Inter/national fraternity organizations are often part of a fraternity umbrella association. I have shared many thoughts on how these associations help and hurt our organizations. (…with a greater emphasis on the “hurt”) One post suggests that the NIC go “co-ed.”  That post highlights many blindspots within our current system of umbrella associations. Namely, that they were initially closed off on arbitrary (racial/ethnic/gender) lines and developed real, technical differences due to their isolated conditions. That makes true inter-council collaboration difficult. (Consider this post on Phired Up addressing the significant differences in how people join different fraternity organizations.)
None of this is to suggest that any current umbrella association cannot improve or should cease to exist. But fraternity/sorority components/members hold the ultimate authority in most fraternity organizations.  Umbrella associations work on fraternity legislation on our behalf and affect fraternity policies. With that in mind, it is important that fraternity members establish their voice within their respective umbrella associations. It is equally important that fraternity members set limits for how their fraternity operates within umbrella affiliations.
A 21st Century Umbrella Association
Here are some ideas to consider when setting what we’ll call “Rules of Engagement.” These are things student and alumni fraternity members can vote on (as “resolutions” or to amend your fraternity’s governing documents) to manage how their fraternity interacts with the outside world. It can extend beyond umbrella associations to 3rd party vendors.  (Yay Nationwide Discount!) In other words, membership in future umbrella associations may be more like Fraternity Executives Association membership . . . except more variety and not just for fraternity executives.
1. Inter-Fraternal Respect & Collaboration
Most umbrella associations emphasize that they promote collaboration between members. So prioritize an umbrella association which does the same. To be clear, collaboration means two or more groups working together. The unanimous agreements and solidarity we hear about today are just statements for the press. Set rules in place so that your fraternity must put binding agreements to a vote before its umbrella association passes the agreement. “Let’s agree to the NIC’s ‘Health & Safety Guidelines’ before our organization implies that we do.” – just an example.
2. Broad Membership – Focused Purpose
Fraternities or sororities can be members of more than one association – so long as the rules can work. Many members of the also members of other umbrella associations. The Fraternity Forward Coalition (FFC) is composed primarily of NIC fraternities. Dual-membership is a real thing. What we lack is a mission-driven association with relatively open membership standards. It could extend membership to smaller, local, or newer fraternities. Perhaps there’s an umbrella association focused on collaborative educational programs. Another can prioritize speech and association rights. (as the FFC claims) So, consider a resolution that your inter/national fraternity consider membership in additional or other umbrella associations.
3. Student Representation
Collegiate Inter-Fraternity Councils (IFC) should expect a vote on NIC affairs if they are to be charged directly.  They deserve some form of membership. We need umbrella associations which amplify the voices and desires of all fraternity members. Whether you are creating a new association or simply trying to force change within an existing one, demand that student components get a vote.
4. Respect for Self-Government
How people join your organization and how your organization facilitates fraternity is up to you. Your fraternity should include in its governing documents an affirmation of self-government. What does that mean? Your fraternity sets its recruitment policy, not a campus-level council or umbrella group. It would also set its own safety and member education policies. All associations set standards for membership. So, promote the standards your fraternity/sorority expects of its affiliations.
If the NIC is involved in an initiative, then you should be wary of any time students “vote” to join in. The aforementioned points only matter if information is shared freely. All members of an umbrella association – including its student components – should be able to request information on its actions. Meetings and meeting minutes should be accessible, and voting protocols should be taken seriously. Craft rules to require that your fraternity’s voting members receive notice of umbrella association votes at least 90 days prior to a vote. Require that your delegates to umbrella association meetings maintain minutes or reports to share with members.
Better, More Accessible Fraternities
We can improve the fraternity experience and empower student leaders when students set rules of engagement for their fraternity. A greater variety of umbrella associations can lead to greater variety (and accessibility) within the greater fraternity experience. Emphasizing consensual collaboration may result a greater exchange of knowledge and new ways of approaching common problems. Most importantly, the power to set these rules are in the hands of fraternity chapters, councils, and voting members.
Some ways to go about influencing how your fraternity works with umbrella associations:
- Pass a resolution as a chapter. Send it to other chapters and VIPs within your fraternity. Acknowledge the vote total and let others know your chapter had a debate concerning your inter/national organization.
- Work with members of multiple chapters to write a petition. Encourage individuals to sign the petition with their respective affiliation (and year of graduation or initiation.)
- Draft a bill or resolution for your inter/national fraternity meeting. Find like-minded students and alumni, craft a bill, and follow the proper channels to get it considered. (Non-binding resolutions are easier to pass and still recorded in the minutes. Also, you can still publicize that you’ve created and submitted legislation.)
- Write articles or editorials in chapter/alumni newsletters or submit them to your fraternity’s communications team. Furthermore, publish the text of any petition, resolution, or legislative bill on your chapter’s website or something like Medium.
Let me know if you are interested in sample petitions or legislative text to use within your fraternity/umbrella association on FraternityMan.com. Contact me on social media with questions or additional thoughts:
FM Posts Referenced Above