Understanding and Supporting Open Expansion

Daniel Greenebaum, Coordinator of IFC Services
North-American Interfraternity Conference

In preparation for Halloween last year, the manager of the general store in Collegetown was trying to decide which candy to sell. Bill sent a letter to multiple candy distributors expressing his need. Several sent back similar forms to allow him to order candy at comparable prices. However, the distributor who sold peanut M&Ms© also sent a large cardboard cutout of the yellow M&Ms© character from their television commercials. Since Bill was worried that he really only had room for one kind of candy, and peanut M&Ms© put on the best show, he decided to carry their candy. For months after Halloween, Bill listened to his customers complain. It turned out that a lot of kids in town were allergic to peanuts, so they weren’t able to eat any candy. On top of that, a lot of kids would eat the M&Ms©, but complained that they weren’t very good, or even stopped after a few and never touched them again. Bill knew something had to change.

After having different distributors reach out to express interest in selling their candy in his store, Bill worked with the National Board of Distributors to create a plan where everyone could be successful. He would add new candy to his stock in a timeline that fit the needs of the distributors while supporting the needs of his customer base. If the new candy didn’t sell, Bill and the distributor would re-evaluate the option to restock in the future. Each candy that did sell was kept in addition to other established stock candies, as well as new candy each year. In this way, Collegetown’s Halloween inventory helped every kid in town have the candy she/he wanted without wasting store space on excess stock.

One misperception of the NIC’s Policy on Open Expansion is that we advocate for campuses to throw open the gates to every fraternity interested in joining the campus community at once. The reality is that no one is served by a chaotic clamoring for potential members. Making inter/national fraternities participate in an extensive expansion process might seem like an effective way to select new chapters for campus, but the best “cardboard cutout” doesn’t necessarily indicate an organization’s fit for the community. By allowing every inter/national fraternity a chance to succeed on campus in a timely manner, advisors and administrators can grow the size of the community, without forcing students to choose from a small selection of options.

Why does the NIC support open expansion? The 73 NIC member organizations all agree that expansion will enhance the fraternity community when it is done freely and in collaboration with the institution. The inter/national organization and the institution are partners in the expansion effort and neither wants to fail. When we switch our thinking from the selection process to one where organizations work with the IFC and other campus partners to find opportunities for success, we can see how open expansion creates an environment for continuous growth.
The IFC can lead the charge in creating such an environment by following these key steps:

  • Develop governing documents that support the idea of open expansion and remove any extensive selection processes. The open expansion section should simply state that “The IFC will support the open expansion of NIC member organizations.”
  • As member organizations show an interest in the campus, the IFC can begin to collaborate with them to determine a strategy that will help them be successful. This strategy could potentially focus on recruitment timing or other key areas relevant to the success of the new fraternity.
  • Create a fact sheet that illustrates the number of men on campus, the statistics of fraternity membership, and recruitment statistics. These facts will help initiate an honest dialogue between the inter/national organization and campus professionals/IFC about the areas of success and potential struggles.
  • Facilitate conversations within IFC meetings about the idea of open expansion to eliminate “knee jerk” fears associated with the concept. Existing fraternity men have a tendency to fear expansion because it could reduce the number of men interested in joining; the new fraternity could “steal” the best men; or, the current community is comfortable as-is. In fact, expansion has repeatedly proven to increase interest in fraternities, to empower existing organizations to think differently about recruitment tactics, and to bring men who never saw the fraternity community as relevant into membership. Expansion will not kill the IFC because it actually breathes new life into the membership.
  • Refrain from voting on recognizing new fraternities, but instead welcome them openly and automatically into the IFC. The IFC should welcome the new fraternity into the council because of the opportunity to include them within the guidelines, policies, and practices of the IFC. When a new fraternity stands outside the council, they are able to operate outside council standards and policies, and can damage the reputation of the community as a whole, with no accountability.

True open expansion generally follows one of three paths:

  • The inter/national organization identifies a campus it believes fits their values and growth plan. The organization will express interest to the campus. The local IFC will then work with the organization to determine a schedule/plan that is mutually beneficial while still allowing all interested groups a chance to succeed on the campus.
  • A campus realizes the need for new inter/national fraternities and reaches out to the NIC to communicate the opportunity to its members. Those that are interested will initiate the same process as outlined in the previous scenario. This may involve an expansion calendar to facilitate an organized and fair process for all of the interested organizations.
  • Men on campus come together to create an interest group that seeks recognition from an inter/national fraternity not currently represented on campus. Since this scenario does not generally require the inter/national organization to come in and recruit as in the previous two, the group should be allowed to colonize and earn their charter in the same manner as existing colonies. Students must be empowered to lead and create new opportunities for association. Interest groups should be guided by the same policy as a group of students seeking to form a new club on campus.

Ultimately, every fraternity on every campus started with a group of men coming together and choosing to be called by the letters they represent. If our history had played out differently and an IFC or college/university official had stood in the way of that recognition, many fraternities would not exist today. The IFC, institution, and inter/national fraternities must unite around the common goal of success by supporting one another in the collaborative effort of advancing the fraternity community. When the IFC and university promote a strategy based on mutual success, the whole community will benefit from the opportunity for open expansion.

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