Here's a fact: The business meeting at your inter/national fraternity's convention or conclave is where your fraternity's most important decisions are made. In most cases, a chapter has one or more votes at said meeting. Delegates vote to determine the fraternity's leadership, policies, and strategic direction. That's neat!
You may find that the opinion of your existing leadership works its way into the speeches and sessions of the conference as a whole. Later, you may gather that some (or all) policies/candidates seem to have been decided well in advance of the meeting. That is okay; it's natural, actually. A small group of people curating options for "democratic" organizations happens in many, if not most, personal and professional settings. It is also natural for those who do not like the system to try to circumvent or upend it.
Why bother attending? How easy is it to challenge the process?
Your votes can matter if you, or a group of you, take "fraternity business" (voting) seriously. It is laughably easy to upset the ceremony and choreography of a typical fraternity convention. That said, no one really expects students to suddenly control the votes or the narrative. Here's why:
Delegate selection: Your chapter chooses delegates at the last minute. It's whoever is free to attend. They arrive uninterested in the business of the fraternity or under-informed on the business of the fraternity.
Education: Fraternities get chapters or members to certify that they understand the hazing policies. Which organizations have a similar requirement for the business, rules, and procedures of the inter/national fraternity?
Turnover: Fraternity members turn over about every four years. Chapter leaders turn over every 1-2 years. Inter/national business meetings take place every 1-2 years. In other words, it is rare that anyone who bothers to learn how your fraternity works will be your delegate for 2 business meetings.
For those reasons, your vote does not matter. That sounds bad, but each of these things is within your control. Here are some tips to be a more active part of the decisions that affect your chapter:
How do we choose the right delegates? How do we prepare our delegates?
Encourage students interested in government or business leaders to take part. This is essential training for democratic leadership.
Appoint delegates or a pool of potential delegates at least 4 months in advance of the meeting. This group should organize all information on the meeting, business items, candidates, alumni participation, etc. (A business committee)
Review the business items at a chapter meeting and vote as a chapter to endorse or oppose each business item. (Even if you cannot select the right delegates, at least they know how to vote)
Invite candidates for volunteer leadership positions to speak with your chapter. Ask them about their experience and how they would vote on the business items (see 1-iii). That should be enough to vote as a chapter to endorse or oppose a candidate or slate of candidates.
You may be able to access funds from your fraternity's foundation for some sort of training for your delegates or the members of your chapter related to Robert's Rules of Order, business meetings, democratic leadership, etc.
Are we prepared for a formal business meeting? Do we know how the fraternity works?
Implement the rules of your national fraternity meeting into your formal chapter meetings. It is much easier to support the argument of a person who appears familiar with the procedures of the fraternity.
Upload your fraternity's constitution and bylaws on a shared drive. Do not delete old versions. Highlight the items that directly affect your chapter (for example, Delta Sigs should highlight by "By Direct Submission" subsection under "Amendments." Go find it yourself lol. . .)
At some point - perhaps when you vote to endorse/oppose things - decide if your chapter wants to submit its amendment, organize a petition (with individual human signatures), or send a formal communication/complaint to your fraternity's volunteer leadership.
After any Ritual activity, spend at least 15 minutes as a group sharing observations from the words and ceremonies. Just ask: Did any words or aspects of the ceremony stick out to you today? Being able to talk about Ritual will help you form better arguments to support your decisions.
How can we sustain our ability to protect our chapter's interests?
Invite your alumni to participate in your training, join your meetings with candidates, and observe your votes. In most cases, certain alumni groups (associations, chapters, advisors, etc.) have one or more votes just like your chapter. Start discussing votes with your alumni. Encourage them to take the votes seriously, too.
Identify 2-3 other chapters. They could be in your geographic area, chapters with friends, or just chapters you like or admire. Ask them about their votes. Ask if they want to coordinate votes, or if they want to join your town hall meetings with candidates.
Take the previous point a step further. Share your proposals and petitions with other chapters for their support or endorsement.
Record your votes. Require that your delegates note how they vote on each measure. Few chapters have a history of how they vote on matters. This offers a limited level of accountability, draws attention to your chapter's role in the business, and may help with future planning or debates.
Be humble and brotherly.
A final tip, and perhaps the most important tip, mind the bridges you build and burn. It's easy to make a splash. If you want anything to change, you need consistent, directional change. Pushing for huge changes to policy (such as reversing a ban on hazing) will do more to tear your organization apart than to improve it. Be humble to the process, be respectful to others, and focus on incremental changes.
What other ideas do you have? Share them with me on Twitter and Instagram (@FMNpjk).
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