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.
I’m a freshman active of a weak fraternity. Recently re-chartered, my fraternity struggles with a negative image left over from the previous leadership. We are below twenty members (some of them recreational drug users) and have a poor social scene. We are working to fix our house this summer (it looks a little rough), but I’m not sure what steps are next. Please help.
First off, good for you for taking the time to begin to address the issues surrounding your fraternity. You have recognized some flaws in your chapter, which is the first step to take in order to improve your organization.
You mentioned that your chapter is recently re-chartered. This can be a good thing if you use it as a momentum driver among your brothers. I myself was a part of a chapter that was in a similar situation to yours: I joined less than a year after my chapter had its chartering ceremony. The atmosphere was great and there were plenty of ideas generated to help continue to propel us in the right direction.
However, what soon became evident was that the chapter was struggling with an “identity crisis.” A few opposing viewpoints emerged that caused some strife between members. Maybe this sounds familiar? The changes that were adopted, though, occurred relatively easily because the traditions and personality of the chapter were still being formed.
Keep in mind that members in your fraternity are likely founding fathers. That means they have gone through a unique experience that the men who come after them – probably including you – will not fully understand or share. It will be up to you as a young leader in the chapter to define what the “established” experience will look like. Make sure you include those founding fathers! Otherwise, disconnect between your founders and the post-founders could develop, which will hinder your success moving forward.
You attribute some of your negative image to the previous leadership of your organization. Have you had an open conversation in your chapter about what went wrong? If not, have one. Do your best to learn from the mistakes of your past exec board. Keep the tone positive and be looking toward the future.
This would also be a great time to check with your university and national headquarters for any leadership development opportunities that they are offering. The value in these events is often undersold; choose the right individuals to send and you will experience the benefits firsthand.
You need to work with your chapter to figure out a target membership size that you want to be at. Some guys may want 80+ and other only 40, so make sure you are all on the same page and then set goals for the next recruitment period, the next year, and two years from now.
Develop a recruitment strategy for reaching your goals. Be realistic and honest with recruitment; don’t try to sell a false image. Instead, acknowledge and communicate the steps that you are taking to improve. Recruits will respond positively to this, and more “builders” will join your cause. Try reaching out to your Interfraternity Council – they may be able to provide you additional fraternity recruitment resources and help you target the right men.
During this time you will also need to be working internally to hold your members to higher standards. Does your chapter have rules in place to deal with drug infractions? If so, make sure you uphold them – this may be an unpopular position to have to take at first, but is necessary to promote a positive image for your fraternity. If no such rules exist, create them. Work with your chapter advisor or get in contact with other fraternities on campus to get a sense of how they approach the same situations.
In a previous article for The Fraternity Advisor, I brought up the idea of “leveling the playing field” when it comes to social gatherings with sororities. You may be on a campus where the average sorority is five times the size of your chapter, but that’s ok!
Make your social events intimate and exclusive by only inviting certain groups of women over to your house (rather than entire chapters). Maybe you want to honor a new exec board or congratulation the women making Dean’s List by hosting them for dinner. Think creatively and make the experience something fun and new for everyone involved. Also, take advantage of your pairings in events such as Greek Week to network and drive your social agenda.
I have one final thought on your fraternity house – you are undertaking a great initiative by investing in some repairs/upgrades. Improvements to the house will give you an advantage in several areas of chapter functions, most notably for rush week. You can also take the opportunity to host a social “open house” event in the fall with a sorority and show off the new additions.
Perhaps the most overlooked benefit of upgrading your house is the potential it has to spur your alumni relations. Get a local alumni club involved by advertising what you are doing. This will be a great coming together point for the actives and alumni and you may even see a donation or two to keep the improvements funded. By involving them on this house project, your alumni will be more likely to invest their time, money, and energy in you, which can overall lead to a more enriching experience for you and your brothers.
I want to mention as well that some of the older guys in your chapter may try and dissuade you from being an agent of change; do not limit yourself due to age at any point. As a young member you have the potential to see your fraternity truly transform. However, realize that this will not happen overnight – stick to it and over time you will see awesome returns.
This answer was written by Dan Ulmer, a brother from Sigma Pi and new contributor for the thefraternityadvisor.com. If you are interested in writing for thefraternityadvisor.com – let us know (CLICK HERE)!