Sunday, January 24, 2010

Exercise Guaranteed to Bring Order to Your Chapter

F-I-R-E is the key to an overwhelmed membership

from our friends at The Apathy Myth: a Blog for America's College Student Leaders

Is your calendar getting a little crazy with too many meetings and events? Does it feel like your members are overwhelmed? Are you having to make everything mandatory, or financial penalize members if they don't attend events?

If your members seem overwhelmed, it's because they are. As their leader, what are you doing to address this serious problem?

Student organizations are great about adding events. Every year, new officers create new events. Unfortunately, they are not so good about cleaning the schedule from time to time. When you add, add, add, and you never delete, you end up with an insane calendar that burns everyone out.

Sit your officers and key influential leaders down for a couple of hours, and fix it.

Get a giant piece of paper – one that runs the length of a large table. Draw horizontal line across the center of the paper. At one end of the line, put a big happy face. On the other end, put an unhappy face.

Then, think of everything your members have an opportunity to attend, and place them along the continuum. Everything – intramural games, meetings, social events, committee meetings, recruitment, ritual, campus events, Homecoming, Parents Weekend, educational speakers. (It might help if people bring their calendars from the last year.) Try to think of every single obligation you, your university, or your governing councils ever place upon your members. This will probably take a while to do. Be exhaustive.

Place each obligation on the continuum based on its popularity. Place the events that everyone loves further on the continuum near the happy face. Place the events that everyone dreads toward the unhappy face. Obligations that some people like and others dislike will probably end up toward the middle. People might love formal, and it sits high on the continuum, but if parties have gotten a little lame, they might sit a bit south of the middle mark. Be honest.

Every group will be different. A fraternity might have more social events toward the happy face. Club sports teams might rank home games higher than away games. If your group is a professionally oriented group, you might see that your members love the networking and learning events, but don't really love your social events. In any case, as you look at your continuum, ask if it truly reflects the current attitudes and priorities of your members.

Once you have everything plotted, discuss it. Are there any trends? Are all the social things popular? Are service events unpopular? Do your members enjoy any of your meetings?

Next, start labeling the entries. I like to use F-I-R-E. Put an "F" by the events that are fine, fulfilling, fantastic. Put an "I" by the events that need improvement because they are important but need some reworking to make your members enjoy them more. Put an "R" by the events that need to be replaced – the goals of the event are valid, but the event needs to be completely reworked. Put an "E" by the events that need to simple be ELIMINATED.

You'll probably discover in doing this process that much of your conversation centers around whether an event deserves an "I" (for needs to be improved) or an "R" (for needs to be replaced with something entirely different). This is a very valuable conversation. Encourage it.

Discuss where combinations can be made. Combine your alumni event with your community service event, for example. If one event can fulfill three purposes, that beats the heck out of single-purpose event.

It's been my experience that this F-I-R-E process can reduce an organization's calendar by at least a third. Remember, morale is positively affected by having fewer events that are higher quality, more fun, and more beneficial.
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