Does a Fraternity Fine System Work?

fraternity fine

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.


“On Sunday, My fraternity is going to most likely pass a fraternity fine system. I’m trying to find out more information on the negative aspects of a fine system. Can you please help?”


“Fine system” doesn’t really explain what you mean. I assume you’re talking about a system of fines to regulate participation in mandatory events. Remember that you want people to care deeply about each other, your fraternity, and participate for the right reasons.

There’s basically three ways to get people to do what you want: penalties, incentives, or leadership. There are pros and cons to each, and a place for all in any good policy model.

Penalties by themselves will just motivate people to do the minimum to avoid the penalty, and can create bad feelings when enforced. They help set a minimum standard, but really only impact the bottom 10-20% of your fraternity. They shouldn’t really exist without equal incentives helping motivate the top 10-20%. None of that though is a crutch for poor leadership. If the majority of your fraternity isn’t already doing what they should, penalties or incentives won’t fix it.

Everyone wants to be led, even the best leaders. They’re begging for someone that will inspire them, has a good plan, makes good decisions, will provide structure and direction, will follow through, and keeps things under control. There’s no substitute for that. You should be recruiting and developing people who fill those voids, not just win popularity contests on election night.

There will always be mandatory events that people don’t want to do, but is it necessary that people hate all of them? Are there things you can change or tweak to make people want to participate? I wouldn’t want to get up on a Saturday morning to go to some boring philanthropy event, but if we’re doing it with a sorority or its fun then I’m much more likely to want to be there. That’s not a perfect solution, but it minimizes the amount of times you have to penalize people.

With penalties in general, fines tend not to be the most effective option. A set amount means something different to a rich brother than a poor one. And, it’s just write a check and move on. You haven’t done anything to rehabilitate them. If you’re going to take something away from them, taking away a social or intramurals tends to carry more weight. If a guy made bad grades, you wouldn’t fine him, you’d give him more study hours & hopefully try to intervene in other ways that fix the problem. I like stuff like requiring an anger management or a substance abuse class when someone starts a fight. I’m just saying there’s usually a better solution.

It’s also better to have flexibility on solutions because some situations are clearer cut than others and you can’t show favoritism. If your concern is addressing the problem without having to JBoard someone every time, think about a standards committee that works like a misdemeanor court, but also as a grand jury level before JBoards. You can deal with most things quickly and fairly informally through a system like that. That committee should absolutely have the power to hand out fines within different ranges depending on the offense, but really should be about correcting the problem to preserve the brotherhood. Only if it’s really serious should they refer it on to the JBoard.

If you want to reply with some more detail about what your fraternity is trying to accomplish, I think we can drill down a little further for some solutions that might work better. Good luck!

— This answer was written by Dennis Nall, an alumni brother from Alpha Tau Omega and new contributor for the If you are interested in writing for – let us know (CLICK HERE)!

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