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Fraternities Should Hire More Students.

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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... READ MORE

Serve Where You Are Needed – “Fraternity Service Man,” A Story.

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The boy could not quite grasp why his entry did not qualify.

Had he not put in the proper effort? Did he misread the expectations? Was this a miscommunication or too direct a communication?

For three months, the Fraternity Man visited a small shop on the northern end of his college town strip. Shops, cafes and bars line the street, all of which are visited fairly regularly by the students of the university, but few would recognize the name of the craft and tailoring shop – the cause of his confusion.

In a desperate plea, Miss Owner reached out to the empty space of internet ad placements, hoping that curious eyes would offer support. She had started a business many decades ago, it was all she knew, and Miss Owner was unsure that she could manage for another year, let alone long enough to retire comfortably.

Just three months prior, in February, Miss Owner fired her only full-time employee, unable to meet increasing costs of employment. Miss Owner’s shop, a staple of the crafty, local business supporters of college town, simply couldn’t muster the demand to offer a wide range of products to consumers equally satisfied with ordering their goods through Amazon.com or at the Michael’s just 10 minutes down the road (at 35 mph).

Within days, a mortal saint arrived. A young man, a fraternity man, at the university around which the town was built walked into the shop in search of acrylic paint. His fraternity chapter had embarked on an ambitious plan to design and paint several backdrops for their annual lip-sync competition, and touch ups were required with hours to go until the performance.

He was in a hurry, but noticed the stumbling, seemingly confused woman behind the counter. It took a couple minutes for Miss Owner to finish the task at hand, restocking boards of rolled fabric to their place after cutting them for another customer, before she returned to the counter to ring him up.

“I could easily have pocketed this. She never would have noticed. . . This place won’t survive the year.”

“That will be $6.47 after tax”

“Would you like some help?”

She was blindsided. Was it that obvious? Was she, Miss Owner, the creator of a long-time local business, so clearly out of her element in the store she built on a small loan and her own sense of craft?

“I do, but I had to let go of my only full-time employee a few days ago. People aren’t running to local shops for crafts nowadays.”

Miss Owner’s hand reflexively reached for a small paper bag. She grabbed a lip of the open end and, with a flick of the wrist, popped open the bag, placed the tubes of acrylic paint inside, folded the lid and stapled a receipt to the bag. She didn’t bother asking whether customers wanted a receipt anymore — it was easier to give one to everyone and she needed something to remain simple.

“I’ll do it for free. We do service in the fraternity all the time – just record my hours for our advisor.”

What seemed to be common sense to the boy, and the woman as well, was that any act of volunteerism to benefit a local community, whether helping reduce the cost of running a business or replanting a scenic community garden, would be considered an act of service to a community.

After all, there were still two part time employees in the shop, each helping make ends meet through their evenings and weekends at the shop, each allowing Miss Owner some time to spend with her newly-born grandchild. All three, Miss Owner and the two part-time employees, needed the shop to remain open.

So too did many of the college town’s citizens, many of which learned to craft at the shop back when Miss Owner had time to host classes twice a week. Others gathered in the shop regularly to browse the items and talk among friends with similar interests. It was as much a niche community center as it was a venture for profit.

For three months then, Fraternity Man visited the craft shop three times weekly. The boy helped clean the shop, restocked its items, and took over making the front window more appealing to the college students, highlighting Miss Owner’s student discount and embroidered Fraternity/Sorority apparel.

As payment, Miss Owner would tally the Fraternity Man’s hours and write a letter expressing her thanks for his support of her shop in these trying times. His work would go unnoticed by the wider fraternity/sorority community. The chapter one house over held a Teeter-Totter-A-Thon and made the Greek Life Newsletter; he helped save a business and was ignored for volunteering at a for-profit institution.

We speak often of the struggle faced by entrepreneurs in this country. Different stats float around for the closure rate of small businesses, but most agree that a vast majority fail to make it past their first five years. Sticking around for 10 years is exceptional.

As fraternity men and women, we promote our service to our communities, and that service is often limited to non-profit organizations. Whether raising money or volunteering one’s time, Americans have, consciously or not, eliminated the concept of a for-profit business being deserving of our help.

Maybe this stems from an idea that it is less moral to help those who make a profit off of what they do or to help those who are not on the extremely unlucky end of the spectrum of suffering, but that does not mean that we cannot be open-minded regarding what it means to “serve one’s community.”

If a student approached you with a story similar to that above, would you not consider Fraternity Man’s actions to be a service to his community?

Fraternities host teeter-totter-a-thons all the time. They raise quite a bit of cash, but are they more a service than than helping save a few jobs or a business? (Yes, that’s me; I know I’m extra.)

Would we rather a business close than receive the unpaid help it needs? As we begin to shame the concept of unpaid internships, perhaps unpaid service is a better-fitting alternative. In the same way that service to a nonprofit will theoretically build one’s integrity and possibly their professional experience, so too can volunteering one’s time for a for-profit business in need.

I don’t ask that you change your mind regarding what you consider to be “community service.” If you disagree with my ideas then continue to disagree with them.

To those who agree that service can extend beyond tax-exempt, non-profit organizations, I just ask that you serve as you best know how to serve.

The prerequisite to volunteering your service can be that you help someone in need, regardless of their or their organization’s legal classification.

YITBOSCon 2017 & My Run For Grand Council

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I attended my first Delta Sigma Phi Convention in 2011, just two weeks after starting a full-time position at the Fraternity’s headquarters. Here’s a photo from that time:

Props to Greekyearbook, the photographer really let us be that lame.

 

I wore ill-fitted suits and ran around the smoldering, muggy heat of Orlando, FL taking papers from one person to another. At one point we went on a trip to Universal Studios and I – in a moment of poor judgement – went on a water ride that ruined my ability to walk for the rest of the trip. (You did your best Gold Bond) I even spent a day dressed as the Geico gecko welcoming people to the hotel.

It was all quite surreal. As a staff member, my duties became more serious at the 2013 Convention in Phoenix, where I was in charge of managing the presentations during our Convention meetings. After a misstep on getting a video to run properly, we stayed up to walk through the presentations until 2:00-3:00 in the morning each night, waking again at 7 to get the next day of the Convention going. I also found some time to sit in a hallway and put together a Red Cross video to be shown on the third day. It was busy.

2015 in New Orleans was equally busy, and I got to manage some staff on top of it all. So when it came to the 2017 Convention in Baltimore (YITBOSCon from here on out) I was just happy not to work, to attend a Delta Sig Convention without running myself ragged.

Naturally, I decided that I should find a way to work.

I attended YITBOSCon partly as a vendor, through my job at Legacy Financial, and partly as an attendee, through my being a paid registrant. As I mentioned in a post about my time on staff, I still wanted to invest time in the Fraternity, even if I wasn’t being paid to do it. Here are some thoughts/memories from YITBOSCon 2017: Baltimore and my run for Delta Sig’s Grand Council.

YITBOSCon 2017: Baltimore

Of the four Conventions I’ve attended, this was easily the best-produced. . . fitting that I left staff prior to its taking place. The logo was right, the custom-built Convention website was right, there were banners and stickers everywhere to let everyone know that we were here.

The Marriott Waterfront was a solid venue, and the floor plan was simple (compared to a maze of escalators in New Orleans 2015) and easy to navigate. The hotel staff turned over our assembly room/dining hall professionally and the weather turned out to be great aside from some rain on the first day.

The Fraternity planned some educational/training sessions, offered a few opportunities to help the local Red Cross, and continued the tradition of the silent and live Foundation auctions, as well as other traditions of the Convention. Honestly, I could spend 5,000 words sharing every thing that went right. There were more vendors, better name tags, less late-night programming, a wonderful guest speaker, an appearance from Jud Horras of the NIC and good food.

Add to this that I knew many of the returning attendees and I was in a Delta Sig bliss. I have little notes here and there, and perhaps I’m less critical from the outside as I’m not exposed to the chaos behind the curtain, but everyone seemed to have an enjoyable time. There was, of course, some vote-related friction.

Some votes took place regarding our Constitution and other governing documents, offering much-needed relief to what was a painful expulsion process, and there were more folks running for our national board than there were positions, which resulted in an exciting – though sometimes tense – atmosphere until the new board was elected on the final morning of YITBOSCon. Which brings me to my stint as a Grand Council candidate…

NIK4GC

 

As my time on the Fraternity staff came to a close, I began considering my future of “lifelong membership.” Many folks take a year or so “off” of the Fraternity, then volunteer at some national programs or work with a chapter. If you’ve read FraternityMan.com, you can probably tell that those are not within my immediate interests or strengths. (That being said I’ll be happy to take a year off at this point. . . catch me in 2018, how bout dah?)

I spent 4 years as a student receiving leadership training from the Fraternity and about 6 more years as a staff member facilitating leadership training and receiving plenty more, but what does that education look like in real world practice? I knew that “Fraternity Man” would need to change now that I was changing professions, and so I decided to make use of some pent-up creativity to make a case for some unique positions leading in to YITBOSCon.

Nik4GC (my campaign) in some ways satirical. I tried to poke fun at the way politicians run campaigns while still promoting ideas I take seriously. The chances of me being elected were essentially none. There is a rule that men running for the council must be 30 years of age and I am only 28. That became a key issue of my campaign and will be something I hope is addressed prior to 2019 (even though I’ll be 30 by that time). It fed into a general message: there must be room for efficient, member-driven improvement – even if we are the best we’ve ever been.

Still, I wanted to run a very public, very political campaign for a simple purpose:

I don’t feel like people within the fraternity/sorority world are willing to address our problems as if they are our problems.

We blame things on the media. We blame failures on other members or organizations we partner with. We often seek easy fixes to our public relations concerns. Worst of all, we all talk about these things in hushed voices to people we know we can trust. It’s not just students who do this, alumni, headquarters staff and campus advisors, despite all the leadership training in the world, still seem to blame someone else for what’s wrong.

I don’t think that is the ideal situation, and I wanted to encourage members to more openly challenge rules and the status quo, especially if they have ideas to work off of. Where are those real-world opportunities for leadership within our organizations? Where are we creating clear paths for students and young alumni to inform what we do (beyond simple requests for feedback).

We can see this playing out with political parties on a national stage: failing to provide room and opportunity for your base to take charge can lead to long-term, disastrous results.

People are always asking millennials to step up. . . what happens when one does?

THE LAUNCH

I built a website (nik4gc.com), something not done for most fraternity campaigns. I started a public Facebook page (www.facebook.com/nik4gc) and used Fraternity Man as the basis for my platform. The platform addressed the wide variety of Fraternity initiatives with whatever understanding I had of how they worked, their success or failure, and an alternative approach to the fraternity sorority system. It was Fraternity Man in the form of a campaign – requesting things you’ve read on FM regarding education, risk management and the general understanding of the “purpose” of fraternities and sororities.

I submitted the appropriate paperwork and a request to revise the age requirement, but started to get cold feet in the final week of March. Was I just going to burn bridges? I’ve operated Fraternity Man with some level of obscurity, having always been prevented from truly promoting it as it conflicted with the expectations of modern fraternity/sorority professionals. This would put those ideas in a place for them to be ridiculed.

The simplest way to cope with that anxiety, for me, was humor. On April 1, 2017, I announced my candidacy, shared the website, launched the Facebook page, and created a profile photo of me in front of a field of wheat with a rising sun. . . just like a real politician. The images (one below, the other above) were purposefully poor quality, something I hoped would allow everyone to enjoy the moment.


The announcement gained enough traction and created enough confusion (what an elaborate prank to create a full website with actual talking points!) to encourage me to keep going and test my luck. As I mentioned above, the mission was to get people discussing Fraternity business, the election itself was secondary.

In subsequent weeks I launched an Education Platform, scheduled live-streams to take place throughout Convention, and would share posts from this website relevant to the campaign or to my approach to leadership.

I was not the only politician working the crowd, I just happened to be the one who was most public about it. As usual, some were cool with it, some were skeptical, and some may have been personally upset. Some were publicly indifferent but generally supportive – if not of my campaign than of me as a friend or of the idea that we should all talk more. All of this was expected. . . it is politics after all.

 

 

 

WINDING IT DOWN

As Convention neared the creative juices continued to flow. I recorded some videos, attracted a few endorsements (which I never publicly revealed, but thank you to those who did!) and planned an onslaught of communication leading into the week of YITBOSCon, where I could theoretically run “from the floor.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, reality wasn’t on my side. I hadn’t planned appropriately and the chances of making the necessary changes were very slim to none. Despite my newly created characters designed to discuss issues in meme form, Green Sphinx & Gold Sphinx, there was little chance of me actually doing anything at the Convention beyond kicking up sand, and so it make sense to record a concession video in the middle of the night and let my involvement in Fraternity business die down. The purpose of my campaign had run its course.

Until that point, I had been getting calls left and right to discuss fraternity issues, and many people still think it was just an April Fool’s Joke. All that said, I think that my ideas were received by a wider audience, and conversations I had with students, alumni and former colleagues at YITBOSCon 2017 were helpful both in advising how to move forward. I intend to work with several chapters and volunteers prior to 2019 to create a more insightful, engaged voting body in a professional, political and respectfully honest way.

The live streams went on mostly as planned. I had to miss a few due to connection issues or concerns with Fraternity secrecy (my concerns, not anyone else’s), but more than 100 people tuned in to my limited channels, and I’m sure live streams are something the Fraternity will consider in 2019. The brotherly love and excitement of Convention should be shared with a wider audience. People should see a fraternity program of which the sole purpose is to enjoy one another’s company. As was said throughout the campaign and on this website: Fraternity’s value is its membership and their relationships.

I was thankfully able to enjoy others’ company once I pulled myself out of the race. Rather than attend Convention as some folks’ ally and some folks’ opponent, it made more sense to spread the love/advice evenly. Before the question comes up: I’m not running in 2019. I may at some point in the future, I may never consider it again, or I may be taken out by an asteroid tomorrow. Relax and enjoy the moment.

Some YITBOSCon/Nik4GC moments: