Every fraternity and sorority chapter goes through ups and downs, the good times and the bad. When your chapter is on top of the world it may feel as if you can do no wrong; however, when you’re chapter is down in the dumps it can feel as if you can do no right. While some of us are fortunate never to experience the pains of a failing, or flailing chapter, for the rest of us, don’t get discourage. There’s plenty you can do to right the wrongs, mend the holes, and put your chapter on the road to success.
Although this may seem implicit when trying to turn things around, the chapters who forget to set goals, or who set unattainable goals, only hurt themselves in the long run. When setting goals remember to be SMART: set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
Specific means detailed and to the point: “let’s recruit 10 members” rather than “let’s recruit more members”.
Measurable means, of course, something that can be objectively measured. Setting a chapter goal of completing 300 hours of community service rather than “a lot” of hours holds your members accountable, makes it easier for them to track their progress throughout the year, and gives them a “finish line” to work towards.
Attainable goals are goals that your specific chapter and members can reach. If you only have 30 members, raising $1,500 for your philanthropy rather than $10,000 is more suited to your abilities. Additionally, pay attention to the demographic of your chapter: if most of your members are under 21, hosting a charity bar night might not be the best way to go.
Realistic goals are goals that your chapter and members have a strong probability of accomplishing such as hosting a party for 100 people (if you have a chapter of 30) rather than a party for 400.
A Timely goal is one that can be accomplished while your members are in school. Remember that you have your members for four years, less if they come in as sophomores or juniors. If there’s a high chance of your members seeing the fruits of their labor, they’re more likely to work harder towards it (think winning “best recruitment song” Greek award vs. winning “top house on campus” Greek award).
Pay Attention to Dead Weight
Although no one likes to admit it, every chapter has those few members who simply don’t pull their own weight. Whether it’s ducking out on chapter responsibilities, not showing up to chapter events, or misbehaving at chapter socials, “dead weight” members can single-handedly disrupt a chapter’s progress. While “dead weight” members should be dealt with in any chapter, this is especially true for struggling chapters. Managing “dead weight” members starts with your executive members: as chapter leaders, they need to pay attention to what members say and do as well as who shows up late, leaves early, or doesn’t attend events at all. And while punishing or deactivating members is something no one likes to do, your chapter will continue to suffer if the situation is ignored.
Work From the Inside Out
When trying to improve your chapter, the majority of your attention should be on the members themselves. This means strengthening the brother/sisterhood rather than trying to recruit tons of new members, focusing on the core values of your fraternity or sorority, and talking to your members as they may have different opinions of the chapter than the executive members. And while an emphasis on the chapter and its members can lead to a less active social calendar, remind your members that if your chapter isn’t strong, it won’t matter who wants to hang out with you… because your chapter won’t exist anymore.
Make Members Accountable
In turning your chapter around, every one of your members has to be held accountable. The chapter is not just the responsibility of the executive members, the senior members, or the newest members, but of every individual. As such, if your chapter has various roles, positions or duties to fill, hand them out like candy! Additionally stress the fact that every member is accountable not only to the chapter but to their brothers or sisters as well. Members should want to succeed not only to see the chapter succeed, but also because they don’t want to let their fellow fraternity brothers or sorority sisters down.
Success Takes Time
Whether your chapter is beginning to decline or is already head down in the ditch, remember that it takes time to turn things around. Don’t expect your chapter to change in a week, a month, or even a semester. Just as it probably took your chapter a while to get into the current mess, it will take the same amount of time, if not more, to clean things up. The good news, however, is the more effort, attention and time you put into revitalizing your chapter, the faster you’ll start to see the results.
Use Your Resources
Resources include chapter advisers, alumni, and your national headquarters. As executive officer terms are only one year long, chapter advisers can be a godsend for floundering chapters. Not only do chapter advisers have previous experience, know the members, and know the ins and outs of your fraternity or sorority, they are around for the long haul (more than a year). Your adviser is also a great connection to your national headquarters and can relay back suggestions, comments, and feedback. When starting to turn your chapter around, don’t neglect your adviser! Keep them in the loop, ask them questions, and listen to their advice and guidance.
Additionally, look to your alumni for support, guidance, and motivation. If possible, try to mobilize alumni of all ages (recent graduates, retired members, etc.) and from a number of different universities in order to get a multitude of unique experiences. However, when speaking to collegiate members, remind your alumni to stay focused on the chapter at hand. While something may have worked for their alma mater back in 1964, your alumni need to focus on generating solutions for your chapter and its current situation rather than trekking down memory lane.
Finally, remember that it’s not easy to make a chapter prosperous no matter how old the chapter is, how experienced the members are, or how many alumni get involved. Revitalizing a chapter takes a lot of time, in many instances years rather than months, and it’s a painstaking, stressful process. But don’t despair. You can turn your struggling chapter into a powerhouse on campus with hard work, patience, and above all, commitment. After all, a stumbling chapter will never be a lost cause as long as someone believes in its abilities and sees the potential just below the surface.