Monday, February 18, 2008

Scenes From a CLA

I had the good fortune of attending the San Francisco CLA. Kudos to Stacy Dudley for putting us in a great facility (the San Mateo Marriott) and thanks to Travis Swanson for giving us a great faculty and program to work with. Well done.

First and foremost, CLA (like the fraternity) is focused on our undergraduates. And from what I saw and gathered, our undergraduates had a great learning experience with our brothers and friends from all parts of the West.

As for the programming iteself, I arrived very late Friday night so I missed the kick-off function (I was told it was focused on recruitment). The Saturday sessions were all about the fundamentals. Whether you call it the "Nuts and Bolts" or "Blocking and Tackling" (or something else) associated with being a leader in Sig Ep, this is the "bread and butter" (there I go again) of any CLA experience. There were also some hot topic sessions later in the day that focused in on some noteworthy issues facing our undergads and volunteers. From my conversations with undergraduates during meals and breaks (which featured healthy snack options like fruit), they seemed to be enjoying the sessions and getting a lot from them (which is the point of the weekend).

The risk management session during lunch was also well done (well facilitated by Scott Haddock) and timely. We usually focus on risk management at the undergraduate level, but it is good to see it reinforced in this setting. As usual, Steve Young did a great job as the dinner emcee and National Treasurer (Grand Wallet) Chris Bittman delivered a keynote that focused on 10 tips for living. Brother Bittman gave this same speech at a San Francisco CLA a few years ago, but it is a very good speech that was delivered to an entirely different audience (and for those of us who have attended 15 -20 of these things, it was worth rehearing again)

I attended the volunteer sessions that were facilitated by Gary Huff with my wife Dina (she is the Balanced Man Steward at the CA Beta Gamma Chapter and received the Volunteer of the Year award for our District). Brother Huff did a good job with what he had to work with, but at times it seems we are still trying to figure out what we want from (or what we want to do with) our volunteers.

At times it seems like our fraternity is only focused on new sales (recruitment) at the undergraduate level. From a business and fraternal point of view, I understand why we have the constant push to grow. But what about retention? And where do our volunteers fit in when it comes to providing the relevant four year experience (that, in turn, will make them want to come back as volunteers and donate to the foundation after they graduate)? We recruit 5.000 to 6,000 new members every year yet we only have 14,000 undergraduate members. Yes, we are number one in new sales and in overall undergraduate membership, but these numbers suggest that we are having problems consistently delivering the high quality product (through member development and programming) that we sell. Shouldn't we have a national retention goal (regardless of membership development model) that reflects our prowess in recruitment?

Our greatest salespeople for the relevancy of the Sig Ep experience are our alumni and volunteers. For some reason, the fraternity was not only relevant to them as undergraduates, it has remained relevant to them in the years beyond college. And for some (like my wife) it became relevant to them from the brotherhood that they have witnessed and the Sig Eps they have interacted and built relationships with (the fraternity is all about relationships). I would suggest that future volunteer sessions offer something that helps our volunteers with tools and perspectives on how to improve undergradate retention (among other things). What do we need to do to help our undergraduates maintain relevancy beyond the initial rush of excitement associated with joining the fraternity?

I do not have the definitive answer, but I know that we, as a fraternity, can obtain it with the input of the many bright lights that comprise the membership of our great fraternity.