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Fraternity…the Starbucks way

March 4, 2013

The author of this blog, David Stollman, is a co-founder of CAMPUSPEAK, a full-time speaker, and a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon.  For over 15 years, fraternity and sorority communities have turned to him to when membership standards are weak and he has helped thousands of fraternity and sorority chapters recruit more high quality members. David’s blog is inspired by Starbucks, which was founded in Seattle, Washington, the home of the 2013 Grand Chapter CongressWe hope you read this blog, take David’s words into consideration and attend GCC in Seattle this summer!   This blog was originally posted on T.J. Sullivan’s Student Leadership Blog.

Fraternity…the Starbucks way

I live in Manhattan and on every corner there is a little coffee shop like the Central Perk in Friends. Apartments in New York City are little prison cells, so aside from spending time at work, many residents do work at these coffee shops, meeting friends, or just relaxing there because they get stir crazy in their tiny little homes. Think about it, when you watch Cash Cab, everyone says they are headed to get coffee! No wonder it is called “the City that Never Sleeps!” Everyone is wired on caffeine.

But, I digress already. Many of these coffee shops are trendy and they all strive for a uniqueness to set them apart from the rest. It seems like a good business model. But, it’s not. Why? Starbucks does the opposite and is beating them all.

Starbucks is a consistent experience whether you are on the Upper West Side or the Lower East Side. (And, believe me, they are VERY different places.) But, even more… it is the same experience in Los Angeles as it is in Oxford, Mississippi. Starbucks is Starbucks is Starbucks is Starbucks. Sound boring? Not if you like Starbucks.

Fraternities and sororities are franchises, too – and that is a great thing. Don’t look down on the franchise concept. It allows us to take something good, sometimes even great, and expand its reach. More people can enjoy good Starbucks coffee, or those amazing McDonald’s french fries, or an affordable oil change at Jiffy Lube, or a good night’s sleep and cookie at a Doubletree hotel.

When it comes to fraternity or sorority, some of our members embrace that business model, while others do not. They prefer to view their chapter through their own view. Creating their own interpretation of what our founders created. Now don’t get me wrong – there is room for interpretation, for some individuality of personality  and style based on the membership of the individual chapter. A chapter is a collage comprised of all that the members bring. But, what there is no room to interpret is our purpose, our meaning, our reason to exist. Too many of our members believe they can make the distinction about who we are. That isn’t their place. They can’t do that. If they want a student organization that is primarily about giving them a social network, or a social life – they can leave. Their fraternity  wasn’t created for that purpose.

It’s inconsistent with the franchise brand.

Let’s picture you manage a Starbucks and decide to make some minor changes and rename some of the drinks. Or, let’s say you decide to change the menu. Or, you say, let’s really express our individuality and change the product. Let’s sell SHOES! Everyone loves shoes. Nice shoes, not crappy one. High quality footwear that would make that guy Tom green with envy. That all sounds good to me. Just take the name off the storefront. Because, no matter how high class the product is, you aren’t a Starbucks anymore. You are a shoe store. Even if you give a free cup of coffee with your shoes.

Women and men that think we aren’t primarily about the building of better women through sisterhood and men through brotherhood better think again. If they think we are a social entity that just happens to produce sisters and brothers – they have taken a Starbucks and made it a shoe store. I say if that is what they really want, they are wasting our time. The drama these members cause isn’t worth the good they bring. They are taking our organization and changing it beyond our recognition.

Notice that I have not once said they are bad people. I make no judgment on them at all. They could be wonderful amazing people. But, that doesn’t change that they are here for the wrong reason. One reason I don’t judge them is that many joined under the wrong pretense because of us, not them. We are the ones that sold them the wrong product. It seems we’ll tell women and men whatever they want to hear in the recruitment process to make sure they join us. Then we hope they will find the true meaning of our organization in some educational process. They will often build bonds with some of the members, but still never truly understand what we are about. They will graduate and say “I was a…” – as if membership was something that was worn for a while and then put back in a drawer to collect dust. Far too few of us actually embrace that our membership is supposed to be a part of who we are, not something that we do.

Purpose or Benefit? Do we see “social” as our purpose? Or, is it one of many benefits of joining? Chapters that see it as our purpose have taken their liberty at redefining us when they have no right to do so. If I walked into your chapter meeting and gave you a choice – you could either never again have ANY event where there is alcohol (official and unofficial events) or you could never again perform your initiation ceremony – what would the chapter choose? What would the discussion be like before that chapter vote? And, would our founders be proud?

A real chapter is able to have a great social life as one of many benefits of the brotherhood and sisterhood created in pursuit of our true purpose. A fraud couldn’t conceive of giving up that part of what they have become. What kind of chapter do you have?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. silence dogood permalink
    March 4, 2013 10:46 am

    Nice article.

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