Fraternities Need Fewer, Better Standards.

posted in: Nik Koulogeoge | 0

One day, many years ago, the traveling consultants of my fraternity gathered in the basement of our national office. Our leaders scheduled a meeting to discuss changes to our “accreditation” system. Many categories were re-organized, and new standards were introduced related to our Fraternity’s strategic plan and (ever-changing) branding initiatives.

After we reviewed the revised standards, I raised my hand to speak. My concern was simple: Students were being asked to track and submit many more items, we were already half-way through the year, and the new standards just seemed like busywork. Another staff member in the room offered a bulletproof reply: “Look. We’re not going to lower our standards.”

That mindset is not unique to that moment and/or my fraternity. Fraternity leaders, professionals, and organizations almost always associate “more” with “better.” More students joining fraternities is better, even if it means we are less selective and therefore puts us more at risk. More rules about hazing or substance misuse are better, even if they offer little benefit other than liability protection for those at the top. A bigger budget is better, even if the return on investment is minimal (if it’s tracked at all).

I knew this philosophy to be false, but who would listen to the guy accused of asking for lower standards? The world seems crazy. People are hazing and abusing substances and racist and how dare a fraternity man suggest that we do less. The mobs and media demand more, and we give them what they want. Minimalism and frugality be damned!

Less is more.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the mid-90’s, he reduced their computer lineup from fifteen to just four. Since then, Apple has emphasized a minimalist approach to its product lineup. When Saturo Iwata pushed Nintendo to lean in to gameplay gimmicks (touch controls, motion controls, dual screens) as opposed to improving the graphics capabilities of Nintendo systems, he and his company were considered doomed by many fans and video game thought leaders. Then, the Nintendo DS and Wii sold about 250,000,000 units, as much as all prior Nintendo systems combined. Their new Switch (which also eschewed horsepower for a unique, accessible design) is on track to become one of their best-selling platforms to date.

I even experienced the value of shrinking to grow as the Executive Director of a fundraising program at Stetson University called GreenFeather. The program had grown to a slugfest of competitions taking place over the course of two weeks. Our fundraising haul was diminishing year after year, and competitors (mostly fraternity/sorority chapters) were fed up and worn out by the end of it. We re-organized the program into a 3-day festival with fewer events and improved fundraising by more than 50%. [1]

Why not now?

This is all important because the relative lull created by the coronavirus pandemic has afforded fraternity leaders an opportunity for real, structural reform. A perfect place to start is with our respective standards and accreditation processes, but the possibilities are limitless.

Now might be a time to pursue project-based membership standards like I outlined in this post on FraternityMan [2]. It would be a wonderful period to define some use and utility for big brothers or family trees – particularly if they can eliminate some of the organizational complexity we’ve created over the years. [3][4] This “down period” is a perfect moment to consider lower-cost alternatives to the traveling consultant model. That could mean relying more on regional volunteers and digital communication on a permanent basis. [5]

We should expect that the post-pandemic world will be significantly different than the pre-pandemic world. Government-mandated shutdowns affecting the economy will have long-lasting effects on a student’s disposable income. Furthermore, students seem less willing to tolerate half-hearted commitments to accessibility and inclusion. [6] Getting more from less – resources, members, events, you name it – must become an objective for fraternity leaders to competitively position their organizations for the future.

It is time to seriously consider how we make fraternities more appealing and more accessible. [7] It’s time to consider how we improve our value to modern generations and prepare student and alumni members to lead the world out of this mess. [8][9]

It’s possible. . . right now:

In 2015, after being promoted to Director of Fraternity Growth & Services, my team and I re-structured our fraternity’s accreditation program. The number of requirements (to be in good standing) was reduced from more than 35 to just 10. The rest of the standards were aspirational – organized to help us figure out which groups needed help and where. One section asked that chapters choose 4 out of 7 standards to complete. It emphasized niche development (something I believe to be an indicator of long-term success). [10]

After we published the first Pyramid Program (which has since been altered and further streamlined), a historically over-achieving chapter reached out for clarification. They wanted to know if they could receive “extra credit” for completing all of the 7 optional standards. My answer (“No.”) baffled them. For probably the first time since they had joined the fraternity, they were told that doing more was not necessarily better.

It’s possible, and now is the time. I would be happy to help.

Fraternity Man articles referenced in this post:

  1. Shrink To Grow – My Experience Running Greenfeather at Stetson
  2. Rethinking How Fraternities Operate: The Member-Centric, Collaborative, Kinship Model
  3. Functionalize The Fraternity Family Tree
  4. Why “Big Brothers” Should Lead New Member Orientation
  5. We Don’t Need Professional Fraternity Consultants
  6. Don’t Abolish Greek Life. Reclaim It.
  7. Can Greek Life be More Diverse & More Inclusive if it’s Less Accessible?
  8. America Needs Friend Clubs
  9. How We Defeat The Uber Of Greek Life: TED Talks
  10. How A Fraternity All About Pizza Can Change The World: The Message Map