Open Expansion – The Moral, Rational Option

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Are you having fun? Controlling everything all Hunger Games-like?

Tell the tale of how your organization was created to a passerby and they will likely be intrigued by the entrepreneurial actions of your founders. Tell them how fraternities are started in 2014 and they’ll say, “all that just to start a fraternity?”

THE DISCREPANCY

In today’s higher education landscape it’s okay for five bros to start a “ski club” which goes on a drinking + skiing trip every year on the whim of a few friends. It is not okay for ten men, fed up with their institution’s fraternities, to start their own regardless of how many advisors, alumni or national organizations are willing to back them.

That is, unless they have approval from the other fraternities or someone who knows better.

THE BACKGROUND

I am in my fourth year working in fraternity expansion. My job now is to navigate the processes of institutions across America in order to help my fraternity grow to new campuses and rebuild dormant chapters with eager alumni volunteers. When partnerships are made, it can be very fulfilling.

There are a few schools where I simply met with the IFC, a formality vote was taken and we were scheduled to develop the following fall or spring. There are other institutions where the staff/administration take responsibility for long-term success and have directly worked out a deal for colonization.

Then we have a growing number of institutions making things tougher:

Some schools are closed until the administration or staff are interested in expansion: It’s against the growth policy of the NIC and all affiliated fraternities, but honest; I can appreciate that.

Others are closed until the administration or staff decides otherwise, but the reasons given are the size, strength, health or readiness of the community: That’s poor policy and seems to be based on parental control more than practical/rational observations. We’ll get into these excuses later.

Finally we have those that are closed until the Interfraternity Council (IFC) decides to open because we higher education professionals empower students and believe in a student-lead process: This is a cop out of responsibility, plain and simple. We don’t let people join these organizations without walking them through a D.A.R.E. seminar; why are they making our long-term decisions?
[SEIFC is still the only body truly “empowering students.”]

THE IRRATIONAL

No matter the reason behind a closed system, I personally believe open expansion to be the only rational, principle-driven, no B.S. option. The right of an individual to associate with who he or she pleases is constitutional; it’s funny that the same people who stamp “net neutrality” and “eff Comcast” posts all over their Facebook timelines openly monopolize fraternity communities.

These concepts are typically done with kind hearts but misguided thoughts. They sacrifice the empowerment of a wider student body in order to coddle and protect those who’ve already joined our ranks. They encourage stagnation both in growth and values congruence among current chapter members and occasionally place huge decisions into the hands of the very people we professionals believe “don’t get” fraternity.

I’m an analogy type of guy, so let’s discuss the lunacy of closed expansion arguments with some fun ones:

 

The “Health of a Community” Argument

There’s a horse on the side of the road with its guts spilling out of its belly and blood oozing out of a mortal wound. By reason of our FSA’s, it’s better for a farmer to leave the horse as is, attach an IV and expect it to pull a plow than to use a healthy horse back at the stable.

Chapters that fail do so for a reason. Their message isn’t appealing, their membership isn’t appealing, the things they do aren’t appealing and you’ve likely saddled them with too many things for a group of 10 men to do. They will suffer more from your sanctions and mandates than a new fraternity coming to campus. If anything, a new fraternity may be the thing that lights a fire under their bums.

Facebook pushed Google to raise their salaries. T-Mobile pushed AT&T and Verizon to sell phones without sleezy contracts. Democratic Republicans pushed Monarchists to deal with a republic or go back to England. Competition is good; failure is a lesson too few millennials have experienced.

 

The “We’re To Saturated/There Aren’t Enough Men to Join” Argument

Jonny runs a donut shop; he only sells glazed donuts. 15% of the people in his town buy his donuts, the other 85% don’t want them. Susie offers to sell chocolate donuts, but the mayor says she’s not allowed to because anyone who wants a donut buys one from Jonny. No one in said town will ever taste a chocolate donut.

The key to expanding correctly is to attract new students from new markets to your organizations. Most men who join as founding fathers were at one time courted by another fraternity or have never been reached out to by a fraternity. Trust me, I’ve met with more than 400 of them.

In any market (read: even things that aren’t businesses by classification), the tipping point is 15-18% of market penetration. Before that, anyone who picks up a product is considered an early adopter or innovator; they do things simply because they’re new, they want to try them or they are pre-disposed to it.

There is nothing impressive about a fraternity community smaller than 18% of the student population. Things aren’t considered “saturated” until you’re at or above 75%. So send your frat guys back to business class, this argument is moronic.

The “We’re a Small School” Argument

See: “Saturation/There Are No Men To Join Argument.” See: Transylvania University.

 

The “We Believe in a ‘Student-Lead’ Process” Argument

Back to Jonny and his donuts. Jonny runs three glazed donut shops with two friends. Suzie again asks the mayor, the man in charge of the town, if she can set up a new, different donut shop. The mayor says that the question should be left in the hands of the other donut shops; after all, they are the donut experts. Jonny and his bros say, “Sorry Suze, we’re selling all the donuts people want.” Suzie responds by bringing a petition of potential customers to the mayor who says, “Sorry Suze, it’s in Jonny’s hands.”

You should be in charge of and take responsibility for the growth of fraternities on your campus. It’s that simple to understand. Beyond that obvious point, you should know that 15% isn’t a tipping point, that the number of alumni in a city has nothing to do with the success of a colony, that students graduating in 2 years shouldn’t make decisions that will forever affect your community and you should know what markets of students aren’t joining fraternities and why. If not, you’re doing too many alcohol programs, not enough advising and not enough research.

Let’s be real. Do students run your process because you really believe it’s reasonable or because you need a “Get Out of Jail Free” card when you see an expansion professional walking your way at a conference? I know I’m scary, smiles scare people in the 21st Century, but give yourself some credit.

 

 

The “We Are Not an ‘Expansion-Friendly’ Campus” Argument

Timmy tried an apple and didn’t like it. The grocer hands him an orange saying “you may like this instead.” Timmy’s mother explains to the grocer that “Timmy didn’t like the apple; he clearly won’t like any other fruit, ever, for the rest of his life, ever.”

Fraternities approach expansion in different ways. Some rely entirely on interest groups, some set up a table and ask men to sign up, some recruit men to throw parties and some recruit men to create something different. No matter your experience, you will always be comparing apples to oranges.

There are times when my fraternity has gone to an institution “exhausted” by expansion and doubled the numbers of any previous organization. There are times when our colonies were developed after, but chartered prior to other organizations. There are times where we’ve underwhelmed in both categories. Not all strategies work everywhere, but let’s not take half-baked data and pretend we’ve run it through UniLOA.

IN CLOSING

Disruption is important; it creates new business, it keeps the old guard on its toes and it teaches some people lessons only acquired through failure. I get it, you want a good experience, you want every man and woman to be happy and you’d have hated for your chapter to close. On the other hand, it’s your job to make sure your community is thriving, it’s your job to hold poor-performing chapters accountable, it’s your job to empower students. . . all students.

If you don’t want new fraternities at your school then make it your choice; be honest that your only reason needs to be, “because I said so.” You’ll get credit for being honest and honest expansion professionals will leave you alone.

Let’s finish with some clarifying questions:

Would Über or Lyft exist if taxi associations/unions wrote law?

Should AT&T have the right to choose who competes against them?

Should a man or woman with a great idea and a willing audience have their success dictated by those they’d compete against?

Should students be barred from failure as preparation for the real world?