by Dr. Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre
It’s April now and for many of you Spring is in the air, and graduation is on the horizon. April is a season of Greek weeks and finals preparation, saying goodbye and getting ready to do the “summer thing”. April is also a perfect month for chapter evaluations to take place. This is a really good time to ask your members what they liked about last year, and what they did not like. This gives you time and space as a leader to look at and analyze results, and actually think about how you are going to apply those results.
Our curriculum on membership retention highlights the importance of evaluation by sharing some simple sample questions with chapter leaders. Use these as you wish to evaluate the pulse of your membership. Once you are done, scan the results for common themes and consider how you will act on those themes. Don’t take answers too personally, and if you can keep them confidential, just use constructive feedback to make your chapter better.
Try these questions:
What is your favorite part of being in the fraternity/sorority?
What is your least favorite part?
What can we do to help you learn and grow next semester?
Ask these in an online form, do a focus group with a small section of your chapter, or ask people to talk about this openly in your next chapter meeting. HOW you ask isn’t as important as it is THAT you are asking, and WHAT you do about it.
The question about learning and growing is particularly important. Lots of people (who are way smarter than me) have studied work and organizational cultures for a long time. Learning and growth are two fundamental pieces of engaging people. Why? Because folks are anxious to learn new things, and they need to be challenged to feel like they are really making a difference. People need to sense forward progress in themselves and in their organization to feel like it’s worth it.
Often leaders in fraternal organizations are well engaged, in-part because they must be, but also because they are challenged and praised. In other words, leaders have a job to do, and in that job they are learning and growing. The rest of the membership can get complacent, not because they are lazy letter-wearers, but because sometimes stuff just gets old. Consider the senior who is engaged to be married: does he really want to keep going to mixers? What about the 4.0 students who are asked to sit through yet another study skills workshop, or the non-drinker who is reprimanded as part of a larger group for poor behavior? These things are not relevant to these individuals. It’s not what they need, and it doesn’t push them or challenge them.
I think about my own sorority experience. I love to dance, but was never quite good enough for a college level dance team or cheerleading squad. In sorority, however, I got to be a part of the dance competition during Greek weeks. It was challenging and fun, and probably a bit of a headache for my sisters who were really amazing dancers to have to teach me a little more. But, it helped me engage in the organization in ways that made my membership meaningful to ME. That’s what you should be striving to do for each of your members.
The question about learning and growing is most simply: what do you want out of fraternity/sorority? How can we help you stretch and become better? What do you want to do? Paying attention to answers, and acting on requests within reason, yields a more active and engaged membership. We don’t know if we don’t ask, so use this time to ask and listen, take the summer to plan, and use the fall to implement.