Like all things fraternity, the concept of national consultants visiting chapters every year would have been a foreign concept to our respective founding members. The earliest fraternity “staff” were often national secretaries whose primary responsibility was to maintain records and work with volunteers to determine if chapters were meeting the national standards set by governing boards.
You can see the remnants of these archaic systems in your fraternity or sorority governing documents. In many cases, the Executive Director/CEO is the only professional hired full time by the governing board, and many organizations allow for stipends to be paid to volunteers – from the time in between full volunteer support and full-time traveling consultants.
The question I would like to pose is which would be the best system for the technological reality of 2018. Are traveling consultants an effective use of member dues? Could we re-invest the money spent annually to train and send traveling our consultants on, for example, digital investments, volunteer training, or interactive resources?
I have a habit of wondering aloud things that some would consider preposterous, such as decentralizing fraternity insurance, so I’ll go ahead and do it here as well.
Technology Diminishes The Need For Consultant Staff
Let’s get this out of the way – Consultants were absolutely essential at a time when text and video could not be sent instantaneously and when calling a student meant a phone ringing in a booth and not in his or her pocket. It was an effective way to check up on chapters because the only other options were landlines or snail mail. We live in an entirely different era of technology, but consulting has remained largely the same.
Sure it is fun to grant a consultant access to the inter/national Instagram account for a day, but is that an effective use of modern technology or student dues? Modern students establish many of their relationships exclusively through the internet – there is no reason for fraternities (the supposed experts of social relationships) should be so far behind on the curve.
Resources and workshops which can be facilitated in-person by alumni or self-facilitated by students can be widely distributed with the tap of a screen. Much of what we teach can be provided through video, social media, and blog content (I still think every fraternity should have a Wiki).
A medium sized fraternity will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a consultant program, and yet students get 1-5 days of face time per year with their consultant (and not even all of the students), chapters still hide plenty from those staff, and the role’s duties (while certainly fulfilling) are not often in line with what many students are studying in school. Any serious issue with a chapter is typically elevated to staff above the consultant level.
What Could We Do Instead?
There are some things which cannot be accomplished via technology. Fraternity expansion, for example, is difficult to conduct without staff visiting a college campus – assuming most fraternity leaders still daydream about the rapid growth of the early 2000’s in the face of declining enrollment.
Still, rather than hiring a team of 3-12 consultants, a Fraternity could hire a few traveling educators to provide relevant workshops across the country. It could better invest in technology and communication efforts or focus those funds toward training and providing stipends to alumni volunteers. The amount of information a consultant is expected to relay to chapter leaders is as ridiculous as modern standards of excellence checklists, and that is often due to an under-investment in communication teams.
Back to those defunct regional alumni positions – let us reinvest into those positions and our volunteers. Most fraternity consultants will stick around for 1-3 years, and most chapter officers will be in a position for 1-2 years, so it makes the most practical sense to invest in training alumni and volunteers.
If we want a personal connection to the fraternity, why not make it with someone local to the region with life experience and an actual position within the governing body of the fraternity (rather than an entry-level staff member disconnected from the governing processes)
Providing volunteers with high quality resources to assist in their efforts to work with chapters and local advisers is a crucial investment that many organizations have identified as necessary, but few have been able to offer the appropriate attention. These are people who live among students and who can more effectively earn their trust than a 22-year old from a “good chapter” 500 miles away.
What’s Holding Us Back?
Simply put – tradition. Just as fraternity professionals will complain that students haze, binge drink, and sexual harass one another due to outdated traditions, so too do we fail to make any meaningful reform at the inter/national level for that reason.
I was at one point asked to draw up a new staff model. Radical as it was I did away with consultant model in favor of 1-2 full-time member-support staff (who’d be based at HQ and manning the phone lines, social media interactions, & dues collection). You can tweet your questions/issues to Verizon or Whole Foods and have a dedicated staff member work with you – why not fraternities?
Our educational team would be fitted with 2-3 traveling educators, who would basically be highly specialized consultants who traveled on a need-basis and also contributed to the development of educational resources and workshops, which would have doubled or tripled our proprietary content and created a pipeline in the case that our Director ever chose to leave the team.
It was considered “good,” but “too different from anything we do now.” I am not complaining; I fully understand the difficulties of moving change through an inter/national, democratic organization, but it is important to note that we may by hypocritical in asking our students to change everything about how their chapter operates without being so willing to do so at the top.
No model is perfect, but the existing traveling consultant model is an ineffective use of student dues. I also believe that our entry-level staff can be better prepared for the modern workforce by hiring them into positions which translate well into said workforce. As much as I loved my time doing consultant work; I think that our volunteers would better fit the role and that our students would be better served and represented.