fraternity is not understanding that, I question if they need to step back and spend some more time gaining understanding of their ritual. One of the cool things about fraternities is when some 60 year old alumnus shows up, is immediately accepted like he’s an everyday part of the chapter, and within 10 minutes he feels like he fits in perfectly. As an alumnus, they have paid their due in the past. They do not pay the day-to-day operating expenses of your chapter, but they do enjoy lifetime benefits.

    That said, I understand your quandary. If too many alumni are routinely abusing the system, it can become a problem.

    As a local, I don’t know what your insurance situation looks like. I assume you are carrying an umbrella liability policy from one of the same major companies that nationals use and that you’ve subscribed to something along the lines of FIPG risk management policy as a condition of that insurance. That policy should cover all alumni of the organization. You need to know that answer though. In either case, it is a reasonable request to ask alumni to RSVP prior to events in order to ensure they’re on your covered guest list, and to limit the total number of alumni that can register given there is a limit to the number of guests you can have. You should make an effort to accommodate them, but you don’t want your party to be all actives and alumni with room left for few other guests.

    In the course of asking them to RSVP, it is reasonable to ask them to pay a party fee. It should not be intentionally prohibitive in order to block them from coming. It should be what you’re charging actives or the event budget divided by the number of actives. They should not have a problem paying their fair share for the event, and if they do then they are there for the wrong reasons.

    If after trying all of that you still have some alumni causing so much trouble that you can’t operate as a chapter, then yes talk to them directly. If that doesn’t work, then talk to your leading alumni. Let them try to intervene on your behalf. Otherwise, spend some time contemplating Pat’s 4th suggestion and move on. I’m sure there are bigger things to worry about.

    Off the subject a bit, how are your chapter’s grades? How are your pledge grades? The reason I ask is part of your question doesn’t make sense. You said you attend an academically difficult university, yet people are failing out. It may surprise you to learn that the GPA, retention, and graduation rates at more selective and more difficult schools are exponentially higher than easier schools. Your school should have an exceptionally low number of people failing out by comparison to most schools in the country, and your chapter should be a bit better than the school. I’m concerned what your chapter is doing. The purpose of fraternities is not to help people make better grades or really anything at all to do with college, but we should at very least be doing no harm to our members’ pursuits as a student. I may be reading too much into a single unrelated sentence, but it seems like you should reevaluate what your fraternity is doing scholastically. That might help make this issue of younger non-graduate brothers coming back in droves. Attack the cause, not the symptom. Right now it seems like you’re just paying the price for your own org’s screw ups and want the cost to go away without fixing the problem that causes it. Take that for what it’s worth, but I hope it’s something you guys will put some work into.

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