Rethinking How Fraternities Operate: The Member-Centric, Collaborative, Kinship Model

posted in: Nik Koulogeoge | 0

Some of us consider our fraternity experience to be the defining moment of our time in college. We are lucky – lucky to have attended college – lucky to receive an invitation to a fraternity (sort of) – lucky to be able to manage the ever-increasing costs of fraternity membership.

Fraternity organizations suffer for a number of reasons – check the news. Unfortunately, those issues are only superficial, surface-level symptoms of a deeper problem. Part of that deeper problem is that we experienced a fraternity bubble of sorts. Membership skyrockets with each college enrollment boom, and the numbers are better than ever after the early 2000’s. That bubble, like all bubbles, is due to burst. This fact does not escape inter/national fraternity leaders. They talk about college enrollment trends at every meeting of fraternity executives.

Rather than focus on how to maintain the existing order (what I call “Big Fraternity”) at all costs (but mostly students’ costs), let’s consider how fraternities might be if they were truly independent, truly local, and truly member-driven.

Ground Zero Fraternity

Let’s not speculate as to why Big Fraternity’s bubble will burst; there are too many factors and too many people who would take offense to being assigned blame. (Even if it’s just for this imaginary scenario) Instead, let’s look at the results of the imaginary, but very possible, collapse of our top-heavy organizations.

There’s a good chance that the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) gives way to a standard trade association. Good. Some smaller fraternities may merge with or be absorbed into other fraternities. Such mergers are rare, but not unprecedented, especially at times when membership is low and dues revenue is sub-optimal. The trickle of chapters divorcing from inter/national fraternities may swell into regional disaffiliations like that which led to the merger of ΦΣΚ and ΦΣΕ. Some chapters will be combined if they are on the same campus. Or, some may disaffiliate from the merged organization.

Those chapters that stick with their inter/national organizations may cut formal ties with colleges. This phenomenon is already happening. A number of fraternity organizations are suing campuses like Harvard University for suppressing student expression. Chapters at many schools – WVU, Michigan, Reno, and Buffalo, to name a few – disaffiliated from their schools due to recruitment-inhibiting policies, and formed Independent Inter-Fraternity Councils (iIFC).

All that said, we should not expect that members fall for a false choice between an inter/national fraternity or university recognition. Some may recognize that they hold the power – that they’ve always held the power – and may finally adapt and reform the American Fraternity for the 21st Century.

American Cities + American Fraternities

Six accredited, four-year universities exist in the city of Indianapolis alone. (A seventh, Ivy Tech, offers certificates and associates degrees). Some fraternities have prominent populations of alumni in Indianapolis, but many may not. Perhaps the latter are better represented in Chicago or Orlando. Use those cities for this imaginary scenario if that’s what you prefer.

After the Big Fraternity bubble bursts (or maybe triggering the burst) a group of men from several colleges wish to create a sustainable, decentralized fraternity operation. They do not care about university recognition (specifically) or NIC membership (specifically). They just want a fraternity experience – no dog and pony show.

The men start with a name: Indy Fraternity. There, that’s simple enough!

Indy Fraternity

Indy Fraternity is a registered nonprofit corporation in the state of Indiana. The stated purpose of the parent organization is to equip college men with social skills and a network. These tools will enhance a student’s education and help them find their fit in the Indianapolis metropolitan area. That’s the promise of every modern Big Fraternity organization, we are just eliminating decades of internal politics and egotistical alumni.

Members of Indy Fraternity meet once a month at a social gathering organized by its “professional” members. (They are no longer called alumni). They host a conference twice a year to network and learn. It’s typical fraternity stuff. Professional members pay something like $50 toward the Indy Fraternity Foundation, which offers financial aid to students. Other events are essentially crowd-funded.

Maybe Indy Fraternity owns and operates some apartment buildings. They charge affordable rates in exchange for unpaid internships or community service projects. Proceeds go toward maintenance of the unit or toward affordable housing developments in Indianapolis. Who knows!? It may have come about through a merger of a variety of former Indianapolis-based fraternity chapters with existing houses.

Membership in Indy Fraternity

Maintaining membership in Indy Fraternity is relatively simple. Students must attend the monthly mixer, pay their fees, maintain a 3.0+ GPA, and take part in two annual projects. The first is a personal development project, where students devise a plan for personal development through Indy Fraternity. Students may wish to lead a TED Talk, to get accepted into graduate programs, or to start their own businesses. Indy Fraternity brothers can help with any number of those projects as needed.

Professional members take part in the second project, called a “Team Project” or “Family Project.” They must also pay fees and take an active role in the organization’s events. Some may have a hand in planning a mixer. Others may offer professional or speaking services at a conference.

A team might consist of three or more members. They can be organized by school, interest, profession, or some other unifying element. A team of professional and student members may take on a project of delivering fresh produce to “food deserts” in the Indianapolis area. Students may form a team at Butler University to create a light bulb and battery recycling program. A third team may decide to set up and run a coffee shop.

In any case, the teams actually drive the organization. Most events are independently organized by teams. New members are recruited with one or more teams in mind. Teams are assigned times to organize mixers and/or conferences.

Meetings and Affiliations

The Indy Fraternity members from Butler University can choose to establish a recognized, on-campus student organization or not. To do so, they must organize it as a project within Indy Fraternity. The student organization – devoid of Greek letters in its public name – is more likely to be recognized by the school and can be used as a recruiting tool. Some, if its workable, may also Big Fraternity organizations.

Indy Fraternity might maintain a space to host meetings or to conduct ritual ceremonies. Perhaps the space is rented out to other organizations/companies like how Free Masons occasionally rent out their lodges. The ceremonies may or may not be secret, but there are certainly secrets, even if others are allowed to attend the ceremonies.

All that said, Indy Fraternity is more or less about personal, social development. It may adopt a particular social skills strategy, emphasizing StrengthsFinder or something like that. So long as the members complete the expectations of membership, they are granted membership, and the standards are simple.

City-wide monthly meetings are more or less an opportunity to share what each team is doing. The exchanges open the door to creating new teams or collaboration between teams. Smaller “meet-ups” are planned throughout the year. Members may pull together one or more teams for the sports leagues in town. They may even create their own leagues with other city fraternities. . .

Circle City Fraternity

Indy Fraternity is not without its rivals. Rotary Clubs face off against Lions Clubs. Kappa Sigs square up with Pi Kapps. For Indy Fraternity, the major rival is Circle City Fraternity (CCF). CCF is structurally similar to Indy Fraternity, but there are a few structural differences. Members are organized by neighborhood teams. Membership is open to Ivy Tech students and those who enlist in the military out of high school.

Neither CCF nor Indy Fraternity have any say over what the other does, the other’s policies, or their membership criteria. People join by choice, and then take part in a membership process inspired by the intent of Big Fraternity’s founders – social progress. They establish living learning communities where possible, connect college-educated students with professional networks, and give back to the local community.

The Kinship Model. Hometown Pride.

Kinship Model: Indy Fraternity establishes a “kinship” with city fraternities in Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Lafayette, IN. As “kin,” members of any city fraternity can attend the events of the other city fraternities for the same cost as any member. An IUPUI student member of Indy Fraternity who is from Chicago can attend a Chicago-based conference over his summer break.

The greatest benefit of the Kinship Model compared to the Big Fraternity model is that any city fraternity can offer its members an evolving and diverse portfolio of learning and networking opportunities. A Chicago fraternity may have no need to recruit members from Bloomington, IL. Still, their fraternity members benefit from greater exposure for their conferences, businesses, projects, AirBnb’s, etc.

Some may choose to establish exchange programs, where members in good standing with Indy Fraternity can easily transition to a counterpart in another city. That is, if they have the heart to leave. . .

HomeTown <3: Over time, Indy Fraternity members may become committed to the Indianapolis community. Students who previously considered moving to one of the coasts choose instead to stay with their new business, project, or job opportunity in Indianapolis. In some ways, the creation of city fraternities encourages the students educated in a city or region to stay within that city or region.

Organizing projects and events to attract attention from other City Fraternities becomes a matter of hometown pride. That is not to say that Indy Fraternity can force members to stay in Indianapolis, and those who move are sent off with a celebration and a certificate of membership. That certificate may hold weight if a member wishes to join another city fraternity, particularly one which is a “kin” of Indy Fraternity.

Why Not Join _____?”

Why not join a Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, Lions Club, or some other city-wide initiative?” – you ask. Well, none of those are as focused on the potential of college students as are college fraternities. The concept of Indy Fraternity is essentially the same as any fraternity of today – it just fits better with the lifestyle of a modern college-educated adult.

It removes the frills, gives alumni/professional members a legitimate task rather than some bland instruction to advise some students, and can more easily weather a drop in membership at one university because it isn’t obsessed with recognition at the campus or inter/national levels.

Indy Fraternity, Circle City Fraternity, and their kin fraternities across the world accomplish the vision of Big Fraternity without its limitations. It would be as if a chapter of Phi Delta Theta could choose to attend a program put on by Alpha Tau Omega because they like the speakers or worldview of that organization. The future of fraternity is choice, and modern fraternity leaders should take that assertion seriously.

This post is part of the FRATERNITY MANifesto series. Fraternity Man and KOUL LLC email subscribers (with a valid U.S. address) will receive a pre-release, 1st Edition copy of FRATERNITY MANifesto before a 2nd Edition is available for individual or bulk purchase in the first half of 2020. The book details the rise of Big Fraternity and explores the Kinship Model.