fraternity 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.

Question:

I just got your new book, The Fraternity Leader, and love it! Many brothers in my chapter frequent your site and value your opinion. This brings me to my question:

We recently chartered on campus and our alumni have raised around $5000 dollars for us to furnish our house and make a formal room. This includes leather couches, lamps, tables, drapes, etc. Now there is a debate on where this room will exist in the house. The brothers largely (90% of the chapter) want it in one room, while the alumni want it in another room.

How do we get what the chapter wants while not upsetting the alumni? Should we just do what they want and swallow our pride? I won’t get into the pros and cons of each, we as a chapter just want the alumni to listen to and respect us. Many are saying they’d rather have nothing at all than what the alumni are offering us. Please help!


Answer:

First off, thank you for the feedback on The Fraternity Leader and the site. I am glad your fraternity is taking advantage of both.

To answer your question, I think you need to remember the golden rule – He who has the gold makes the rules….

If your alumni ponied up five large to help the fraternity out, then they have earned the right to decide how the money is spent.

It would be in EXTREMELY poor taste for the undergraduates to complain and would severely hurt future fundraising efforts. You should be extremely grateful that you have alumni who are that dedicated and generous. Be sure they always know how much you appreciate them.

That being said, I am very curious as to why your alumni would want something different than the undergraduates. It seems odd to me that you guys would have differing opinions.

My suggestion: have a talk with the president of the alumni association about this issue. Explain to him that you understand that he will have the final decision in the matter, but you want to make sure that he understood the chapter’s thoughts. Also, take the opportunity to thank him again.

Hopefully you can come to a gentleman’s agreement where both sides are happy.

I would be very curious to hear more about the situation. Would you mine posting in the comment section the pro’s and con’s you mentioned in your question?






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11 thoughts on “Who Wins When Fraternity Alumni and Undergraduates Disagree?

  1. Ok this is my chapter’s situation- we were chartered in the 40s, went dormant in the late 60s then recolonized and chartered in 92; then after approximately 10 years later had our charter pulled for a list of reasons; then we rechartered a 3rd time in 2005. Since the 3rd rechartering we became a top 15 chapter in the country, had the highest grades on campus, had an alcohol waiver (nationally we are dry), raised a ridiculous amount of money and donated lots of community service hours. We were doing everything right, but then we got our priorities mixed up and a common refrain sounded like yours Sam- Parties bring in more guys. Yeah they do, BUT I think you’re going to find in a few years with that mindset that you’re going to get guys who when push comes to shove only regard the fraternity in that manner and you’re going to go the way my chapter did.

    Within 2 years of being in that top 15 and barely missing out on being nominated for the awards for the top chapters in the country, we had a slew of risk management issues where we did not in the past. And due to those numerous issues because of primarily individuals who joined exclusively for the parties and getting drunk all the time, our HQ and campus stepped in and executed a membership review, reorganized our chapter and removed half of the chapter. Don’t want all your hard work to be for not in a few years because you choose instant gratification over the long term. Sound like this room issue is more telling of that underlying issue that might not be present right now but very soon could be. We’ve been there, done these things already. Was in campus administrator’s offices while president and have had to deal with the aftermath of many risk management violations.

    As readers above have suggested, please take our thoughts with consideration. We all believe in the great things that fraternities provide and want you to succeed, just starting to see some flags coming up. Congrats on the charter!

  2. First, I’m sure you have a lease for this year and that’s fine. But, work with your alumni to get a housing corp established. Your nationals can help. They should rent the place (starting next year) in the housing corp name, and then sub-lease to each member with a master lease to the chapter. There’s liability reasons, but also practical reasons. What you can do with a group of 40yo professionals representing you is a lot different than a group of 21yos can pull. It’s much better to have those guys between you and the landlord/city/university if anything were to go wrong. Years down the road when it may be possible for you to build or buy a house, having a long established highly functional housing corp will help tremendously. And, if they know they’re name is on the line (even though they’re protected under national insurance) it motivates them to stay informed and involved in how you’re operating, which will keep you out of trouble in the long run. Even if there’s specific reasons they decide not to be the ones leasing the house, you should still have one there to advocate for you on housing issues and plan for the future.

    Now, back on topic…

    Having a housing corp or what alumni did or didn’t do to help get this house has nothing to do with it.

    If you had a housing corp, they would be able to tell you how they want it set up to the extent that’s about you not damaging the property or risking the charter (and therefore their tenant).

    The chapter advisor/oversight board is a different scenario (I’m certain you had to have him/them in place to charter). They don’t control the property, they do control the chapter. If they want you to operate in a certain way because they believe it reduces major risk factors or works toward long-term goals, then they have the power to do that. If it’s about where to put some furniture because they think it looks better that way, they should be leaving that decision to you. Those are the guys you need to talk to. Go to them with respect. Ask them if this is an order or a suggestion & why. Discuss the issues. Explain your position & try to change their mind. If that doesn’t work then try to find a compromise. If it still doesn’t work, then just do what they want. The hassle isn’t that big a deal and you can find ways to lessen it.

    Now let’s be honest. Do you really think 18yo guys 2 or 10 or 50 years ago were sold by a formal living room instead of parties? I’m pretty sure when my Dad showed up to rush 40 years ago that cold beer and hot women were high on his priority list. It’s easy to say alumni are out of touch, and maybe they are sometimes, but lets not be naive.

    You said you throw the best parties on campus and you need to vigorously show rushees the social side of your fraternity. Okay, no problem, I agree with that. But, what does that have to do with what room you use? You make it sound like if you don’t get your way on this then it’s the same as being on lock down social probation. You just earned a charter, so I’m fairly confident you can overcome just about any obstacle and still find a way to be successful. No one is saying don’t have parties. They’re speaking from experience, saying do it in a different way, because of these bigger reasons, and it’ll make the chapter better in the long run.

    Let me ask you this… when the chapter lost the charter years ago, what were the problems then? Is it possible they got a little too focused on parties instead of the ritual/purposes of the fraternity? Maybe they were recruiting the coolest guys instead of the best guys. Maybe they lost their way and started doing irresponsible things because they had their priorities mixed up? I’m just guessing, but that’s a pretty common story. If your alumni are telling you to go with this setup because they don’t want parties to be the top priority in recruiting and first thing in the door, or parties are smaller so you keep your eye on the ball, or risks of getting in trouble are lower… all those things make sense. If they’re suggesting you do this because they think it looks better, that’s a different thing. If they’re suggesting and you only get the money/stuff if you follow the suggestion, then follow the suggestion and move on.

    Ultimately, it does come down to don’t dig in against these guys, even if they’re wrong. Even if they are overstepping, you’re a young chapter that shouldn’t be challenging your alumni on almost anything right now. It’s more valuable to nurture that relationship.

  3. Sam – I see your point completely. Here is really decision the chapter has to make:

    Do you risk pissing the alumni off and cutting off all future funding by digging in on this issue? Keep in mind if you do this you guys will come off as ungrateful. I just don’t think it is worth it.

    I think your solution is in your last comment. Make the room the chapter room like the alumni want. On nights of parties, then move all the stuff out of the room for the party. Problem solved and everyone wins.

  4. To the issue of throwing smaller parties, in today’s fraternal culture, parties recruit more members than formal rooms. That’s a fact. While formal rooms sway, they aren’t as important to freshman as parties are.

    We pay rent, meaning there is no housing corporation. I’m not sure if that changes your opinion or not. Essentially, we were responsible for procuring the house and managing all issues with it. The alumni had absolutely nothing to do with it.

    We’ve had our music pretty loud and have never had a noise violation. Campus PD are pretty understanding of the issue and we’ve had a year of large parties and have managed it perfectly (ie. no trouble from the police). So the issue of having a noise violation is moot.

    The alumni want to use the formal room to show off to recruits and parents in an effort to get them to join the fraternity. This is great…however, a parent has NEVER toured our house until after their son joined, and most don’t even tour at that point!

    We throw some of the best parties on campus. I’m not saying that because it’s my chapter, it really is the truth. If it’s not broke, why try to fix it?

    In the end, the furniture is going to end up getting moved somewhere else for parties. Part of the issue is that the alums are totally disregarding the chapter’s opinions.

    I’ll give you an update after the meeting tomorrow with the alumni. Thanks for your expertise!

  5. By the way, national fire code for meeting rooms (chairs no tables) is 20sf per person if there’s no immovable furniture and adequate exits. I know that sounds excessive, but you have to allow for aisles and exit routes. That’d limit you to around 30 in the front room for meetings. I’m sure you pack a lot more in, but you wouldn’t want to do that on a regular basis. Totally empty for parties you could probably press to 45ish before it starts being a problem.

    I assume with a fresh charter you’re still pretty small, but you I also assume you want to be a lot bigger in a year or two. I don’t see that this room is going to be big enough for what you want anyway. I get that the other room is smaller, but if given a choice spilling my party onto the front porch or backyard, from a risk mgmt (common sense) perspective that’s a no-brainer.

    Also, do really need to move a massive sound system to the front for gameday? Would it be possible to run some extra speaker wire from the back room so you can just swap wires for those events? That way, you would just be moving a couple speakers, or you could pick up a couple additional speakers just for that. It seems like there should be a way to do this smarter not harder.

  6. Thanks for the clarification. This is going to be a slightly long reply. Just hear me out. I’m going to talk about alumni leadership. When I’m done I think you’ll see your question in a different light.

    Rush is coming up. This time of year you’ll hear people say stuff like, ‘80% of fortune 500 execs are Greek.’ The haters out there think that’s because we recruit rich kids that get set up in cushy jobs as soon as they graduate. We know the truth is our members tend to be more successful because they spent college running a highly complex business, albeit with a safety net.

    So while we’re thinking of this like a business, let me give you a scenario. Imagine a company in a highly competitive industry, high risk of regulatory and litigation problems, they only hire entry-level workers with no related degree or experience, only allow people to work there no more than 4-5 years, and replace all management every single year.

    How long do you think a company like that will survive? Is it going to out-compete the market? Can it seize market share and grow sustainably? Does it even know what sustainable growth is? Will those inexperienced managers keep control of the employees? Will they sometimes make hasty or rash decisions without considering secondary effects and unintended consequences? Since people are only there a few short years, will they make decisions that favor immediate gratification over long-term goals? That’s exactly what an undergraduate chapter is, and if you run it like that it’ll be gone in a few years.

    A fraternity is actually three legally separate and co-equal subsidiaries of your nationals – an undergraduate chapter, alumni association, and housing corporation – under one nationally appointed board of directors, which in turn reports to your nationals. Maybe you don’t have all those pieces in place yet (if not, make that happen). Maybe you call them by different names. Maybe there are some slight differences in your structure, but there either is a board/chapter advisor in that position or authority or there’s supposed to be. That’s not every single alumnus. It’s a small select group of leaders. That’s who decides these things.

    That is normally a board of 5-10 folks. Maybe they have some special qualifications (lawyers, accountants, MBAs, real estate agents, etc), but what’s certain is they care a lot and have much greater business and life experience than undergrads. They bring strengths that you don’t have. This board is the safety net. They are in charge, period. They will primarily focus on charter risks, strategic goals and policy. They don’t care who you do a mixer with. They care about big important stuff; risk and business factors; stuff that may take years to accomplish. Unless you’re the President or a few select officers, you’ll probably never see that side of them. What you’ll see is them acting as advisors for the chapter. The chapter has input to the strategic plan but doesn’t control it. You do execute the chapter part of the bigger plan and make tactical decisions along the way. The board will try to guide you away from failure and toward success, but they’ll give you a ton of space to succeed or fail on your own so you can learn from the experience. There will be some national restrictions on their authority, like they can’t choose who you give bids to and they can’t order you to break national rules. But in general, when they give an order (as opposed to a suggestion) it is law.

    Now, you said you pay rent. Presumably also a lot in dues, countless hours of hard work, and just came through the herculean task of earning your charter (congratulations by the way). I respect all of that, I really do. But, let me tell you a story about a group like yours…

    This chapter was around for 70 years. They have a dozen major CEOs and countless other important alumni, including many involved as leaders with nationals and other chapters around the country. They did some bad stuff back in the day and have been gone for almost 20 years. A group of people, including me, spent 10 years lobbying nationals, the school, and their alumni to give it another shot. Finally, after what seemed a lifetime, everyone agreed to go for it. Nationals came down and strapped my letters on some randoms to form a colony. They worked very hard toward a charter, paid insanely high dues, and rent on a house. Then they did some dumb stuff and got shut down. Because of that, my nationals and that school both say we will never ever have a chapter there again.

    So, I understand when you pay the rent that you feel like you should be in charge of the house. That’s natural. But, I need you to accept the humility I’m sure your fraternity taught you and understand that maybe bigger things are at stake than are immediately obvious from your perspective.

    You want to use the large front room for parties. You explained the logistics and that all makes sense. So, work with me here and let’s try to see this from the alumni perspective.

    I don’t know the details of your house, but if you use the front room for parties, how much more noise gets projected to the street? How much more likely are you to get noise violations or worse when the cops come snooping around and the neighbors are pissed? Are there issues with permitted zoning that could become a problem if you get multiple complaints? Hammer specifically mentioned using the smaller room for parties so they don’t get too big. You’re talking to me about recruiting, and I’m wondering if your alumni want parties to be the primary thing you’re selling to rushees. From what y’all are telling me, that doesn’t sound like power-thirsty alumni micromanaging. It sounds like a well reasoned intentional decision. That doesn’t mean it is right or wrong, but it isn’t arbitrary.

    If your chapter feels strongly about this and has solid reasons for their view, then set up a meeting with your advisory board (whatever it’s called). If you don’t have one yet, work with your nationals to establish one and let them mediate. Go in there with respect and professionalism. You just got re-chartered, so it’s completely possible that they are overly risk adverse, but it’s hard to fault them for that. Make your case, listen to their perspective, and try to change their minds but be willing to compromise. Maybe there’s a middle solution. For instance, the formal living room is in front but set up so it can also be used for meetings, and you use the back room for parties but they give you some extra money to improve the back yard so the party can spill out there when the weather is nice. I don’t know, be creative. The worst case is everyone will come out with a better understanding of the other side.

    If they won’t budge, then just take the hit. There will come a time in a few years when they may overstep their authority and you should respectfully call them on it, but you aren’t there yet. You’re a brand new chapter. You don’t understand the critical importance of long-term alumni support to the life-cycle of a chapter. You should be doing everything in your power to cultivate that, not fighting over petty issues. You just spent the last year doing one of the hardest things in fraternity life – earning a charter. I can’t believe what room you use for parties could hold you back. If it still sucks a year from now, talk to them again and see what changes can be made.

    Just please for the love of God, don’t be disrespectful or allow this to be a situation with winners and losers. I don’t know what your alumni lost when the charter went away before or what they did to give you this opportunity, but if you take this too far then some will feel they’ve been betrayed by a bunch of immature ungrateful punks. Please don’t let that happen. If you want that chapter to be there for your sons, then you need those alumni leaders more than they need you. Everything you’ve worked for depends on it. In a few years you’ll be standing next to them looking back at the chapter and utterly dumbfounded how such smart guys can occasionally do really stupid things. When that happens, reread this conversation and give me a call. I’d love to hear how your perspective has changed.

    Good luck to you, and again congrats on the charter. What you just did was a sprint. This is the beginning of the marathon. I’m confident you’ll get it started the right way. If you need more help, please don’t hesitate to ask.

  7. I am a recent Alumni of the chapter that this post was made about, and though I don’t fully agree with the decision of the Alumni, I feel as though you are spot on by saying they are trying to shape how the house is utilized. the rooms in question are a matter of location in the house, the alumni want the formal room to be the very first room you walk into and the chapter wants it in a room more toward the back of the house. the large front room the the alumni want to make the formal room is the one that is mostly utilized for parties and for holding chapter. By making that the formal room it will reduce the size of the parties the chapter will be able to throw. At first I didn’t agree with my fellow alumni but after reading the above response I would have to agree with the golden rule. sorry Sam, take the money!

  8. But as for the pros and cons of each argument, if the formal room is where the alumni want it, we lose a room that’s 600 sq feet for chapter meetings, parties, pre-games, etc. We also have a large porch adjoined to the front room where we can open the two double doors and play our speakers out of while hanging out on the porch before game day. We have a pretty big sound system so to move it around each week would be a pain in the butt. Our alumni also liked the fact that there’s a nice view in the front room.

    We polled our chapter and around 90% of us said we want the formal room to be in the back room, and the alumni just ignored the results, which peeved a lot of brothers off.

    With it being in the back of the house, we eliminate having to have parties in a space that has three adjoining rooms where brothers live. This could inconvenience them and make their living experience worse off.

    In the end, we don’t want to sound ungrateful, however, we pay rent for our house and feel that for the alumni to decide the functionality without our agreement is a little out of place. Additionally, we ultimately built our chapter from the ground up and it seems like we know what we’re doing and our opinion is valuable.

    Disclaimer: This is my opinion of what our chapter thinks, I can’t speak for everyone collectively. I just thought the issue of alumni/undergrad disagreements would be a good issue to touch on and was curious what you thought of the opinions of a few of my brothers.

    Thanks!

  9. Hey guys I’m the OP. One of the most prominent alumni who has been instrumental in our recent chartering is a real estate agent. He believes that having the formal room in the front of the house will give it a certain “pop” to recruits and parents. This happens to be our party and multipurpose room. The brothers who have lived in the house for a year want it to be in a room further away from the front of the house to retain current functionality.

    We both want what’s best for the chapter, there’s just a disagreement on what will help the fraternity more. The undergrads believe that they know the best strategy for recruitment in the present while our alums haven’t recruited for upwards of 50 years.

  10. Dennis – I’m with you. There has got to be more to the story. Why would the alumni care? I hope this guy posts a comment (can be done anonymous) to let us know what is going on…

  11. The answer on this situation is spot on.

    It can vary considerably depending on what the disagreement is. There are some narrow areas where the chapter should have authority without a lot of interference from alumni or advisors. There’s some areas, like hazing or certain dangerous behavior, where the right thing needs to be done regardless if the chapter or alumni happen to disagree.

    In this situation, it is all about the money. They went out and raised this money. That’s never just people handing over cash. Other alumni have to appeal to their peers, sell them on a specific idea with a specific objective, and make promises. If you or they don’t live up to the conditions under which the money was raised, then there won’t ever be anymore of it.

    This does seem like a weird disagreement. Normally the chapter can decorate the house without a lot of outside interference. In a matter of alumni donations to fund decoration/furnishing, normally that’s the chapter and housing corp make a decision and then appeal to alumni and parents for support.

    It seems to me like there might be more to this than the question lets on or possibly even that the chapter may understand. It may be the alumni are trying to turn a large room into a formal space so that it won’t be used for parties (or vice versa) because their objective is to try to shape how the house is utilized to either maximize benefit or minimize risk. It seems like a much deeper conversation needs to happen to work through those issues. Getting on the same page with alumni on whatever those deeper issues are will set you up for much greater success for a long time to come.

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