Thanks for providing this great resource for keeping college fraternities going strong across America. I am a 2013 graduate of a small liberal college in the Northeast where I was a member of a chapter of a local fraternity of just under 20 members. During my senior year I served as the chapter’s president. Like most other fraternity men, I hoped that the guys we left behind after graduation would continue to build our fraternity in a positive manner: increasing membership, bettering the organization’s campus image, planning robust and creative social events, and finding new ways to serve the local community. Unfortunately my hopes have been soured and the overall health and morale of our fraternity is the poorest it has been in years.
Last summer, I spoke with rising senior members on a weekly basis to assure a smooth transition for everyone involved. It appeared that the guys in the class behind me were motivated to do big things. A summer retreat had been planned at one brother’s family beach house and plans were set in motion for fall recruitment, a new clothing package, fall parties, and potential service ideas.
By the time my brothers got back to campus I was enrolled in a highly intensive graduate program at a large university about an hour away from my alma mater. I tried to make regular contact with the brothers throughout the beginning of the fall semester. From the get-go, it became obvious that things were not going as planned. None of the ideas from the summer had materialized. Everything from weekly meetings to weekend parties were disorganized.
Fraternity officers refused to distribute the workload across the fraternity, brotherhood events were poorly planned, money was mismanaged, and historical documents associated with the chapter abused. Returning on alumni weekend with other recent alumni, we became aware at just how dire the situation had become. Freshmen who had been invited as part of a recruitment event were drunk and malicious towards chapter property and the girlfriend of one of the officer’s seemed to have more authority than some of our brothers in house management practices. As a result of what we witnessed, we took a more active role in guiding the course of the fraternity with the help of older alumni. Without this oversight and direction, I have certain doubt that the current brothers would have even been able to fully recruit and initiate the successful albeit small pledge class that they did last fall.
After providing the chapter with four months of close scrutiny, the alumni decided that it was only fair to once again provide the current brothers with more autonomy after the holidays. Unfortunately the situation got even worse. The older brothers did nothing to encourage unity amongst themselves and the younger ones. The newest members whom had pledged in the fall felt alienated in the life of the fraternity. Parties are not planned more than a couple of days in advance, campus involvement is non-existent, and our reputation on campus seems to be faltering. Spring recruitment never occurred and as a result for the first time in three years there is not a spring pledge class. Without a spring pledge period and the loss of the current seniors, our chapter will stand at half the size of when I graduated, with just 10 members returning next fall. Perhaps the worst thing of all is that as a result of the disorganization and laziness, the majority of the brotherhood has become self-centered and disinterested in chapter affairs. Things are looking quite abysmal.
This week one of my littles asked me to step back into the fray and help mitigate the situation before it becomes too late. I feel that the best thing to do would be to write off the current situation as unchangeable and work towards getting the chapter off on the right foot for next fall. Any advice which you can provide in assisting them would be greatly appreciated. I enjoyed the autonomy and freedom which recent alumni afforded me while an officer of my chapter, but I want to step in and do what is best to assure the prosperity of my fraternity for years to come.
This is a classic example of what happens to 20 man chapters. They can be strong for a while (even years). However, all it takes is one key leader to graduate or one bad pledge class then the whole thing fall apart…
That being said, you do have a few things going for you.
You are losing the bad apples as half the chapter isn’t returning. I am hoping that the guys leaving are the ones who have been the problem. Sounds like that is the case.
You also have energetic, young guys who have seen success before. If you didn’t, they wouldn’t be coming to you for help.
Most importantly, you have a strong core of alumni that can help right this ship.
Of course, as an alum of your chapter your leadership role has changed. You need to teach strategy, and let the young guys figure out the tactics.
The very first thing you need to do is help the young guys figure out what the chapter is about. Why are they in a fraternity? What are their goals? The answers to these questions will drive the actions of the chapter, and it is very important that the chapter has a clear vision when taking action.
Regardless of what they say, I am fairly certain their biggest goal will be getting the brothers to be proud of the chapter again. They probably feel beat down and helpless. They want a chapter they can have pride in. They want to be known on campus as elite. Your job as an advisor is to help them get there.
The first step you should do is hold a retreat with the entire chapter to discuss the state of the fraternity. It doesn’t have to be elaborate at a remote location. Having something at the house on a Saturday will suffice. Discuss what goals they have for the future. Discuss the things that they don’t like with the current state of the chapter. Put everything out there. You need to make sure everyone understands the current problems, and everyone is in agreement of the future goals.
With those future goals, you need to make sure you walk away with four or five realistic goals FOR THE SEMESTER. There is no need to be planning for an entire year. Take small steps now. You can hold another retreat to worry about next semester later.
When setting these goals, be very careful not to over-program. The chapter only has 10 guys. There is no money or manpower to do everything. Pick a few priorities and do them well.
Here are the goals I’d like to see happen:
Recruitment – Recruit 10 New Members
You have to have a solid recruitment class in the fall. This is imperative. I lay out a fool-proof strategy on how to recruit in my book The Fraternity Leader. Essentially, you need to identify and start recruiting high potential guys now and over the summer. The 10 brothers you have need to recruit the hell out of them between now and August. The goal will be to lock in a solid core of guys who you know will pledge in the fall. Hopefully, these guys will have friends that they will bring out to rush in the fall too. If you can identify 5 solid guys over the summer, then you will probably have a class of 12 to 14 in the fall. That would be huge.
As an advisor – you need to coach them on a few things. First, identify and empower someone to take the lead on recruitment. Be sure this guy owns the program.
Second, you need to explain to them where to find guys. I believe the best place is tapping into old contacts from home. Hopefully, the 10 brothers will have buddies or acquaintances from their high school who will be graduating this summer and attending your school in the fall. Identifying and recruiting these guys now will put you a leg up in August.
Third, you need to make sure your guys understand their sales pitch. What you guys are selling to recruits is the chance to rebuild a great chapter. If they are motivated, they will have the chance to leave their mark as the guy who turned a once-great chapter great again. This will appeal to type A guys – the type of guys you want and need.
Fourth, help them structure their recruitment. They obviously have an issue with it due to the size of the chapter. Make sure they aren’t spending money just to spend money. Teach them how to efficiently rush.
Recruitment is the most important goal you should have. If you can infuse your chapter with talent and energy that your chapter needs for a rapid turn-around.
Fundraising – Raise $2000
Your chapter only has 10 guys. That means your operating budget is nothing. It will be hard to turn your chapter around with no capital.
As an advisor you need to make sure someone is empowered to lead this program. Again, be sure this guy owns it.
Then, coach them on the easiest way to raise funds (Go here for fraternity fundraising ideas). Help them start a campaign asking the alumni for money. Be part of that as your participation will validate the need in a lot of the alumni’s eyes.
Help them set up a fundraiser of their own. Be sure they can make the maximum profit for the least amount of work. You don’t want the guys to dread raising the money. You don’t want to add a task that they’ll hate on an already stressed group of guys.
Social – Have 2 Great Social Events
The chapter needs to have fun. The chapter needs something to look forward to. The chapter needs to have a great social program.
And just because the chapter is small doesn’t mean the social program has to suck. It doesn’t.
I would have one party and one closed semi-formal. Empower one brother to lead each event, and make sure they own it.
As an advisor you need to coach them on how to make both events a success. Help them be creative. In a lot of ways, the results of these events will be the image they have on chapter. It will also be the image that others have of them. Therefore, it is critical that these are done right.
Community Service – Have 1 Community Service Event
You are privileged if you are in a fraternity. Sure, your chapter may be on hard times now, but you still have it better than a lot of people out there.
Empower someone to figure out a way that your chapter can give back to your local community. Whatever the philanthropy is, be sure it doesn’t seem like work for the chapter. The last thing you want is the brotherhood to be dreading doing something.
Realize you can have a lot of fun while giving back.
I think a great idea would be to tag onto a philanthropy of one of the sororities on campus. Reach out to the them and ask them if they need help. Don’t expect any recognition or anything in return. Thank them for letting you help out. Not only will you be doing good in your community, you will also be making allies with important Greeks on your campus.
There is no better brotherhood event than a road trip. Nothing will bring the guys together then having an adventure on foreign ground. You need an event like this to strengthen the relationships your guys have with each other.
Since you are a local fraternity, you don’t have the ability to visit another chapter of your fraternity. That is shame as that would be perfect in this situation.
Regardless, there are still a lot of great possibilities.
Empower someone to take the lead in organizing the trip. Make it affordable to make sure everyone can attend. And go make some memories.
If your small chapter can accomplish these goals, they will have had one heck of a semester. And nothing on this list is terribly difficult to accomplish.
As an advisor, by helping them delegate tasks in this manner you will be growing leaders in your chapter.
You also now have the ability to coach each individual to help them succeed at their task. You have the ability to coach the new president on how to manage the chapter and hold these brothers accountable. Each brother will have clear expectations and goals, and this will motivate them to be involved and committed to the chapter’s success.
I know it seems like your chapter is on the ropes and that failure is inevitable. Don’t succumb to that mindset. Coach the young guys to set small goals and then achieve them. Build that culture of success. Once a successful semester is completed, start over and set new and bigger goals.
With this strategy it won’t take long before you retake your rightful place as an elite chapter on campus.