fraternity a business

‘The fraternity is a business’ is probably a popular saying around your fraternity house.  On a few levels it is correct, but I personally hate the saying.  It is almost always misused in a way to justify treating brothers poorly.  Is that really brotherly?

Here is the typical scenario:  A brother is doing a crap job.  Another brother decides to call him on it, and becomes a complete jerk.  His justification for being an ass is it is just business.

This was a typical saying in my chapter.  I can remember once when a brother called for an impeachment vote on another brother because the brother wasn’t doing a good enough job in his elected position.  Our chapter meeting that night turned into a referendum on his performance.  Some brothers were pretty critical and ugly and justified it because ‘it was just business’.

And that justification is absurd.  First off, that isn’t how brothers should ever treat each other.  This brother ended up keeping his position, but was turned off from the brotherhood.  His brothers were jerks in how they treated him, and he never forgot it.  I can’t say I blame him.

Second, that isn’t how good businesses are run.  In the real business world, if you treat a co-worker, subordinate, customer or supplier poorly, it will inevitably come back to bite you.  If you make a habit of calling out others, you will get the label of being a poor team player.  That is the kiss of death.  Good businesses simply don’t function this way.

That being said, a fraternity has a lot of business-like responsibilities.  Obviously, there is a significant amount of money involved, and that has to be handled professionally.  Also, there is the house involved.  That has to be run like a business.  And don’t forget the standard organizational functions.  All have to be handled ‘like a business’.

However, you cannot forget that a fraternity simply isn’t a business.  The purpose is completely different.  The purpose of a business is to make money.  A fraternity has many purposes, namely developing leadership and fostering brotherhood.  Turning a profit is not one of them.

Whenever the ‘fraternity is just a business’ situation comes up, don’t forget the purpose of your fraternity.  Let that guide how you handle your responsibilities and how you treat your brothers.  Don’t forget you are part of a relationship organization.  If you damage the individual relationships you have with your brothers, then you will be left with a pretty hollow fraternity.

10 thoughts on “Is Your Fraternity a Business?

  1. David – I think we believe in the same message – but disagreeing on the definition of business.

    I contend that a fraternity is not a business because it does not serve the same purpose. While there are similarities, they are distinctly different. Their goals are different and the benefit to those involved is different. It is apples and oranges…

    However, I think we are just disagreeing over the semantics of the word.

    Obviously I agree that a fraternity should be run as a professional organization. This site is dedicated to helping undergraduate leaders succeed in that manner.

    The real message I attempted to convey in the article is brothers should never use the phrase ‘it’s just business’ to treat each other poorly. Doing so is actually a contradiction of the term.


  2. My friend, I couldn’t disagree more. It certainly is a business. Whether you look at it in a big picture (national organization) level or the local chapter level it is a business. At the larger level there is no question. We all understand that our business view helps us to not only continue operations into the future, but also improve the fraternity experience that is delivered. Fraternities have improved over the last 20 years in many ways (grades, service, risk reduction, etc.) due to a committed effort from those bringing the best business practices to bear.

    Some have called it a “businesshood” to show that we have to treat other with the respect that is dictated in our oath of obligation. But, that doesn’t change the mission or purpose and transaction that occurs. Characterizing the communication between members one way or another doesn’t change what we are. It just means some chapters are doing a better job than others achieving their mission. Is a Burger King less of a business because the fry cook was rude to the person taking out the trash?

    Some don’t like calling it a business because they would then have to act professionally. Things like accountability for actions would be expected. “Dude be a bro, I’ll pay my dues next week. Totally.” Others think that the “business” label is devoid of emotion and thus not caring enough to meet our spiritual purpose. Wrong. Don’t think of Enron, think instead of how you paid your childhood pediatrician when you had the chicken pox, or rented the church for your wedding. Money well spent to a business.

    There is a transaction that takes place with a clear product delivered. We pay our dues in time, effort, energy, love, sweat and tears. And money too. We get the brotherhood and sisterhood experience that helps us in many ways and comes in many forms. We all know members that pay one of those ways but no the others. They don’t get the full experience if they don’t really invest themselves like those of us get who do.

    Fraternity is a business plain and simple. And… I can think of few better.

  3. What’s your suggestion for calling someone on not doing a job that’s up to par? There needs to be some accountability, right?

    • Sam – thanks for the comment. I am huge on accountability. No successful organization can exist without it.

      However, it needs to be done in a professional way. Using the guise of ‘it’s just business’ to belittle a brother in a public setting is not how to get it done.

      If a brother is not doing his job, then it is up to individual brothers to talk to him in private. If it doesn’t change, then the chapter leadership needs to remove that brother from his responsibilities. Everyone in the chapter knows what is going on, so there is no need to bring the brother down. Hopefully this will serve as his wake-up call to do better next time.

      One other point about holding someone accountable – once it is done you need to move on. Don’t dwell on the failures of the past. Leaders are always looking to the future.

      A way to make holding brothers more accountable easier is by setting real clear expectations. If a brother knows he is to accomplish XYZ in his role, but when he reports out during the chapter meeting he has not achieved that goal, then holding him accountable becomes real easy. You just tell him that he needs to meet his expectations, or another brother will take over who can. It is a very simple conversation if clear expectations are set forth at the beginning.

      Do you agree with this approach?

      • Sometimes the “leader” in question can be unresponsive to personal conversations or be completely in denial about his shortcomings. I’ve found that ideally, everyone acts rationally and wants what’s best for the chapter, but the exact opposite is true in practicality. At some point, someone has to put their foot down on certain brothers that don’t fulfill responsibilities/obligations and they may not like it, but it needs to be done. I think that making an example of a brother can coerce others to say, “I don’t want that to happen to me, I better get my ass in gear.” Maybe I’m wrong, but responsibility is a big part of how I was raised and if you don’t value that, I’m not sure how you’ll succeed in the real world.

    • Sam,

      Pat is right about setting realistic expectations. Remember, you have ELECT this person in the first place. Was it realistic to expect a slacker brother to be a great social chair? Accountability starts with taking those elections seriously. Also, your chapter has mechanisms in place to help brothers along. You have advisors and campus resources. You also have other brothers who should be willing to help out. You also have a chain of command. Maybe your VP or President need to just have a private conversation with the guy. Small and subtle tactics work best when trying to guide a struggling brother. No one wants to be torn down in public. I know I’ve echoed a lot of Pat’s feelings here, but I want to add that you need to allow this brother a chance to correct his behavior. If he failed the first time, what’s to say he hasn’t learned from it and is now better prepared for a different position?

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