Students run fraternities. They recruit the members, put the work into our good statistics, and ultimately own our future. That ownership is not represented in fraternity leadership.
Most fraternity governing boards consist of men several generations removed from the college experience. More and more decisions are made by a professional class of fraternity men and women.
In “Good Profit,” Charles Koch (disliked by many and also great at business) emphasizes the value of “decision rights.” The basic idea is that those best suited to address a problem are often those involved most directly with it. A factory manager will offer insights which may otherwise go unnoticed by far-removed executives.
Fraternities suffer by relying too heavily on the men and women at their central offices in Indianapolis (mostly).
“What Are Our Members Thinking?”
Assessment is the name of the game, and tying a survey and statistics to a press release is automatic clout nowadays. That being said, we should not be so eager to trust all data. Surveys and data are very easily organized in a way to affirm whatever an interest wishes to be true.
That should not be a surprise: We are going to ask about the things we pay attention to. But, it is an ineffective way to gather a pulse on an organization or community. It is most noticeable when the same groups which provide assessments offer solutions tailored to those expected outcomes.
The problem is that fraternity leaders create a feedback loop where they search for specific evidence to justify specific responses. Once again, special interests guide the direction of fraternity organizations more than their students.
How Else Can We Learn What Members Are Thinking?
Ask. I would often receive comments and critiques from members while working at my fraternity’s headquarters. It becomes easy; however, to dismiss those comments as ramblings from members who do not know any better. Organizations seem hell bent on hearing the same things they always hear, but instead through filtered results from a survey they paid thousands to conduct.
There are two simple ways to understand the true needs of members. By “true needs” I mean the way Apple understood our need for iTunes before consumers did. The first is to better involve your leadership in the lives of your members. Fraternities do this, to an extent, but the reach is limited by the tiny teams employed by most organizations.
The second option is to better organize decision rights. That means giving students greater ownership and responsibility.
Why Hire Students?
Many of our students are bright and working through college. Many of the processes handled by the central offices of fraternities and sororities are not location-dependent. That means that they do not require staff to be wherever the office is.
Hiring a team of students positioned throughout the country offers a growth opportunity for some members and a better-informed central office staff.
A thought: Hire a small team of students to keep up with chapters on their accreditation packet submissions, program registration progress, or filing paperwork throughout the year. Hire a team of students to keep tabs on the chapters in their area and to gather feedback. Hire a team of students to follow up on consultant visits (which should be canned anyway).
A Proven Concept
Fraternities change with the generations. Many years ago, volunteers handled the work of consultants and central offices approved all members prior to initiation. Today, organizations like the Southeastern Interfraternity Conference (SEIFC) rely on students for much of what I listed above. SEIFC officers recruit area Inter-Fraternity Councils (IFC) to attend their program. The student members also have a say in the direction of the event’s educational programming.
If your concern is that a student will not have time, tell that to their current part-time employer. There are opportunities for conflicts of interest to affect their work, but those conflicts do not dissipate with age.
Students help billing and apparel organizations connect with their peers. Why not their own fraternity leadership and staff?
Hiring students for part-time work builds a pipeline of potential employees for the central office. Students can work for scholarship grants to cover the cost of their tuition. Any training provided serves as an excellent and unique professional development opportunity.
More important than all of this is the re-investment of dues money and attention back into student members. This is greater than a student advisory council or student members of an alumni-dominated board – both of which are wasteful ways of paying lip service to voting members.
Hiring students provides an opportunity to get unfiltered feedback from our member populations and can benefit the quality of work we do.