New members of Delta Sigma Phi memorize the Preamble to the Constitution prior to their initiation. Many forget it shortly thereafter, and few are required to or ever take time to analyze its meaning, which is strange; It explains the expectations of membership quite clearly.
I have written before that I may differ with some in my fraternity who wish to adopt a “creed.” I don’t really care if we adopt a creed; I just wonder if it is a relevant endeavor beyond fitting in with other fraternities. We suggest in our ritual ceremonies that Delta Sig offers more than a creed – it’s a way of life.
Questions about the Preamble came up in several meetings with potential founding fathers as I and other staff would establish new chapters of Delta Sig. We had the Preamble printed on the inside cover of our folders, and the opening lines generated so many questions that we removed and replaced it with other information in subsequent prints of the folders. I was always a little miffed by this, and my concern was that we chose to hide a part of who we are, maybe because we weren’t well prepared to explain who we are.
So, I hope that this post is useful to new member educators and advisors of my fraternity and inspiring to educators of other fraternities. It is by no means a definitive interpretation of the Preamble, as this is not the definitive fraternity blog, but if you don’t have time or the interest to work it out then you may like what I offer below.
Our Preamble can be broken down into 5 key expectations of membership. They are as follows.
That the belief in God is essential to our welfare
This is the sticking point. “Do I need to believe in God to join this Fraternity?”
In terms of our written standards and expectations – no, but in another, less specific way, yes.
We were established as a fraternity admitting Jewish and Christian students at a time when fraternities admitted only one or the other. Our founders believed in a wider-reaching brotherhood, believing that the common ancestry of all men was of great importance, and that collaboration between men beyond the invisible boundaries of the surrounding society (#CultureHarmonyFriendship) would result in a better world.
So you do not need to believe in God as it is interpreted in any one religious text, but you must understand and value the common ancestry of [hu]man[s], and the equality that such a belief demands of us. Equality is a recurring theme in the teachings of our fraternity.
The liberal arts system of education was established as an expression of the first amendment to the Constitution of these United States. That same amendment protects the rights of any individual to associate with any group with whom they share beliefs, so long as they don’t violate the rights of other individuals.
We owe our existence to our constitutional government and to the school systems established to educate and prepare young men to benefit the world. Therefore, it is expected of a Delta Sig that he protect our constitutional government and our rights (which protect our existence) and support our education systems (which nurture our memberships) so that Delta Sigma Phi (and other fraternities) may continue to proliferate.
I am convinced that there is no line of work that can quite compare to that of working at a fraternity headquarters. I spent five-plus years with one.
Add those five-plus years to my time as an undergraduate member (and office-holder) and my fraternity experience is closing in on a decade!
In my time on Delta Sigma Phi’s staff I worked as a recruiter to establish new chapters, I consulted for several chapters, and managed our growth and chapter services operations.
In that same amount of time I learned to make bow ties, started two fraternity-related blogs (Hey! That’s where you are now!), moved to Charleston, SC and back, and read a bunch of Ron Paul stuff. . . what a whirlwind!
My opinions or advice may not be worth your dollar, but here are some things I’ve learned working for my fraternity’s HQ.
Leadership Is A Skill Set Requiring Practice
There are habits and practices utilized to help people become great leaders, and it pays to make those a more regular part of your own actions. That is what the majority of leadership programming teaches.
Real world practice is required to make any use of your skills. The saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” is true. Many of us think that attending dozens of programs has turned us into experts of leadership, but expertise requires practical application.
If that were not true, Hermione would be a better witch than Harry a wizard. . . For those of you who aren’t Harry Potter nerds: Would you rather a learned and practiced surgeon perform your facelift or one who has read all the books on facelifts with minimal practice?
We have many “experts” with little to no practical application in our field. Recall – the average age of a person working with fraternities/sororities is 28. Many leadership programs focus on individualizing which practices or values best suit a person, but don’t set basic standards for what it takes to be considered a great, ethical leader. To “model the way,” as they say, we set an expectation of what is required of a great leader and the common ethical standards a great leader should exemplify.
The Fraternity/Sorority World Lacks Real Competition
The coordinated efforts of fraternities and sororities to improve their position in society, to improve the fact that they are some of the most expensive things to insure next to nuclear power plants, and to improve their ability to “benefit their communities” have either failed or flatlined.
After years of experiencing “The Fraternal Values Movement,” as a student and several more years as a professional fraternity staff member, I can say that very little of what we teach, spend money on or require seems to make additional headway in addressing our greatest challenges. The people who choose what’s acceptable have agreed that service, philanthropy, leadership and values education are the way to make the Rolling Stone not hate us anymore. . . We we are still waiting for that to be the case.
People I’ve known through work put an intense focus on communities at the expense of individual organizations. College campuses establish “common values” that all fraternities and sororities share, effectively smudging the individuality of their community members. National organizations band together and speak in unison and talk up those same, self-depreciating publicity ploys to negate bad news.
Real competition would mean that fraternities compare themselves to others based on the output and quality of their memberships. To compete, we’d have to better support our network of members in their professional lives and students would need to stop recruiting fools. . . problems largely solved. Continued
What a guy right?
Simon Sinek may have led one of the most insightful and impactful TED Talks with regard to Greek Life. I am unsure of how big a deal Simon Sinek is outside of my own circles, but his name seems to have gotten around.
Let me start by saying that I’d be a fool to disagree with Simon’s understanding of leadership and messaging. I think his concept of starting with “why,” then moving to “how,” and finally “what” is a recipe for marketing and planning success that our fraternities and sororities have yet to experience, and I think it was wise to use popular examples such as Apple and Martin Luther King Jr.
Here’s my issue with Simon Sinek, this TED Talk, and his associated book “Start With Why?”:
Everyone is starting and stopping at why and nothing is getting done (or done well anyway).
I can’t effectively estimate how many times I’ve heard a man or woman explain the “golden circle” in a rushed interpretation of Simon’s TED Talk and completely ignore the whole “how” and “what” parts, but it happens a lot . . . like almost every time.
It doesn’t seem to matter if the person is a student, recent graduate, “doctor,” or CEO; they all teach it incompletely, most of the time, and it’s because we try to downplay the “how” and “what” to instead focus on the often-overlooked “why” (overlooked pre-Simon Sinek anyway). Here’s a breakdown:
- Phase 1 is determining a “why,” yes, but there are two more circles to get through. . .
- If you don’t figure out the “how,” Phase 2, and put an equal if not heightened amount of time into determining the “how,” then your product is less likely to align with your “why.”
- If you don’t spend time using the “how” to get to the “what,” your “why” and “how” are ultimately worthless.
Apple, one of Sinek’s examples in the video above, does not just say, “We do everything to be different,” and then magically obtain a killer product out of thin air. They don’t just make their products “user friendly;” anyone can do that.
Being a “different” consumer electronics company is their “why,” sure, but that took all of maybe 1 minute for Apple’s founders to determine as a good enough “why.”
How was Apple going to be a different consumer electronics company? It’s simple: Apple’s competitors focus on pushing consumer electronics to their technical limits. More processing power, more programs, better graphics and dozens of options to upgrade your device.
Apple focused on pushing consumer electronics to the limits of practicality. They focus on the effect of tech design on a person’s ability to pick up and use advanced technology with ease.
Steve Jobs, the brainchild behind Apple’s marketing and uniqueness, was obsessed with the curves of his Mercedes Benz. He felt they gave his vehicle a smooth, effortless look that made his ride more enjoyable than any other luxury vehicle.
He hired engineers to give the same curvature and simplicity to his computer products and the operating system within each of those computer products as one would expect the interior of a Mercedes Benz to compliment the design of its exterior.
Apple paid careful, obsessive attention to “how” they did things differently (the why) to achieve approachable computers (the what).
Rather than pay equal attention to the “why,” “how,” and “what,” we obsess over the why, and teach to our students that they need to “start with why.” Then, after we have focus-grouped and turned our “why” into some bland version of “let’s not suck,” we churn out “what’s” and call them “progress,” regardless of whether or not they’ve been effective in helping us progress.
Want to know why there is so much turnover in our field? Care to ask why a school can’t seem to keep policies or programs in place for longer than a few years without major overhauls? It’s because the professionals in charge know their “why” (typically something lofty and ridiculous like changing the world through frat bros) and piece together a “what” out of thin air (a policy banning single-sex groups or fifteen community values which cover the spectrum of positive publicity).
The fix is simple: spend more time in the painstaking, difficult exploration of the “how.”
Knowing why you do something is critical, but it’s not that hard to figure out.
Spend more time in contemplation, or tinkering, or whatever floats your boat, to determine how you do something so that it is uniquely yours and serves as an extension of why you want to do it.
Programs should not be created and launched overnight. Policies too should not be created or changed overnight.
With every sexual assault, or shooting, or hazing incident, or discrimination incident, our audience demands immediate action and we cave, often doing nothing but suppress the problem.
As people who claim to train America’s future leaders, we should find value in restraint and patience. We should teach our students that it is okay not to cave to the pressure of an audience. We should teach our students to be thoughtful not only in why they do something, but how they go about doing it.
Until we stop ignoring “how” at the expense of the more exciting, more marketable, “why” and “what,” we will continue to tread water when it comes to making ourselves relevant to modern college students and overcoming our greatest challenges.
DREAMS LEAD TO PLANS
What Mr. Sinek couldn’t capture with his clever, share-worthy quote designed to summarize his presentation (not for lack of knowledge, but to the detriment of his following), is that the “I Have a Dream” speech was all a part of a plan. A plan that took far more time and effort than determining the dream itself.
We are all told that joining a fraternity or sorority will open opportunities. Many of us got our jobs via connections we have made through our organizations, but many more are limited by the stigma of having the word “fraternity” anywhere on their résumé.
Here are some quick tips to turn your organizations from a potential liability to a great talking point.
1. Start With The Job
When listing leadership or work positions, choose to organize your information in the following manner:
Title – Time Period – Organization.
The important part of being President was in doing things that presidents do, not in the fact that it was for a fraternity or sorority chapter.
I often tell chapters that when raising money they should remove “Delta Sigma Phi” from things they use to market or sell because it makes them more approachable. There are many people who are immediately turned off when they see Greek letters, delay that sting by leading with your position.
2. Bold What You Want Heard
Okay so an employer will now see that you were a “President” in 2015, but let’s draw even more attention away from your scary fraternity or sorority name: bold to highlight your attributes.
Your résumé should be no longer than one page if you are a recent graduate. Reviewers spend 1-2 seconds scanning your résumé to determine if they want to read it, so there needs to be a way to draw attention to where it’s needed.
Don’t embolden any old word, willy-nilly. Use it as an organizational tool in the same way you’d use bullet points or indentations. We want this to guide a reviewer to relevant information, not to be used as a cheap gimmick like glitter to make you seem special.
President – 2015 – Delta Sigma Phi
President – 2015 – Delta Sigma Phi
By using bold to bring our your titles, someone can have an idea of your relevant experience. Now you just need to appropriately sell that experience. . .
3. Use Data, Not Job Descriptions
In an ideal world you contribute greatly to your organization. It is a typical practice to list 2-3 bullet points under each leadership position or job title, don’t let that space go to waste.
Rather than list a bunch of things that all chapter treasurers do (made an annual budget, managed $10,000), talk about what you did differently.
For example, while I was President, my Treasurer and I worked with a $400 budget to close a $18,000 budget shortfall and we didn’t cut a single activity during the term. The statistic is a part of a greater story. Simply saying that we managed a balanced budget doesn’t leave much room for elaboration. Stories make for more enjoyable conversations and are easier to recall than basic job descriptions.
Talk about the new program you built, how much more money you raised than before, how you cut expenses or how more of your members became involved. Use numbers and percentages.
4. Speak Human
No one knows what “Sergeant at Arms” means. It’s okay to replace it with a word that fits an American’s vocabulary.
Pretend your fraternity or sorority is a credit card company; use only the terms a credit card company man or woman would use. Call your brothers members, call your chapter your organization, call a philanthropy event a charity fundraiser and don’t mention ritual; there is no need for that to be on your résumé.
To put it simply do as much as you can to translate your fraternity or sorority experience into a language understood by most humans and organize your content in a way that highlights your talents and accomplishments rather than on whose behalf you were working.
Tens of thousands of students created thousands of fraternities and sororities which inevitably coagulated into the national fraternity and sorority system as we know it today.
As was noted in a recent post, fraternities were created by students and grew predominantly to protect students rights of free association.
It is a little strange, then, to see how limiting campus administrations can be with fraternity and sorority groups with only passive arguments or the cooperation of national governing bodies and nonprofits established to defend your right to free association.
In many ways, students created the very organizations which would later seek to assume control over the student experience, but the majority of fraternity constitutions I have read leave the ultimate authority in the hands of the students. This is where opportunity lies for real, practical student leadership.
I didn’t realize the power I had as a member.
Membership is lifelong, and when I had decided to no longer work for my fraternity’s central office I chose instead to create a campaign to serve on our national board. The point was to show student and alumni members who had often complained to me that there was more they could do to change the system.
I was too young to be considered and tried to challenge the rule.
The age requirement was in the Fraternity’s Bylaws, which for Delta Sigma Phi meant that I had only two ways of getting it changed:
- Request that the national board change the rule and allow greater competition (There would still be a slating committee, of course)
- Change the Fraternity’s Constitution so that the Bylaw would violate the Constitution and therefore be invalid.
It was too late to submit a Constitutional Amendment to the Constitution Committee, and our National Parliamentarian couldn’t offer much guidance, so I sent a request to the national board which promised to discuss it after the Convention. [More about the campaign here – it was fun!]
Then, after re-reading our Constitution, I came across an important note (Article IX, Section 2) – An undergraduate chapter or alumni chapter may submit an amendment to the Grand Council via certified mail at any time, and it must be distributed to all eligible voting delegates within 60 days along with a recommendation of the council.
So many member complained to me while I worked for the central office about feeling like they lacked control – and here was the control. I began investigating. In Alpha Sigma Phi, for example, the value of each vote at their national meetings is based on preserving a majority for the student body. Even if there are more voting alumni present, their combined votes will never exceed 50%.
Many organizations have these processes built in to assure that students maintain control of the process, but few seem to be promoted or utilized.
At the end of the day, the students own everything
If I haven’t said this enough I will say it now: Students own the fraternity experience.
They pay the bills, they achieve the achievements, they choose whether to remain connected to a national fraternity and, as we have seen at Michigan and WVU this fall, they choose whether to remain recognized by college campuses.
Students are our employers, and we cannot assume authority simply because we believe that they are not prepared for it.
A banker cannot confiscate her clients funds because she believes that the client will not use them wisely, and we need to learn to respect the students’ role in our processes. We need to recognize who we work and volunteer for. It is not your fraternity’s National President, CEO/Executive Director, College/University President or any combination of the above.
“He who pays the piper calls the tune,” and I am making it my mission to empower students to start calling the tunes. Every press release is aimed at appeasing fraternity/sorority professionals, the media, parents, special interests, or some combination of the four. Perhaps it is time we stop steamrolling our students simply because they haven’t (yet) learned to fight back.
Students: Your Mission
As a part of your new member experience, next executive board meeting, or next retreat, take some time to look through your fraternity or sorority’s governing documents and take note of the chain of command.
You will quickly realize that you are reserved a spot at the top – that you control every decision. Talk about it with your advisers, and think of what you want to see happen, but be mindful: pushing for too abrupt a change too quickly will make it easy to paint you as uninformed or immature.
Remember: We do not exist without you. No matter how gigantic and imposing your fraternity or the NIC/NPC/NPHC/Etc. or your campus administration seems – “fraternity” is your product. We bow to you.
Here and there, things go wrong. Many of us find ourselves in positions of leadership in these situations, and many of us reflexively move to cover our tracks.
I remember a time as Chapter President, when a report had been filed that our chapter threw a party. Specifically, the campus safety officers who had come to our chapter dormitory (“house,” but honestly more of a dorm) for a regular walk through noted that a few guests on the balcony began to blow whistles when the officers arrived, that a series of whistles went off inside the house, and that the interior was decorated to fit a beach theme.
We did have a party – it was our biggest of the year – and we were actually lame enough to outfit certain monitors with whistles, but when Nik the Chapter President showed up to the Vice President of Student Affairs’ office the following week the point made was, “You don’t have any proof.”
Perhaps it is just my imagination, but there was disappointment in his eyes. The VP was relatively new to the school, the rest of his staff introduced me as a high caliber leader, and he had to sit in a room and pretend the truth was untrue because no one would admit to it.
Things Don’t Change. . .
Working on a fraternity staff helped me empathize with the VP.
Students would hide and conceal the truth from me, the Fraternity Professional, just as me, the Chapter President, had done a decade ago. It was never truly a secret – we all knew what was going on – and it was such a shame to be unable to talk about fraternity issues as a fraternity professional because it might result in someone admitting a policy was violated.
“There was a time when men were afraid somebody would reveal a secret that was unknown to their fellows. Nowadays they are afraid to name what everybody knows”Francisco d’Anconio
It is more apparent now as a volunteer alumnus for my fraternity and a few others.
Conflating Writing A Rule With “Leadership”
I often focus on the unintended consequences of prohibitive policies   . Sure, the policies can be overbearing, and it doesn’t make sense to risk a charter because someone shotgunned a beer, but perhaps there is more to why students spend more time contemplating how to cover their tracks than how to change their behavior. Let’s explore that:
When a chapter brother is accused of sexual assault, why is he suspended from his lifelong membership? Will that help him?
When a group of young men embark on dangerous behavior, why are they stripped of their group, their membership, and – occasionally – their college experience? Will that help them?
What makes prohibitive policies worthy of applause? What is courageous about the North American Inter-Fraternity Conference’s decision to ban hard alcohol from member fraternity houses? That “tough” decision would generate just the right kind of hard ass, tough-talking press release to please parents, the media, and campus professionals.
Our students and alumni learn to cover their tracks and call it leadership by watching us – the leaders of the fraternity/sorority world. They see how we act, act in the same way, and we lecture them for it.
A Microcosm Of Political Culture
Politicians, celebrities, and fraternity leaders often present themselves as nearly ideal specimens worthy of being cherished as national treasures. They point out every possible flaw in their opposition and struggle to avoid any association with normal human failures.
It is not bad to learn from the people we see in the public spotlight, but we cannot so easily dismiss our own influence and the negative repercussions of mimicking their damaging behavior or qualities just because we are not famous.
“It’s as if they heard that there are values one is supposed to honor and this was what one does to honor them”Hank Rheardon (Character from Atlas Shrugged)
Our students know that they will be dropped by their “insurance” if they violate any fraternity policy when the unthinkable happens, and so they find it more important to cover their tracks than change their behavior.
That makes students sound devious, but what is fraternity insurance other than a way for national corporations to cover their own tracks? Students learn to circumvent responsibility in response to a system designed to circumvent responsibility. . . put that in your policy education lecture!
When advisers tell students how to stay out of trouble, rather than how to deal with it and improve, those students apply that knowledge to the rest of their life’s work.
When students see that they are cherished for doing the most (*cough* Standards of Excellence *cough*), then they come to see “success” as “doing the most.” When they move into roles in the fraternity/sorority profession they then do “the most” without offering any creativity or valuable leadership.
What we reinforce will show up in how they present themselves on social media, how they operate as an employee/employer, what they teach their children, and what they expect of others.
There is so much that is right about the fraternity experience, but we must stop blaming our students for all that is wrong about the fraternity experience. They learn to be superficial, combative, and ignorant not only from their friends or alumni, but from their campus professionals, (inter)national leadership, and umbrella association leadership.
It bothers me to think of the times where my insecurities or anger overwhelmed my common sense when making decisions. It also bothers me, as a fraternity man, to deal with policies which I find to be stupid, ineffective, and truth-deterring.
Who are we trying to fool? We all know what’s up and which special interests affect how fraternities address challenges. Will there ever be a point where we could be honest?
[This reality may not apply only to leadership within the fraternity and sorority world, but it is our risk-evading leadership which demands our students hold themselves up to a higher standard, and our risk-evading leadership which should lead that change.]
Only 1/3 of eligible millennial voters are considering voting according to the latest poll of 1,881 of them (0.000024% of the total number of millennials in America) . Try pretending to be shocked.
Fraternity and sorority professionals and fraternities and sororities themselves are encouraging their followers to vote. Good on them, voting is power and stuff. That being said, politicians saying that voting is the most important thing one can do is about as cliché as saying that this election is the “most important of our lifetime.” We get it, you guys are super important and super serious and need to win.
Here are some things to consider about your vote and the political process in general. Sure these are my opinions. . . but this is my website :).
1. Your Vote Is Your Vote
It is your right as a citizen to be able to formally express your opinion of who is in the best position to lead your local governments, state government, and federal government.
Any talk that a “vote for ____ is a vote for ____” is just a selfish human trying to guilt you into placing their beliefs above your own. If you want to write in, “Lindsay Lohan,” for every ballot line, then fricking do it!
2. Imagine That You Are A Part Of A Hiring Committee
It might be hard to believe with all the fantasy polls and ESPN-style graphics on the “news” showing which party will have control over which chambers, but elections are not actually a sport; they are a hiring process.
If a politician is working to “win” your vote by slandering his or her opponent, then they are not seeking to represent you – they are seeking to beat the other team. Why would you hire someone who acts so childish?
3. Candidate Suppression Is More Well-Documented Than Voter Suppression or Fraud
More than 80% of registered voters in the U.S. vote, but only 55% of the eligible voting population votes. 
When you compare the U.S. to the other nations on that cited list; however, take note that those other governments operate as multi-party systems with a variety of candidates representing a variety of interests and, get this, overlapping platforms! . Perhaps hundreds of millions of people just do not fit into two completely opposite political categories. . .
Candidate Suppression: States across the U.S. have implemented laws which make it tougher for independent candidates or candidates from parties not named “Democrat” or “Republican” from gaining ballot access. 
In states where those candidates do gain ballot access, they are prevented from taking part in debates , receive effectively zero media coverage , and/or are excluded from polls . Why vote when you are repeatedly mislead to believe that a person who might represent what you believe and who is on the ballot as a candidate is not a real choice?
4. If You Want To Be Informed, Avoid News Entertainment
The professional teleprompter readers on t.v. are not your friends, they work for for-profit organizations which create drama and conflama around the news to boost viewership, listenership, click, and the resulting ad revenue.
I find it strange that my friends and politicians who complain that there’s too much money or corporate interests in politics never seem to complain that for-profit news corporations endorse candidates, give them billions of dollars worth of content for free, and blatantly ignore other qualified candidates.
ex. Donald Trump underspent almost all of his competitors in the 2016 election cycle – he didn’t even set up a superPAC. He just said what he needed to say to get billions of dollars worth of free airtime or front-page real estate on the news. (Even if the coverage was negative, anyone who knows how Google/Facebook/Twitter algorithms work knows that nothing fires up a base like a verbal assault on its leader.)
It’s cool to have opinions, but it doesn’t make sense from the perspective of a voter to care so much about strangers profit-driven opinions – as difficult as ignoring them might be.
5. Yes, There ARE More Impactful Things Than Voting
- Run for office: In most cases you’ll get paid when you get the job, and the existing blue team/red team candidates are apparently unappealing to 1/2 of America’s eligible voters. . . so you’ve got something to work with. (ex. I didn’t like the options I was given for my fraternity’s Grand Council so I ran.)
- Be a service to your community: YOU are powerful. Do work you believe in, volunteer, help your family, stand up for someone being bullied, and be the change you wish to see – but for real. It is nonsensical to suggest that 400 people in Washington D.C. will ever make decisions perfectly fit for the 300,000,000+ people they represent.
- Assist a candidate you believe in: Help someone you believe in get on a ballot. Work to convince a friend to run for office. Focus on local and state governments – they are less costly, often “non-partisan,” and you can create a base to support a national campaign.
How Can You Be Informed?
You can’t – no one can be truly informed, think of how many candidates we turn on when their skeletons come out of the closet. But here is a guide to voting with a level head and making the decision that’s right for you:
- Determine what you want from government by researching political theories. No theory is perfect, because humans are imperfect, but you will probably find one you think makes sense. Consider the “criticisms” in your decision-making process.
- Realize that no one is as perfect as their Instagram. Every politician, every news anchor, and every one of your happy friends will eventually suffer from diarrhea. No one is perfect, so don’t expect perfection of a politician. That is just a way to dissuade human people like you from running for office.
- Recognize that you have a right to keep your vote secret. It can be comforting to know that you do not owe anyone any information regarding which candidates you support or if you voted at all.
- When listening to someone else’s opinion, remember that they are not perfect, that they may not make great decisions just because you like them, and their their opinion is ultimately none of your business unless you ask to hear them. Even then, see #3 – they don’t have to share opinions with you just because you have asked.
- Ask yourself if you might be wrong once or twice a year. Online debates are silly and rarely work, and most people just act like arse-faces. The best way to help yourself be open-minded is to actually question whether or not your belief system is flawed. You might not change your mind, but it will help you remember that nothing and no one is perfect.
Go ahead and vote. . . just know that your options as a citizen are only as limited as you allow them to be.
In 2014 I came across a gem of a video while putting together my fraternity’s expansion presentation – The Message Map.
To many of you, the idea itself may not be revolutionary. It very clearly aligns with Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” and the traditional understanding of human psychology that we best remember things by categorizing them into 2-4 groups, but I would like to help more student leaders and advisers make use of a message map given my experiences.
Message Map Everything! (My Time At The HQ)
The storyteller in me had unconsciously used the concept behind a message map well before seeing the video. I, like many, was taught to write essays with an introduction, 2-3 supporting sections, and a conclusion. It is a logical way to piece together a presentation, proposal booklet. . . anything really.
Still, the “message map” gave me a simple way to communicate that pitch to those collaborating with me. Humans are visual creatures, and being able to see something mapped out will speak to someone better than a long-winded explanation or page full of words. The key point of a message map is that it can visually or verbally get your point across within 15-30 seconds.
This is important during recruitment, where you may not have much time to explain what you are about before a student hangs up, wanders to another table, etc.
Our team used the message map to pitch to potential campuses, to design our summer training for the consultant teams, and we used it to set themes for our objectives for the year. In all we did particularly well, and I was floored (partly because I figured my team just ignored my rambling) when 6 months into the academic year, during a staff retreat, some consultants recited our message map perfectly from memory.
In The Chapter
I also worked with a few chapters directly, either because I had strong relationships with the chapters or because they were in interesting situations and could use someone who didn’t give a half of a poop about the traditional consultant playbook. Here are some of the results:
- One chapter grew from 7 to 30+ men in 2 years by simplifying their message
- One chapter (this fall actually) doubled in size by simplifying their message with the message map
- I sat in a chapter meeting at another chapter where general members (read, not exec board members) were questioning ideas for activities based on how they fit the message map
Here’s the deal: If you want a majority of your members to be “bought in,” if you want to improve not only the number of people you recruit but the dedication of those people, and if you want to make the process of completing all 1,000,000 things on your school’s/fraternity’s checklist o’ leadership, then follow the guide below.
(Consider this the practical application of this post about the value of a Vision over trophies, rush shirts, etc.)
1. Craft Your Message Map
Crafting your message takes some reflection – you need both the “Twitter friendly headline” (your why), and 2-3 supporting points (your how’s). Here are some thoughts:
- Gather your newest members – ask them why they joined the fraternity and take notes. Ask the same question of members who actually show up to things.
- Look through your Ritual and jot down a few recurring themes. What are the major lessons or takeaways from each ceremony.
- Gather your executive board, maybe even your chairmen, and look through the previous year’s calendar. Which events/activities did you love, which were just necessary, and which felt like a waste of time.
Doing that gives you an idea of who your chapter is and what is expected of your chapter in your Ritual. Chances are your “twitter-friendly headline” is going to be something about brotherhood and making people better through. . . this is where your three points (the things which will differentiate you from any other fraternity) come in.
Find an alumnus who is not attached to the past and show them this post and the message map video. Explain that you need them to make sure the idea of a message map stays in place when you’ve graduated from your position.
2. Plan With Your Message Map
Now it’s time to put it in action. Let’s say that your 15-second pitch (the combination of your headline plus your 2-3 points) is as follows:
“The Members Of Pi Zeta Alpha Fraternity seek to build supportive, lifelong bonds by uniting men committed to personal development and a love for pizza”The mission statement of Pi Zeta Alpha Fraternity – a fraternity I have been dreaming of for years.
Your mission is to look through all of the events that you’ve done and all of the events you need to do per your school’s/fraternity’s checklist o’ leadership.
See which activities or events automatically fit in with “supportive lifelong bonds,” “personal development” or a “love for pizza.” Remember: you’ve chosen these things because they represent truths already evident in your chapter’s membership and activities, so this shouldn’t be hard.
There will be things which do not fit. You might need to do a philanthropy event, but a volleyball tournament might no longer fit with the chosen categories. There’s no need to completely trash the event; just be open to trying something new.
3. Craft & Teach the 30 Second Pitch
Now, if at any point a student says, “Tell me more, how does ‘pizza’ become a part of your fraternity,” you have 2-3 activities which support that point. You or a strong recruiter might say:
We have a pizza party once a month, our fall brotherhood retreat is actually learning to make pizza from scratch, and one of our spring projects is making pizzas from scratch to feed students during finals week.– The amazing things your chapter can do if it was all about pizza. Booze not necessary.
Would that actually attract any student to your fraternity? I have no idea. People love pizza, but my guess is that no chapter will actually use Pizza as a supporting point. Would I support my chapter if they chose to use “pizza” as one of three themes? Abso-f***ing-lutely.
In any case, you can see how that chapter clearly demonstrates how they bond over pizza – you can even get an idea of how they transform a brotherhood event (learning to make pizza) into a service event (providing pizzas during finals, at a shelter, etc.).
4. Learn The Art of Inception
The only people who should hear the phrase “message map” are your executive board and your recruitment team. This is an important point, because people hate feeling like things are being imposed on them. If you get a chapter of 50 people together to craft a message map it’s going to be generic and some people are going to be livid that their suggestions weren’t included. Skip the drama.
Instead, once your executive board/adviser is on board, start using the language throughout the chapter meeting. Acknowledge that everyone loves pizza, and that it just so happens that you’re going to do a brotherhood event about making pizza, then pause for the cheering.
Then, later, acknowledge that the event was so fun, you’re going to replicate it and donate the pizzas you make so you don’t have to do whatever other service project you were going to do. Continue using the 2-3 words throughout chapter meetings and in how you promote events.
The third chapter I mentioned above simply kept using their chosen words, “atypical” and “genuine,” in regular conversation. Eventually, the brothers got the point that if they wanted their ideas to be taken seriously, they needed to pitch them as something atypical, genuine, or both. All of the new members were recruited with those words, and so the brand stuck over many years.
5. Leave It Open To Evolution
Your “twitter-friendly headline” is unlikely to change much over time, and the interests of your members are unlikely to swing wildly from year to year. That being said, do not attach your ego to your message map. Things do change, and it is more important that your chapter apply a message map well then apply the exact same message map five years from now.
This is why it is important to get your strategic-planning-savvy alumni aware of the value of a message map early in the game. Maybe in five years the chapter decides it likes burgers more than pizza. That’s fine! They’ll just swap pizza out and swap the burgers in. Maybe they sell burgers to raise funds for local farms. Great!
The 100% truth is that the most impressive and successful chapters I visited while on the headquarters were able to demonstrate how unified the students and alumni were in buying in to a clear vision of what that chapter offered and what that membership was about. It was during those visits that I realized our accreditation system needed to be revamped to promote specialization and niche-development within our chapters.
Do not be a jack-of-all trades fraternity chapter. Focus on the things you like, and turn the things you are required to do into things you like to do. We might finally convince fraternity/sorority professionals to ditch the checklists once and for all, open their minds, and let students to do things they’re passionate about.
“Bigger is better” is an occasionally destructive mindset plaguing the American people. We imagine that the most popular politicians, rappers, or food chains produce the best content, but that is too far from the truth.
No one considers McDonald’s the place to get the highest quality hamburger just because it has sold billions of them.
Fraternities and Growth
Fraternities and sororities, despite their insistence that they adhere only to the highest of standards, often fall victim to the “Bigger is Better” mindset.
The more we expect of fraternity chapters, and the more campus professionals and the public expect of fraternity/sorority central offices, the more members a chapter needs to be able to complete the leadership checklists and pay for the new programs. 
I remember being instructed to convince a chapter with over 100 members that they needed more members. . . it didn’t make sense. For What?
There wasn’t a reason other than we didn’t want them to think that they should stop growing, because growth is automatically good and bigger is automatically better. That mindset didn’t take their goals and ambitions into account, and they rightly questioned our motive. They weren’t in any risk, had a strong recruitment record, a strong local niche, and pulled potential members from consistent channels.
Exponential growth is not necessarily bad, but it is often placed on a pedestal among fraternity folk. When we encourage a chapter to increase in size, we need to observe if the chapter “grows good,” otherwise we risk being caught off guard when the chapter eventually falls apart.
Things To Keep In Mind If You Are A Recruitment Officer A Fraternity/Sorority Professional, Or An Adviser
I spent 3 of my 4 undergraduate years on our recruitment team, then 6 more years recruiting and overseeing recruitment at my national fraternity. Here are some things our team(s) learned over the course of those 9 years of experience.
1. Have an idea of who you are and what you want to accomplish
The first step to good growth is defining a simple, functional vision for your chapter. Every organization needs to have a direction, and defining the type of things you want your chapter to do will help you sell the experience to the right people.
Chuck might be a good guy, sure, but if Chuck doesn’t like service, and you need him to complete 30 hours every semester, then Chuck should not be in your fraternity. As mentioned in a recent post: A vision trumps trophies when it comes to recruitment.  It also makes it easier to let go the people who don’t fit – pity bids are not real bids.
2. Take Note Of What You Have To Work With
You need to align where you want to be with what you have to work with right now. Fraternities (undergraduate chapters and central offices alike) are notorious for BIG PLANS with underwhelming results. Figure out which roles you need filled to accomplish your vision as well as how many of your members are going to be involved in the new member process before you start recruitment.
You should only have 2-3 times (maximum) the number of new members as there are brothers who can commit to serve as co-educators, big brothers and mentors to the new members (10-20 hrs per week).
Your new members should have an idea of how they would like to participate in the life of the chapter after initiation, and you should spend a considerable amount of time during the new member process helping prepare them to do what they joined to do: contribute.
3. Identify Your Channels
While you are planning for the number of men you can reasonably prepare for membership, your recruitment team should use your vision to determine where you will pull members from. It is foolish to rely only on those men who apply for fraternity rush to fulfill your needs – particularly as college enrollment is set to drop.
If you want to be leadership-oriented, academically-oriented, faith-oriented, etc. – there are probably related clubs that your chapter should meet and collaborate with throughout the year. Position some members as orientation leaders or tour guides – you need members in places where they can refer quality potential members back to the recruitment team.[For more tactical knowledge on how to make use of these relationships, consider PhiredUp’s resources]
4. 365 Recruitment Is More Inception, Less Smoker Party
When chapters hear “365 Recruitment” there is automatically the impression that “recruitment” needs to happen throughout the year. It does, but you don’t need to plan recruitment events throughout the year. Instead, you need to make sure that all of your events are geared toward recruitment.
If you are planning a service event, invite some prospective members to help. They’ll get to know your chapter, you’ll get to see if they actually care about what you do, and you have effectively helped them understand what it is like to be a fraternity member.
Doing this takes a lot of unnecessary work off of your recruitment officer/committee’s plate – their job after “formal recruitment” is simply to help figure out how to make each event something that can involve potential new members or how each event can be marketed to potential members.
5. Set Some Objective Pre-Requisites & Stick To Them
As mentioned in a post from last year , every potential member should know exactly how much membership will cost, the real requirement of time, the moral expectations of every member, and your chapter’s vision and goals.
Do not wait until you are in debt to learn that a member cannot pay or commit 10 hours a week to the chapter because you were worried you’d “scare him off” if you told him upfront. Dead weight isn’t sexy.
6. Shrug Off The Pressure From Above
Your alumni, campus professionals or fraternity/sorority central office will always want you to be bigger. Beyond the revenue and press releases and such it simply makes them feel secure that your chapter won’t shrink into oblivion – but it is important to recognize that growing wildly is not a recipe for stability.
Responsible growth means knowing why you are growing, planning ahead for what to do with your new members when they arrive, and re-assessing your situation when the time comes again to recruit more people.
Good Growth Doesn’t Need To Be Slow
It might sound like I’m simply warning a chapter from growing too quickly, but it is all a matter of preparation. If you and your new members understand what needs to happen for the chapter to succeed then it is okay to grow quickly.
Just try not to expect that rate of growth to last forever, and try to accept that there will come a point where adding members offers limited benefit to your chapter experience.
I once consulted a chapter that had whittled down to 7 men. We spent some time together determining what type of man they wanted to recruit and which niches had not been filled by the other fraternities at their institution and determined that focusing on leadership positions on campus and attracting international students for cultural diversity would be their key selling points.
Within a year, they grew from 7 men to more than 20 men, then later to more than 30 men (at a school of <1,000 students), but every single potential member they talked to knew that the chapter aimed to serve as a representation for student leaders and broadening one’s cultural connections.
They succeeded in good growth because they knew what they wanted to be, they knew the type of men they wanted to recruit, and the new members all knew exactly what they were joining and what was expected of them. Simply planning and communicating well helped the chapter be exactly what its leaders set out for it to be.
That’s it! What are some of your thoughts on “good growth”? Share on social media or in the comments below!
Pennsylvania recently passed new hazing legislation thanks to the tragedy at Penn State and the diligent work of the parents of the hazing victim. The North-American Interfraternity Conference’s coalition with parents of hazing victims seeks to enact more prohibitions like Pennsylvania’s in other states and federally with the Reach Act.
Still, a quick search of deaths due to hazing will show that the number of deaths due to fraternity hazing have increased since the turn of the century, which coincides with increased state-level prohibition, increased fraternity-level prohibition, and excessive spending on anti-hazing educational programming from experts in the field. 
“With this bill it is a crime to force a student or minor to consume food, alcohol or drugs or subject them to physical or mental harm that is all too common on college campuses”Tom Wolf, Governor of Pennsylvania
Dear Governor Wolf: Was it legal to force a student or minor to consume anything or subject them to physical or mental harm prior to this new criminal law?
Probably not, but when we confuse writing rules and patronizing pacification with leadership we are rewarded with this type of redundant, backward legislation. 
Prohibition Makes Desirable Things Happen In The Most Undesirable Ways.
Let us look at some examples:
Alcohol: The clearest example is alcohol prohibition, which resulted in the closure of nearly 200,000 saloons and parlors across the nation with the passage of the 18th Amendment. Alcohol still existed, and was still consumed, only now it was done in secret and the only means to acquire it was through cartels like that of Al Capone – widely regarded as one of if not the most deadly gangsters in American history. (Chi-city baby!)
As a result of prohibition, these cartels began selling harder alcohol. As is noted in this recent piece by Forbes about marijuana prohibition (getting to that), it was much easier to hide a single barrel of whiskey than 8 or so barrels of beer with the same alcohol content. The product got stronger, more dangerous, and the secret activity around it created a deadly environment for those involved in its sale.
Cigarettes: Many know of Eric Garner, a New York City man who was killed by police at a time when the Black Lives Matter moment was at its news-media coverage peak (it must no longer drive healthy advertising revenue. . .).
Garner was killed while under arrest because he was suspected of selling single cigarettes on the street without tax stamps. A pack of 20 cigarettes faces a $5.85 combined state/local tax in New York City. Whether you like or dislike cigarettes or a person’s decision to smoke them, one can be assume that there are more pressing criminal activities demanding NYPD’s attention.
Marijuana: Returning to the Forbes article – we see noted there that Marijuana, a substance which has not resulted in a single death in the known history of the world, has become more dangerous due to prohibition.
In addition to the illegal trade and violence surrounding illegal trade of the drug, laws which penalize someone with marijuana for the amount they possess in grams encourages consumers to seek marijuana with higher THC content (the stuff that gets you “high”) often at the expense of the plant’s CBD content (the stuff used to treat epilepsy and which neutralizes the neurosis-causing effects of long-term THC use).
Dealers benefit from more potent stuff because it means there is less for them to transport in general and with each transaction. Containers with marijuana are labeled in states where it is legalized with the anticipated effects and THC content. Which brings us to . . .
Opioids: Incarceration of illegal users of opioids is expensive, does nothing to address addiction, and results in those same addicted abusers returning to prison for repeat violations. We could save lives and money if our focus was, like alcohol, on rehabilitative services.
“Prohibition does not eliminate desire, but makes it happen in the most dangerous and undesirable way.”Congressman Ron Paul
Our uneasiness in dealing with fear and addiction drive our desire to banish and blame those things which lend themselves to abuse. It is an interesting phenomenon to watch fraternities position themselves as stewards of mental health while continuing to support policies criminalizing those who exhibit poor mental health.
Discriminating Between Dangerous Hazing & Legitimate Rites of Passage
Perhaps those students and alumni who desire a rite of passage are not criminals. Could we help chapters move away from forced consumption, physical abuse and mental abuse and toward a more rewarding, relevant challenge if conversations about hazing could be had without disclaimers and “amnesty” rules?
Students seem to find a way around each new rule meant to combat hazing:
- Shortening the new member period has resulted in the hazing of new initiates or seniors.
- Deferred recruitment just means that lawless, alcohol-induced, expensive underground recruitment occurs throughout the fall term.
- Blanket zero-tolerance policies applied to a broad definition of “hazing” results in more potent, less detectable, and deadlier hazing activity.
The proof is in the numbers, more students have died to hazing this decade than at any time in history. No laws, lectures, or “standards of excellence” programs have made any measurable impact. It is obvious to anyone who can read or who has dealt with addiction: Criminalization is not a solution, but it is the cornerstone of every modern fraternity/university press release.
Anything that gives the impression of “earning” initiation is deemed hazing and immediately shamed and banned. Just say “scavenger hunt” to an ambitious fraternity/sorority professional and watch their face – it will look as if they just heard about 9/11.
We close chapters and imagine that they will be permanently “better” when they are re-established – but the risk management issues persist because nothing has changed behind the scenes.
I wonder. . . would too many people lose their authority, their relevance, or their career if the hazing problem were truly solved? Is that why so many work together to promote costly ideas known to fail?
I doubt it is anything so consciously evil – maybe it is just an issue of pride and the cultish reality tunnel of the fraternity/sorority professional network that chokes out any person with a different idea to address the hazing issue.
Real Hazing Reform
In addition to the three suggestions I have for the NIC’s coalition to end dangerous hazing (link – reform insurance, end checklist leadership, report the stats), perhaps it is time we consider developing real, post-adolescent rites of passage as an essential element of a lifelong fraternity experience.
Broad, unrefined prohibition is an unworkable answer considered respectable only among those who fetishize authority and power – people who have no place in leading a values-driven fraternity experience.
Dog and Pony Show Laws like Pennsylvania’s, which merely bundle already illegal things together with a different context and title, will do nothing to stop deaths due to hazing. They may actually make it worse.
The newest podcast from Greek Life Today features the author behind a photo book featuring the inside of a pre-social media fraternity house. There is not much available on the internet, but what I can see and what I heard in Jon’s conversation with the author (Andrew Moisey. Seriously, check out that episode & podcast. High quality Greek Life media.) captivated me.
Jon asks at the end of the episode what Moisey believes fraternities and sororities can do to address their current challenges. One of the things Andrew suggests is “end the secrecy.” The reasons he offers are not too different than what I once argued in a post about the effect of secret-keeping on our ability to discuss non-secret things within our organizations – let alone with the public. 
Conventions 2011, 2013 & 2015
No matter my position on the fraternity staff, I chose to do the most menial work at our Convention. I once refused to find a new staff member to fetch coffee for a national officer and demanded that I be sent to get the coffee – I always make points with dramatic flair. . . shocker.
In any case – I would often serve as the door guard prior to our assembly meetings. Attendees and delegates would be required to perform the secret handshake and say the secret password to enter into the room. Few if any of the 500+ attendees at any Convention were aware of the grip or the password. Many forgot (or never knew) both of them. We would send dozens of men (young and old alike) to the end of the line to learn from a friend.
I believe the grip and password is now reintroduced at delegate training sessions due to the fact that the men who were literally voting on legislation that would change our ritual seemed to know nothing of it.
It should go without saying that one could assume that many of those men would scoff at the idea of publicizing a ritual they remember little to nothing of, but such is the case of fraternity.
Instead of going full crazy and suggesting that our ritual be made public I am offering some suggestions to my Fraternity’s leadership and chapters of my fraternity to reduce the mystery (and the resulting public anxiety/resentment) around our fraternity. It may also help more members and the general public understand what we are about – and how beautiful it all is.
I would assume that these ideas can apply to any fraternity or sorority. . . but I don’t know your secrets.
“We’re all slowly going mad, from poverty and anxiety and mystery.”Robert Anton-Wilson
Ritual In Meetings. All Of The Time.
Unless your national policy strictly forbids it, incorporate ritual into all of your chapter events and meetings. It doesn’t matter if you are dressed up: address the officers by their proper titles, use the proper hand signals to be called upon, sit in the proper formation, etc.
Thousands of hotel staff across the country have seen the shape that Delta Sigs sit in. . . and it doesn’t matter because none of them know why. These symbolic traditions make meetings more enjoyable and increase the morale and commitment of members. 
When I became a Director at our central office we incorporated Ritual into our team meetings and local rituals (like a weekly pass the gavel) into our training process.
While Chapter President I set up Chapter to sit in formation and use the proper signals before our chapter room was fitted with curtains because we had gone more than a year without a proper chapter meeting. Guess what? The secret didn’t get out. The reason is simple: People don’t actually care.
Publish “Exoteric” Rituals Online & In New Member Manuals
Some of our rituals are technically open to the public. These include a housing dedication ceremony and a ceremony for brothers who have passed away. There is no reason for these ceremonies to be contained only to the ritual book. They are beautiful ceremonies and they demonstrate the application of our symbols and values without giving anything away.
Put them on the national website, a chapter website (they’re not secrets), Wikipedia, WikiFrat, in our new member manuals, wherever. They need to be accessible. If five fraternity brothers stay in touch for life and one of them passes away, there is no reason to suggest that the rest pay $1,200+ each attend a Convention or acquire a ritual book to conduct the Bond Eternal Ceremony.
Open Up Pledge/New Member Ceremonies
Some chapters invite parents or spouses to the Pledge Ceremony. Ours reveals little about our fraternity, its symbols, or what they mean. Consider that 10-20% of the men who take part in a Delta Sigma Phi Pledge Ceremony do not follow through with initiation. . . it was designed to maintain our secrets.
That ceremony is a wonderful opportunity for parents to be involved at the start of their son’s journey as a fraternity man. It can also serve as an important moment (similar to most ancient or indigenous rites of passage) where they learn that their son or daughter should try to become self-sufficient.
To follow that up – make your member experience about helping people become self-sufficient (this goes to FSL pros too). Defend this next generation of college students from the helicopter parents which plagued the Millennials.
Chapters – Create Local Ritual Books
If you can’t write down your local rituals – even if you keep it just as secret as the national ritual – then you seriously need to rethink your local rituals and traditions. I am not even saying that as a finger-wagging fraternity/sorority professional; it’s just practical advice.
Furthermore, writing down the specifics of, for example, your big brother ceremony, your pre-initiation traditions, your senior wills ceremony, etc., will allow you to provide clear instructions so that Johnny 6-Pack – Sergeant at Arms 2022 – can’t wildly misinterpret what he “remembers” and get your chapter shut down for killing someone.
Writing the rituals/traditions down is half the battle to making sure they stay intact and making sure they are net-positives for your brotherhood. Relying on memory is for shamans, and I don’t care how much pot you smoke – a shaman you are not.
Provide Redacted Editions of Ritual
Short of going completely public, Fraternities should consider providing versions of their secret ritual ceremonies with the “secret” elements redacted.
What does that mean? Anyone who search the internet for a Sphinx, three pyramids, a lamp, a lute/lyre, and a Gordian Knot – all of which are symbols of hundreds or thousands of other organizations – can probably make a surprisingly accurate guess as to what our initiation ceremony is like or what those symbols represent. It’s not rocket science.
There are some secrets which add to the fun of the brotherhood. The secret behind YITBOS is ultimately meaningless – but fun. The secret grip, knock, password, etc. are ultimately meaningless, but fun. (How many of you actually use them as a security measure?)
So why not show people that our ritual doesn’t endorse any form of violence and show people that it actually has a modern, relevant message by sharing the unsecret parts and redacting those which give away the few secrets we actually wish to protect?
In Summary: Ignore the most offensive elements of this post and advocate for those with which you might agree. I’ll leave you with this splendid tweet from a member of Phi Kappa Psi’s Executive Council: