I’m known for a program called, Buy In or GET OUT! Usually, I’m challenging student leaders of our fraternity and sorority communities to hold their members accountable to a higher standard of behavior – one that reflects the oaths all members take upon their initiation. And, if members aren’t willing to “Buy In,” we should be helping them to “GET OUT!” A simple concept not easily executed.
We usually focus on the members who would add to our chapter’s value through their departure – addition through subtraction. But, what if the people we need to actually “Buy In” are instead “Getting Out?” What if the once active, valuable members are leaving because they are burned out? Tired? Feeling old?
Most often it’s our Seniors that are the ones we wish weren’t leaving. It seems to be something that happens on many campuses. Freshman are all about THEIR chapter and ONLY their chapter. “Forget everyone else!” They love it blindly, and passionately. In the second year they are still in love, but the honeymoon is past. Sophomores start to meet people in other chapters and surprisingly… like them! “Your chapter still sucks, but you’re OK by me.” Juniors turn a corner and start to dislike their OWN members. They sit around with other Juniors and complain about whose members are more annoying! Seniors – well, Seniors hate everyone. They are cranky, angry black holes of fun who only like five other seniors that are all from other chapters. If they could, they would create an All-Star Fraternity and win Greek Week!
But seriously, why are we loosing so many Seniors? And, should we even care? It is just the normal cost of doing business – that older members will get tired of things and quit? Are these acceptable losses? What if it weren’t acceptable? What would we need to do differently to prevent their departure? Would it take great effort to keep them more engaged? Would that effort be worth the benefit?
First, let’s look at some of the benefits. Simple ones to understand are greater resources if we didn’t lose them. Many chapters lose 40% of their Seniors that are actually still on campus, and eligible to be active. What would the impact be on the chapter if they were active? Wo/Manpower? Financial resources? And, what about experience of leadership? Would there be greater maturity of group decision making? Would it demonstrate that fraternal responsibilities are not subject to convenience, and reinforce a greater culture of accountability if fewer people quit? And, most core to our values – would we be living closer to our stated purpose of brotherhood and sisterhood being a LIFETIME, not COLLEGIATE, experience?
So if keeping Seniors (the good ones of course) active is of value, we need to examine the cost of doing so. In general, the center of the fraternal experience cannot be the Sophomore year. The focus also cannot be social events with alcohol. They get old. “Social” can’t be the purpose, it must be one of many benefits of membership.
Here are a few ideas that might help keep Seniors active:
1. Senior programming committees – They could have educational, service, and social programs with other chapters’ Seniors. (Senior “play dates”)
2. “Swing year” focused educational programs prepping for life after graduation – get past just resume writing such as info on: buying your own car; choosing health insurance; buying an engagement ring; understanding your new job’s benefits package; professional dress.
3. Subsidizing of grad test prep classes like MCAT or LSAT course scholarships for Seniors that stay involved.
4. Mentors program where Seniors are connected with a professional (possibly alumnus) in their field of study.
5. Senior/Young Alumni programming – since we all know that People Join People we have to remember that the “reasons” (people) why Seniors joined, are all alumni now. If we can target young alumni events to connect them with Seniors it is has multiple benefits.
Two ideas specific to keeping Seniors living in the house are worth consideration if you are a housed chapter. Why is keeping Seniors in the house of special importance? Ambient Education.
Older members having more experience in college, class, leadership roles, work, romantic relationships, and life in general allows for the kind of ambient education and mentoring that has made the fraternal experience great since our inception. This is especially true within the unstructured connections in a living-learning environment as it happens with deeper bonds, and more frequently.
These opportunities are the canvas upon which the some of the best fraternal experiences are painted.
1. Keeping the house clean, in working order, and relatively quiet after a certain hour. Investing in the physical plant of the facility, the kitchen, even the decorations can help. And, simplest of all, are quiet hours after a certain time during the week.
2. Subsidized housing – Free rent for Seniors that stay active and have GPA’s above the campus average (or other GPA threshold). Free rent might be enough of an incentive for people not to choose to drink if the house is alcohol free. Others may feel so compelled to drink in their own space so much they are willing to give up free rent. Which are the Seniors you want living in the house?
If we were able to keep more of the right members “Buying In” it is easier to grow that critical mass to lead our communities to greater heights.
Credit // Author: David Stollman
David Stollman has energized students at over 500 campuses, and numerous fraternal conventions. Learn more about David and his keynotes at campuspeak.com/stollman. You can also follow him on Twitter @David_Stollman.