I often suggest, on this website and elsewhere, that fraternities and sororities are operationally bloated and that our attention often turns to how much more our governing headquarters or campus offices can do or charge or spend.
Unfortunately, more hasn’t done much for us lately, and advocating for “less” often leads to complaints that one is wishing to compromise standards.
This weekend, I return to my alma mater, Stetson University, for our Homecoming weekend, which happens to begin at the tail end of Greenfeather – a program of competitive events in which organizations compete for awards and to raise money for several local charities.
Greenfeather is a longstanding tradition at Stetson, and has been a part of the University for more than 65 years, but over the years, like our fraternity and sorority system, it continued to pile on the events and competitions, and in 2009, Greenfeather lasted for two weeks.
That’s two weeks of competitive events, which ran the students, specifically the fraternity and sorority students, ragged. There were many complaints, and our fundraising dipped from an expected $20,000 to just over $12,000, which meant smaller contributions to our charity partners.
In 2010, after serving on the committee my sophomore and junior years, I was selected to be Program Director, and I rarely take on a leading role without expectations to change things up.
HOW IT WORKS
As I mentioned, there are many competitions to Greenfeather. Chalk Art, banner creations, athletic events, food drives, garage sales, lip syncs, etc. There were also “Nights Out” events, where local businesses entered into a profit sharing agreement: they got increased exposure and business and we got a small portion of the proceeds.
It isn’t difficult to imagine why expanding the program to 12-14 days exhausted the students and their wallets. Only fraternities and sororities had the interest and manpower to fully participate, and most of the programs were held indoors or isolated from one another. Greenfeather was essentially a bunch of competitive events with not much beyond a theme and themed t-shirt to tie everything together.
THE “DREAM TEAM” – FROM COMPETITION, TO CELEBRATION
As such a storied part of Stetson’s history, we hoped to excite more people for a program that truly connected our campus to many areas of the local community, from local charities to local businesses. We brought back the Greenfeather mascot, Pepe, and my advisor trusted me with unprecedented freedom to work as I needed.
The “Dream Team” as we called our committee would put together a 3-day celebration consisting of back-to-back competitive events. We reduced the number of events and focused our attention on three things: promotion, fun and fundraising.
The competitive events were always fun, but we wanted them to fit the atmosphere of celebrating Stetson and the Deland community or strictly toward fundraising. Events that were poorly attended or which didn’t contribute significantly to the bottom line were shelved and Nights Out events were spread out in the month prior to Greenfeather.
This meant we didn’t drain a student’s wallet in two weeks. We also shrunk the size of a team and halved the cost of registration, focusing instead on selling Greenfeather t-shirts . This meant that any group of students could join and participate in some or all of the events rather than just fraternities and sororities.
We hadn’t publicized previous Greenfeather events with more than a t-shirt and word of mouth, so for 2010 we upped the game.
A promotional video was shared on social media, we had a public website which updated each night with team scores and event information, and we “cool-ified” the shirts (long sleeve, black, sexy “I <3 Greenfeather logo” & the above video is the one I made [guess who is Pepe!?] and is a rebranded version for the following year, hence the chopped music)
Additionally, we presented at non-Greek organization meetings at Student Government to encourage more and smaller teams of students to participate. Each day was themed, and some events, namely Chalk Art and the Banner competition, took place a week ahead of the 3-day celebration.
The banners were placed around campus (instead of inside an auditorium) and the Chalk Art competition kicked off the event just outside of Stetson’s student union building. Airwaves, arguably the most popular event as it was a lip sync competition, closed the schedule as our final shebang.
We also attempted to have more events take place outside and around campus. The opening and closing ceremonies were in public areas of campus to catch passing students, and new events were designed to be accessible to students other than those participating on teams (such as a “fair” in which teams set up booths).
FUN & FUNDRAISING
Shortening Greenfeather to 3 days was essential to keeping it fun. The event took place over Thursday, Friday & Saturday, which meant fewer students would have to miss events for class or vice versa, and the shortened time frame meant that the event was over before it got tedious.
We still gave awards for winning “points,” but the primary award went toward fundraising averages for each team. We also, for the first time, created a portal to collect online donations, and organizations could promote Greenfeather to parents and alumni.
The separation of awards for competitive events and fundraising also reduced the “pay to play” in which groups would buy a bunch of Thanksgiving baskets for one event to win a ton of points.
Unfortunately, we did shutter or diminish some events tied to other local partners, but support was still offered and. . .
We raised nearly $20,000 over a much shorter period of time than the previous year. Our Nights Out events were more successful, the focus on fundraising helped teams prioritize how they spent their time, and online donations exceeded $500 (which was marvelous given the complex and now-dated donation portal we used).
Greek Life organizations participated as usual, but Greenfeather reached many more students and people. Better yet, the ideas were certainly replicated and although it may not be the same today as it was in 2010, our work with Greenfeather in my year as Program Director shows the value of what is advocated on FraternityMan.com.
Solidifying a purpose, focusing on respecting students time and energy, and relying on what we knew to be effective enabled us to collect about 50% more for our community partners in just 25% of the time.
Greenfeather is one example of shrinking to grow – businesses do it all the time, and it’s important that fraternities and sororities learn from this and other examples.
We are paying more than ever for programming, our umbrella groups are growing in size and influence, and fewer decisions are made by students, even though more is expected of them than at any point in our organizations’ collective histories.
Our accreditation standards are cluttered, overbearing messes of directionless publicity maneuvers. Our foundations are raising money for programs to address complex issues like hazing or substance abuse in overly simplistic ways.
I sat in a meeting once in which we discussed a fee our students paid for educational programs which should have been paid for through alumni giving.
After discussing our fundraising plans and agreeing that students shouldn’t pay for those programs, I suggested that we make public a goal to eliminate the fee if we could raise enough funds to fully cover the costs.
A colleague responded by confirming that we would never suggest that we would remove the fee – we may need it for a new program or something else down the road.
We have gotten into the terribly bureaucratic habit of growing without any self awareness. We are not appropriately respecting our students time, their energy, their financial situations or their desires in joining a fraternity or sorority.
No one joins for a cluttered checklist of things to make us look good to Congress – they just want to meet people they can learn from or with whom they can enjoy their time. Greenfeather was about fun, it was about Stetson and it was about community. Going back to those things revitalized the program. Who wouldn’t like a revitalized fraternity/sorority world?