As Britney Spears once said, “Go call the po-lice; go call the go-vah-nah,” we have a serious case of apathy!
Thousands of fraternity chapters across the country suffer from the same issue: most of their members do nothing except occasionally show up. Our leaders are overburdened both by inept chapter members and professionals seeking to pad their resumes with their students’ accomplishments. Meanwhile, Johnny 6-pack is living the good life and smoking joints in the bathroom before the chapter meeting begins.
Perhaps your issue isn’t quite as dramatic as that, but you are certainly reading this post because you believe your membership suffers from some form of apathy, and you’re probably right. It’s common for a majority of a chapter’s membership to perform a third or less of the work required to be considered a success, and I’ve got some simple ways to fix your problem.
Yes, I said fix, and I guarantee that following these steps as prescribed will result in a less apathetic membership, but you must follow them as prescribed. Before we begin, throw away any point system that you’ve developed. All that a point system does is give your overburdened officers even more to pay attention to while the success of your chapter dies alone and under-nurtured in a corner. Seriously, point systems are for the unimaginative. You can do better.
Step 1: Care About Something
Being “better” is not something to care about. Sure the idea of constantly improving oneself is noble, but every fraternity or sorority on your campus is following that same mantra. Figure out three things that your membership genuinely cares about and make your fraternity or sorority experience entirely about those three things.
If your membership can’t agree on three things, gather your least apathetic members together and figure out the three things they care most about. These are the people who are likely recruiting for you anyway, so you’ll want to recruit people who care about the same thing (more on that later).
In the end, if your chapter has no reason to gather other than making friends or being better, you should accept that your members will stumble upon cheaper alternatives that yield the same results or that your senior members, comfortable with the friendships they’ve made and believing that they are the best they can be, will drop off of the face of the Earth as they tend to do.
Step 2: Talk About What You Care About
We believe that chapter meetings are meant to be sermons. (Read this for the full understanding)
Have you ever been captivated by a speaker or left a meeting feeling invigorated for whatever you are about to do? There is an energizing quality in attending a meeting regarding something you care about and leaving that meeting feeling like you know more about what you care about or that you’ve done something to benefit something that you care about.
Chapter is a time to bond. It is the one time each week when we can expect to be in a room with our brothers or sisters in the bond of fraternity. Make sure your ritual is present and make sure that business is covered, but spend a significant portion of your meeting talking about or learning about your chapter or fraternity’s chosen purpose.
This is a time to go all out. No half-arsed, monotone and poorly planned speeches. If you are going to speak you better be damn ready to command the room. Furthermore, you better have something to say that is worth hearing. Pick a quote that means something to you and break your chapter up into smaller groups to discuss it.
Too cool to talk about feelings? Talk about how awesome it is to be chivalrous. . . that’s like the one thing that every guy pretends he cares about.
Step 3: Committees – Use Them Right
A lesson: a chairman is referred to as such because he or she typically presides over a committee. To have a chairman with no committee isn’t impossible, as demonstrated by many organizations, but it isn’t necessarily to your benefit.
Think of Congress. Each representative or senator is typically assigned to one or more committees. When your new members join, involve them immediately in committee meetings if they are not allowed to attend chapter meetings. Build an identity around the committees and give them some real power. Do you want to have a say in the next philanthropy event? Chapter is no longer a time to discuss plans, it’s a sermon, so you need to go to the committee meeting an hour ahead of chapter.
The best part of this is that more people can take chairman positions. You can have a philanthropy committee, but also a committee for specific events with a unique chairman. If a member wants to put on a play, let him become the chairman of a theater committee and put on a play with whichever brothers want to have a little fun. It’ll give you the opportunity to explore more of your members’ interests.
The committees themselves do not eliminate apathy, but the indoctrination of your members to serve on committees and to be expected to have a voice will. Better yet, men or women who join your organization will know about this expectation ahead of time, which brings us to. . .
Step 4: Stop Lying
If you are angry that members aren’t participating at all or do nothing more than show up to chapter, stop pretending like that’s all you need to do when talking to potential new members.
Sometimes there are men or women that we desperately want in our chapters, but we need to start being more honest with recruitment. That means we need to be honest with ourselves in regard to who we want and whether or not they’ll be able to contribute as they should. We also need to be honest with new members by telling them the real time commitments and expectations (involvement on at least one committee for example) and stop downplaying things that are realities.
Dues are a reality. Payment plan or not, if you can’t make $XXX work each academic term, you won’t be able to maintain membership. Parties are not just one thing a chapter does, parties or socials are typically 50% or more of the activities a chapter does. If you tell someone he doesn’t need to drink or doesn’t need to attend social events if he doesn’t want to, don’t get angry when he doesn’t show up or doesn’t buy a drink.
Perhaps if we spent more time being brutally honest about the expectations of membership, we would recruit men and women who can commit to those expectations. Whatever drop in membership you experience will fix itself in one or two years because your chapter of all-stars will inevitably attract more all-stars. This is the most important objective of all.
Step 5: Fail Forward
Everyone has a fear of failure. If you are the person in your chapter who ends up doing everyone else’s job: Stop.
Let your officers, chairmen and committees fail once without repercussion. On the second failure, discuss whether the position is right for them. On the third failure, that person is out. We need real repercussions for failure to perform a duty as expected. If your members are required to maintain a 3.0 GPA and to volunteer 20 hours a year, and Surfer Bro Bob has maintained a 1.5 GPA since initiation and completed 4 hours two years in a row, then Surfer Bro Bob needs to be cut.
Here’s the real fact about brotherhood and sisterhood: it requires you to be brutal. A good brother offers assistance, but knows when assistance is futile. Surfer Bro Bob will attract more men like him, and your chapter will get worse and worse as the years go by. Use failure as an opportunity to learn. You can’t run yourself ragged out of a fear of failure or because your brothers have used the bond between you against you. Man up and be a responsible human.
That’s it, the simple guide that will certainly eliminate apathy in every chapter. It’s a tough pill to swallow, and requires consistent attention over a year or two, but it will certainly set your chapter up for a better future.