Inspiring Words from Past Grand Sage William D. Akers

Over the last several months, I’ve spent some time reading through past issues of our fraternity’s national magazine, The Emerald. There are some truly inspiring words in these magazines. And those words are spoken in a tone of voice that we have too quickly forgotten in today’s fraternity world. That lapse in memory is not confined to Sigma Pi Fraternity, but to all of today’s fraternity men who opt to willfully disregard the decades of success that fraternities have achieved in building strong, tradition-minded, masculine men. Of course, in today’s world the very notions of traditionalism and masculinity are under attack so it’s no wonder that today’s fraternity men are so quick to bend (and, ultimately, break) to the incredulous, anti-male demands placed on them by those in perceived authority positions. More on that as we go along…

This is how the title of The Emerald magazine used to appear.

This is how the title of The Emerald magazine used to appear.

Here are some inspiring thoughts from Brother William D. Akers of Zeta Chapter, the sixth Grand Sage of Sigma Pi Fraternity. Incidentally, Past Grand Sage (PGS) Akers served as Grand Sage for a 4 year period; why is today’s Sigma Pi Fraternity seemingly so against Grand Sages serving more than one, 2-year term? That might be something to think about, I guess. In any event, PGS Akers delivered the comments below to an assembly of Delta and Kappa Chapter undergraduates in 1914, while he was serving as the fraternity’s Grand Fourth Counselor.

“In college life as well as in the business world there is no room for the passive type of man. A dead man and a lazy one are exactly alike, except the lazy one takes up more room.”
I’m sure that we’ve all heard several iterations of this idea over the years – that if one is not being a productive member of society, then they’re not really living life and might as well be dead. Or that if an employee is not pulling his own weight, then they are actually dead weight and should be fired. I believe PGS Akers’ point is that as fraternity men, we must be active in the affairs of our chapter. For the undergraduates reading this – don’t get your defenses up just yet! Too often, today’s young men see a call for involvement as an unwanted burden on their freedom or a tax on their time. That’s not what “involvement” should be, regardless of what instruction you may have received locally. To avoid being the “passive type of man” that PGS Akers refers to, today’s undergraduate man just needs to avail himself of the activities that his chapter should already be engaged in. For example, if your chapter is mixing with XYZ Sorority on Thursday night, then go to the mixer! And if you have a few free minutes during the day that Thursday, then why not ask the Social Chairman if there is some small piece of the planning for the night’s activities that you can help him complete?

Further, to avoid the passivity that PGS Akers warns us about, today’s undergraduate man should attend his chapter’s weekly meeting, philanthropic, and service events. Again, these should be part of your daily activities as an active member in your chapter in the first place. This isn’t a call to new action, but rather a call to existing action.

Some Delta-Beta Chapter brothers hanging out at a chapter BBQ.

Some Delta-Beta Chapter brothers hanging out at a chapter BBQ.

Where PGS Akers’ comment begins to challenge us, I believe, is when it is applied to the larger population and its growing number of phobias and general mania around fraternities and fraternity men. Strong undergraduate leaders are not the ones who simply take what they’re given and regurgitate it for the next “leader” to read and hopefully do the same. Strong undergraduate leaders take the information that they’re given, question it in a thorough and independent manner, and then decide which elements of the material are best able to advance his chapter to its goals and his brothers to their goals. The most important part of that decision-making, though, is when the leader takes the material that he has found to be bogus, biased, or not worthy of propagation and tries to ascertain why it was included in the first place. Was this information included in an effort to disrupt a positive, yet traditional environment? Was it an oversight on the part of the person providing the material? Is it a poorly-veiled attempt to fundamentally change the perspective of the leader and his brothers? And if the answer to that question is “yes,” then why is the leader’s perspective trying to be modified? The answers to these questions (and more) should determine how the leader’s next actions.

“We Greeks, and I mean to speak with modesty, are the highest type of American manhood.”
This comment should hold true today as well, though I fear the forces of anti-masculinity and anti-traditionalism which are ripping through our culture are too often preventing fraternity men from exhibiting the highest type of American manhood, that is, traditional masculinity. The conflicting, often biased voices in today’s conversation on what it means to be a fraternity man often leave fraternity men confused at best or uncaring and aloof at worst. Today’s young fraternity leaders need to cut through the nonsense and demand clear, concise language from their leaders. If they suspect someone from their university or one of their elected leaders in the fraternity is communicating in double-speak, then they need to stop the conversation until the party they are speaking with plays fair.

That is the method by which today’s young fraternity leaders need to position themselves if they want to represent the highest type of American manhood. Be tellers of truth and promoters of real equality. Do not allow someone – anyone – to be held to a lesser standard because of their position, gender, race, socioeconomic class, etc. Fraternity men should only work pleasantly in those systems where all people are treated equally. However, what I think most fraternity men will find is that today’s college environment is stacked against them because of their skin color, gender, and/or choice to embrace a traditional view of fraternalism. Fraternity men must work to change that growing bias because bias in any form is unacceptable – particularly on college campuses.

“[Those who are jealous of fraternity membership] view us through glasses which magnify our sins and fail to even show our good points.”
Boy, it’s like PGS Akers gave this speech in 2014, not 100 years earlier! How true is this statement? Earlier in his speech, PGS Akers describes the people who are consistently anti-fraternity as “individuals who fight us through jealousies.” What is most distressing about PGS Akers’ comment here is that it is so relevant to today’s hostile environment for young men, and young fraternity men in particular. Also disturbing is that if you apply PGS Akers’ statement to any aspect of life outside of fraternity membership, then you’re likely to get a similar outcome. Imagine this being spoken in 2015 and replacing “fraternity membership” with “investment banker” or “tech millionaire.” The point is that when you’re a fraternity man, you are likely receiving a considerable amount of seen and unseen anger from a population that is jealous of your very existence because of what your existence represents in their known-only-to-them minds. It’s hard for us, as leaders, to take the comments of Akers’ jealous populations seriously because they are spoken from a place that we can’t enter nor can we innately understand (nor should we attempt to understand). Most of their comments are spoken from a place of jealously and an attempt to diminish you by neglecting all of the good you provide while highlighting your negatives.

My Delta-Beta Chapter guys at a fashion show they put together for autistic students.

My Delta-Beta Chapter guys at a fashion show they put together for autistic students.

My chapter at Monmouth University has had to deal with this weak-mindedness in at least one Greek Advisor. This individual loved to denigrate my undergraduates’ accomplishments and took every opportunity to do so, which were numerous since the chapter was winning many awards during that time – most notably winning Sigma Pi Fraternity’s Most Outstanding Chapter Award (#1 in the nation in their tier). He loved to put my guys down because his graduate school indoctrinated him to promote an extreme position held by too many student affairs employees. And that position is that they should receive external undergraduate successes by challenging the students do to more and reach higher. Do more? Reach higher than #1 in the nation? Really? For those student affairs employees who may be reading this commentary, please take this former Greek Advisor’s pigheadedness as a lesson. Sometimes the student affairs employees need to check their biases and jealousies at the door and simply say, “Wow – you guys did a great job! We’re proud of you! Congratulations!”

“To know that you have warm personal friends, who are intensely interested in you and in your success is one of the greatest of motive forces, and makes us do our best.”
Preach on, PGS Akers! Isn’t this the very core of motivating forces that propels fraternities forward in the right direction? Namely, that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you have a group of individuals behind you “who are intensely interested in you.” Further, they are intensely interested in your success! What greater squad is there to roll with than people who actually care about you, right?!

For my part as an alumni advisor, I’ve increasingly become intensely interested in the professional successes of my young alumni. When I hear about one of my young alumni upgrading to a new company, receiving a promotion, or getting a raise, I find a growing level of pride in their accomplishments. In a similar manner, when one of my young alumni decides that they want to go back to school to earn a master’s degree, I become proud of their decision to expand their academic pursuits. And it’s that pursuit of excellence – the pursuit of being something bigger and greater than you are today – that I find so great and admirable!

A group of my undergraduates at this past May's graduation.

A group of my undergraduates at this past May’s graduation.

A word to the undergraduate Sigma Pi leaders reading this commentary: you will not receive this type of lasting, post-graduation support from your Greek Advisor or from any of the negative voices that you hear while you’re running your chapter. As PGS Akers instructs us, the negative voices only want to magnify your sins and fail to recognize your good contributions to society. Lucky for us, we’re members of a true brotherhood of men. We celebrate each other’s successes and share the aggravation of each other’s setbacks. Those on the outside don’t understand that connection, but they do understand how to criticize their personal interpretation of that connection. Let them spew their hate because it further degrades any perceived authority that they assumed to have in the first place.

“…the strength of our fraternity and the future of the fraternity are in your hands.”
These words are as true today as they were when PGS Akers spoke them in 1914. Remember, when he delivered this speech PGS Akers was speaking to a group of assembled undergraduates from Delta and Kappa chapters. And even though we have over 100 more chapters today and we are a much more complex organization working in a much more biased environment, the truth is now and remains that the future of the fraternity is in the hands of our undergraduates. In a very real sense, as a group the undergraduate votes at our biennial Convocation far outnumber the combined votes of our alumni clubs, past grand officers, and other individuals who are allowed to vote during the business meetings. In a much more theoretical sense, the future of Sigma Pi Fraternity rests in the hands of those undergraduates who are willing to stand up to the hypocrisies that they face on a daily basis. Those undergraduates who are willing to question, in a gentlemanly manner, those with perceived authority regarding their hypocrisies are the ones who will lead this fraternity into the future.

“…the duties of our latest initiate are of more importance to the Fraternity than those of the Grand Sage. While the former may have no official duties to attend to, he is actively engaged, either in building up or tearing down our reputation, a matter of more vital importance than any official business could be.”
This comment follows the one immediately listed above as a further indication that the future of the fraternity is set by the undergraduates, not our alumni. Sure, our alumni may be in elected or hired staff positions, but the work of the fraternity has always existed at the active chapter level. This doesn’t take away from the many great and varied efforts of our alumni clubs and alumni volunteers. Our alumni volunteers, especially, are the workhorses of Sigma Pi Fraternity. Theirs is a labor of love and, if done correctly, their work bears more and better fruit than any other effort put forth by any other constituency in the fraternity.

Some of my Spring 2015 initiates from the Delta-Beta Chapter.

Some of my Spring 2015 initiates from the Delta-Beta Chapter.

Yet still, the people who are most important to the fraternity’s future are not those with the shiny medals around their necks or the ones who get up each morning to go to work for Sigma Pi. The most important people in the fraternity are the ones who were just initiated into the brotherhood and have their entire lives ahead of them as men of Sigma Pi. Will they be actively engaged in building their chapter and, through that effort, making the national fraternity stronger? Or will they be one of the better-off-dead lazy men that PGS Akers notes in one of the earlier quotes cited above?

“Sigma Pi wants MEN, – men of brain and brawn, clean men, men who love and honor their Mother and Father, these are the men who will love and honor our Fraternity.”
During recruitment season, I wish that our leaders promoted this quote more to our undergraduates than anything else. In the last 10 or so years, many student affairs employees have co-opted Phired Up’s “values-based” recruitment model and demeaned it into becoming yet another battering ram to use against traditional fraternities and sororities. By “traditional fraternities and sororities,” I am talking about those chapters who look to find certain characteristics in the people that they recruit. That is, to find groups of kindred minds who are diverse by their origins and life experiences, but share common characteristics that are valued by the members of the chapter. Sigma Pi chapters should take PGS Akers’ suggestion and look for young men to join our fraternity who are MEN! Find guys who live clean lives, take care of themselves, and honor tradition both in their families and within the fraternity. These days, society is too quick to rewrite history in an effort to make tradition always appear biased, angry, or discriminatory. And while that may be true in some cases, the history of thousands of fraternity and sorority chapters across the country is not a history of discrimination. Even for those chapters who were founded by organizations that had exclusionary policies at their national levels – those policies no longer exist and likely haven’t existed for decades.

Today’s undergraduates do not need to be brow-beaten into thinking that they are exclusionary and that they need to take a more inclusive approach to recruitment. That’s nothing more than extremist jargon that seeks to dismantle traditional forms of masculinity (and femininity, for that matter). As PGS Akers states – Sigma Pi needs to recruit MEN.

Here are some other interesting points that I found in the January 1915 issue of The Emerald:

  • The Directory of the Fraternity lists the 6 Grand Counselors and then it lists an “Executive Council” that includes 4 additional men who appear to be in leadership positions. I’ve said for a long time that our national organization is hindered by the fact that we only have 7 members on our national board of trustees (the Grand Council plus the Past Grand Sage). Organizations of our size should have 11 to 15 contributing members on our board of trustees. It appears that the founders and early leaders of our fraternity well understood that need for increased engagement and more hands to help move the fraternity forward. I wonder what happened that the number of elected leaders was reduced? We should go back to a larger number of members on our board of trustees.
     
  • The Delta Chapter called PGS Akers the “Patrick Henry of Sigma Pi,” which is a really great compliment if you know American history.
     
  • One quote that I didn’t use from PGS Akers was, “…wells of fraternalism whose waters are brotherly devotion and loyalty to ideals.” I bring that up because I believe that people spoke and wrote much more beautifully 100 years ago. We live in a world where the word “literally” is bastardized and “like” is overused to death. Reading these old magazines is a great reminder of how wonderfully speakers spoke and writers wrote 100 years ago.
     
  • There’s a nice, two page profile of Byron R. Lewis in this issue of The Emerald. It was nice to read about the man who did so much to build the foundation of Sigma Pi Fraternity.
     
  • During this period in The Emerald‘s history, each issue was “sponsored” by a chapter of the fraternity. In other words, the bulk of this issue talks about the Phi chapter at the University of Illinois because this was the “Phi Number” issue of the magazine. There are some great pictures of the University of Illinois in the magazine and some discussion about campus history. I encourage the undergraduate members of Phi Chapter to take a look at this issue of The Emerald just for the 100 year old pictures of their campus.
     
  • This issue also marked the first update from the Delta Chapter of Sigma Pi Fraternity. According to their update, they started from the Mag Piis Club which was colonized into Sigma Pi in spring 1914. Our current Sigma Pi Manual (why isn’t it called the I Believe Manual any more?) lists Delta as inactive from 1913 to 1914. That doesn’t seem correct if we colonized them in spring 1914 and they were an active chapter by January 1915.
     
  • During this time, The Emerald featured a section called Exchanges. In this section, the magazine would reprint the best selections from other fraternities’ magazines, copies of speeches given as they related to fraternalism, and articles from national inter-fraternity conventions. Interesting idea – especially about the speeches.
     
  • Finally, a company named Schloss Manufacturing Company advertised on the back page of The Emerald. They were advertising Sigma Pi Greek letter banners for either 85 cents (an 18″ x 30″ banner) or $1.25 (a 24″ x 30″ banner). I think we’ve experienced a little bit of inflation since then!

I encourage everyone who has an interest in Sigma Pi Fraternity’s history to check out the online archive of old Emerald magazines. If you like this stuff, then they are a treasure trove of information!

Heading Back To School As A Student – One Last Time

Last week, I was admitted to a doctoral program at the University of Southern California. The program is all-online and focuses on Organizational Change and Leadership. If completed successfully, the doctoral degree that I will receive is a Doctor of Education, or an Ed.D. Though the program is 100% online, I will have to travel to Los Angeles for an immersion weekend once per year. The program is expected to last through 8 semesters with 3 semesters taking place per year.

usc-banner

Several years ago I wrote about how I was preparing to start a Post-Master’s Certificate program in Curriculum Studies. I remember writing that entry and at the time the only phrase I kept hearing go through my head was Chris Rock on the Howard Stern Show saying, “You’re going back to Shawshank!?” after Stern announced he was getting married again. I had that same thought going through my head when I started the Post-Master’s Certificate a few years ago and, in some respects, I have the same thought now as I prepare for this doctoral program.

There is a slight difference between now and then, though. When I started the Post-Master’s Certificate I had that, “Here we go again,” feeling because I was putting myself back in the classroom setting as a student. This time around I don’t have that feeling because I’m going back to the classroom setting as a student, rather I have that feeling because I’m going back to using student loans to finance my education. If you haven’t read my student loan story, then you can get a full rundown of my life with student loans by clicking here. If you scroll through those posts, you’ll find the one where I announce that I’ve fully repaid my student loans.

Though I need to take out student loans to finance my doctoral education, I am in a much different personal and financial place than I was when I finished my Master’s Degree in 2006. For example, after I graduated in 2006 I began working at a company in an entry level-type position making an entry level-type salary. Now, almost 10 years later, I still work at the same company and I’ve obviously progressed in my career. Granted, I don’t have the regular financial capacity to make $2,500 per month payments like I was making at the end of the aggressive, self-imposed repayment plan for my previous student loans. However, I do have the capacity to make payments on my new student loans while I’m still enrolled as a student.

And that’s probably the biggest difference between me being a student in 2015 versus me being a college student from 1999 to 2003 or a graduate student from 2004 to 2006. Today, I can afford to pay down my student loans during the actual semesters when I take them out in the first place. Will I be able to pay down the entirety of each loan during the semester when I’m taking the classes that the loan paid for? Probably not, but I’m in a much better position to try to do that now than I was 10+ years ago.

There are two other differences that I think are worth mentioning outside of the student loan issue. First, this is the first time that I’ll be taking fully online classes. In the past, I’ve successfully completed hybrid courses that are partially online and partially in the classroom. And for the last several years I’ve actually instructed many fully online classes. However, this will be the first time that I am a student in such a class. Second, this is the first time since I completed my Master’s Degree in 2006 where I’ll be taking more than one class per semester. After I graduated with the Master’s Degree, I completed two additional graduate programs by taking one class each semester (outside of textbooks, I didn’t pay to take these classes or to earn these degrees as I was provided with tuition remission at the local college where I work as an Adjunct Professor). The last time I was enrolled in more than one class as a student was during the spring semester of 2006.

All of these comments aside, I’m really looking forward to being engaged in the classroom as a student again. I’m particularly interested in engaging with my new classmates in an all-online setting. And, of course, I’m excited at the prospects of completing the doctoral program and finishing up a lifetime of classroom activity.

Start the Weekend Right Link Series – Volume #3, Edition #1

It has been a long time since I posted one of these Start the Weekend Right Link Series entries. But I have too many posts building up behind the scenes on this blog and in my Feedly reader so I need to start clearing them out and getting them out there for you to consume. Before you check out of work and begin whatever celebrations you’ll be involved with this Easter weekend, take a look at some of these links – I think you might enjoy this content.

Before we get to the links this week I again recommend signing up for a free Feedly account. I get absolutely no kickback for promoting Feedly, but I’m so appreciative of their product being the best RSS reader on the internet that I encourage everyone to use it. If you’re using another RSS aggregator, please consider following JerseySmarts.com at http://www.jerseysmarts.com/feed/. If you’re already on Feedly, then you can follow us by clicking here. Thanks!

No, You Are Not “Running Late,” You Are Rude And Selfish, Vitamin T
The message of this article is, as the title alludes to, that all of those times you or a coworker comes to a meeting late are not driven by outside factors, but rather by the fact that you’re a rude person. And on top of that rudeness, you’re a selfish punk who only cares about themselves. Personally, I agree with the message here, but living in New Jersey drops more than a few grains of salt on this article. When I was in college, I knew a kid who showed up to all of his classes late – and always with a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in his hand. He was a rude, selfish idiot. On the other hand, I’ve seen people arrive to work (and even meetings and appointments) over an hour late because of the completely ridiculous nature of the traffic and road construction in most of this state.

Death By Degrees, n+1
The best preview I can give for this article is this quote that is taken from it: “Like the market for skin care products, the market for credentials is inexhaustible: as the bachelor’s degree becomes democratized, the master’s degree becomes mandatory for advancement. Our elaborate, expensive system of higher education is first and foremost a system of stratification, and only secondly — and very dimly — a system for imparting knowledge.”

Manual Labor, All Night Long: The Reality of Paying for College, The Atlantic
Typically, the commentaries that The Atlantic publishes are too buried in far left talking points (and shoddy ones, no less) that I can’t find the usefulness of their content. This article is a little bit different, though I don’t take the same bleeding heart stance as some of the folks quoted in the article. In short, the article talks about how some students opt to work an overnight shift to get tuition reimbursement for their local college. I believe the writer’s stance is along the lines of how we could allow this type of near-torture for someone who wants to get a higher education. As someone with a deep history in student loans, I don’t often feel bad for others who have to go through difficulty to get a degree. My comment on this topic, though, is that we should be looking at the larger educational system and why we push nearly all high school students to pursue a college degree when many of them should be pushed towards vocational and technical schools instead.

An unusual victory for donor intent at Trinity College, The Pope Center
One of the topics that I love following is how a donor’s intent is followed – or completely ignored – by organizations that are the recipients of the donor’s financial contributions. Martin Morse Wooster details a recent victory for donors that took place at Trinity College. This is really fascinating stuff (or at least I think so). And if you’re an active donor to your church, college, or any other cause, then I encourage you to give this article a read.

Google rethinks Google+, spinning off several successful pieces, Christian Science Monitor
Goodbye, Google+! Several years ago I wrote about how I was shutting down several of my social media accounts (MySpace and LinkedIn) because it was just becoming too much to handle and all I really needed was Facebook. As the years went by and Google tried to shove Google+ down our throats, I had to open up one of their silly accounts and – like the majority of their users, apparently – I almost never used it. Now, hopefully, Google will retreat from social media and I can put that silly, useless Google+ profile to rest!

Homeless man of deep faith given funeral, burial in Vatican City, American Catholic
I just thought this was a touching story and a reminder that there are good people out there who will do good things for people of devotion. I’d like to believe that this homeless man’s soul was received into glory with the same reverence that his body was received by the Vatican.

A New Life for Dead Malls, The Atlantic
Alright, so The Atlantic gets two mentions this week because this story is just awesome. I’ve written on here in the past about how I can go nuts trying to use all of my “stuff” before buying new things. For me, it’s not a matter of frugality, but rather a matter of not generating the need to create additional products and/or waste to give me something that I already have possession of in one form or another. That’s the point of this article – that old, dead malls are actively being repurposed for a wide variety of uses – and it’s pretty cool!

7 Basic Life Hacks Men Shouldn’t Ignore, Return of Kings
Simply put – if you’re a guy and you’re reading this, then you should stop and click over to Return of Kings to read this article. It’s excellent, direct, and gives you good advice on what you should be doing to improve yourself. Some of the advice that the writer offers includes reading daily, working out, eating right, and not watching porn. Each of these “life hacks” have intensely positive outcomes for you as a man and when combined they can lead to a dramatically improved life. Take five minutes and give it a read.

Before you go, I want to recommend one more time that you consider opening a free Feedly account. You can follow JerseySmarts.com on Feedly or you can add us to your existing RSS aggregator. Enjoy!

Sigma Pi’s Chapter Educational Fund Program is an Ideal Donation Option

While I understand that this entry may only apply to my brothers in Sigma Pi Fraternity, their families, and the friends of our fraternity, I think it also serves as a good discussion of why certain tax-deductible donations are better than others. Below, I’m going to argue that a donation to the Sigma Pi Educational Foundation‘s Chapter Educational Fund program is a great option for fraternity alumni because the dollars are more flexible and they can go further over a longer period of time.

post-spef-2015

Several years ago, the Sigma Pi Educational Foundation (the Foundation) started a program to create Chapter Educational Funds (CEF). Before we talk about what a CEF is and what it can do for you and your chapter, you should know that the Foundation is a 501c3 tax-exempt organization. This means that donations made to the Foundation are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. In other words, if you write a check to the Foundation for $5, $50, or $5,000, then all of those funds can be list as charitable contributions when you or your accountant prepares your deductions for the tax year.

Sigma Pi Fraternity (the Fraternity) and the Foundation have done a lot of research over the years. For the Foundation, that research was focused on what it could do to entice more of our 50,000+ living alumni to donate for the advancement of the Fraternity. In 2003, the Foundation commissioned a report from a third party group to ascertain – among other goals – whether it could raise significant funds from our alumni base to support national programs. The report gave the Foundation many results, including the fact that most alumni want to find a way to support their local chapter more so than the national organization.

Several years later in 2010, the Foundation again studied what Sigma Pi alumni felt strongly about as it put together its strategic plan. During the focus groups and outreach in 2010 it was clear, again, that our alumni love Sigma Pi and would love for the Foundation to provide an option that allowed them to donate for the benefit of their local chapter. This finding would be one of the many outcomes in late 2011 when another third party group researched the prospects of raising significant funds to support national programs.

The message is clear – Sigma Pi alumni are willing and able to donate to the Foundation. They prefer that those donations help their local chapters succeed.

The Foundation has always welcomed those individual alumni or groups of alumni who seek to set up a scholarship to honor a living mentor or as a memorial to a brother who has passed away. In fact, the Foundation awards several national honorarium and memorial scholarships each year. Yet, the research showed that the Fraternity’s alumni wanted to donate to something more directly aligned with their local chapter. Thus was born the CEF program.

The CEF program allows a group of local alumni – called a Local Advisory Committee (LAC) – to create a specific fund at the Foundation where money donated to that fund is used solely for the benefit of their local chapter. Like a traditional Foundation scholarship, a CEF can allow the LAC to award scholarships to members of their local chapter. Yet, a CEF is a more flexible tool to help the local chapter improve because of the other various uses of donated funds. In addition to scholarships, a CEF may provide fellowships for graduate members of a chapter to pursue advanced degrees or professional development programs.

Any use that is academic or educational in nature is an allowable use of money donated to a CEF.

In the recent past, CEFs have been used to provide full reimbursements of registration fees for undergraduates to attend Sigma Pi University (now called Sigma Pi UIFI). Similarly, CEFs have been used to provide full reimbursement of travel costs for undergraduates to attend the Mid-Year Leadership Conference as well as Sigma Pi University. On a more local level, CEFs have been used to pay for the event reservation fees and food costs for academic and leadership training breakfasts and luncheons hosted on-campus where instruction is provided by highly-qualified local alumni and/or invited guest speakers. In other words, if your chapter’s alumni want to host an annual brunch for your undergraduates where you can instruct the undergraduates on issues related to their academic and/or educational growth, then you can pay for the costs of that event through donations to your local CEF.

A CEF can also be used to purchase academic or educational equipment for the chapter. What does that mean? Well, it means if your chapter owns a chapter house and there is space for a library or study area in the house, then funds donated to a CEF can be used to outfit that space with academic equipment (i.e. computers, software, and networking needs).

The uses stated above are what can be achieved when money that you donate to your local CEF is granted (i.e. given away) to a specific cause. However, if you opt to keep the funds in the CEF (i.e. you’re not granting them away), then the flexibility of your CEF increases.

In this option, money donated to a CEF can be used to provide a loan to the local chapter, alumni club, or housing corporation to make improvements to a chapter house. The breadth and scope of those improvements do not have the same academic and educational limitations as when money is granted from the CEF because in this instance, the money in the CEF isn’t being given away. Instead, an LAC may request a loan from its CEF for any housing-related reason including making immediate quality-of-life repairs to a chapter house, building an addition on to an existing chapter house, or even helping a chapter purchase a new house. In those scenarios where a loan is provided by your CEF, the LAC should expect a full underwriting and approval process – just like getting a loan from a local bank. Typically, interest will accrue on the loan at a rate agreed upon by the LAC and the Foundation and the CEF will have to pay an origination fee (which can be negotiated). Unlike a bank, however, it is typical for half of the interest that is paid by the borrower to be placed back into the chapter’s CEF and for the other half of the interest to be paid to the Foundation, which helps it operate (once the interest funds are put back into the CEF, they can be used for the same purposes noted above). Several Sigma Pi chapters around the country currently have loans outstanding from their CEFs with similar repayment terms.

There are some other ins and outs that an alumnus or group of alumni need to know before opening a CEF, but those issues can be better discussed directly with the Foundation. What is important to understand is that if you want your chapter to have an annual scholarship or some academic fellowships, if you would like to see your chapter’s registration fees and travel costs to attend most national conferences fully reimbursed, or if you’d like to see your chapter receive a loan (where they’re actually getting a portion of the interest back!) to address housing issues, then you really should consider the Foundation’s CEF program.

Thoughts Around Being an Alumni Volunteer for Sigma Pi

Another version of this commentary was published on Sigma Pi Fraternity’s The Emerald Online.

This is an entry that really only applies to my brothers in Sigma Pi Fraternity and, more specifically, those members who have graduated and gone on to become alumni volunteers for the Fraternity. In this piece, I provide my two golden rules of alumni volunteering as well as some thoughts around each of those rules. The ideas below are not just applicable to Sigma Pi Fraternity, they are also applicable to any organization where there is a mentor/mentee relationship between individuals or groups.

This is my current group of undergraduates at Monmouth and they're awesome!

This is my current group of undergraduates at Monmouth and they’re awesome!

In May 2003, I graduated from Monmouth University (MU) and became an officially recognized alumni member of Sigma Pi Fraternity (the Fraternity). Like most brand new alumni, I didn’t have much thought about involvement in the Fraternity’s actions after my graduation. I knew that I wanted to attend the upcoming leadership training school because it was being held in Vincennes, Indiana – the birthplace of the Fraternity. Other than that half-week trip, though, I had no plans to be involved in Sigma Pi in any future way.

During that visit to the leadership school, I talked with the Executive Director of the national organization and he encouraged me to immediately become my chapter’s local advisor, a position known as the Chapter Director. Back at MU, our Chapter Director was also our Faculty Advisor and he had held both positions since our colony was founded back in 1989. And while our Chapter Director was a phenomenal Faculty Advisor (he would go on to win Sigma Pi’s first-ever Dr. Robert Burns Most Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award and numerous #1 Faculty Advisor Awards on MU’s campus), he never played the role of Chapter Director. After a brief conversation with the Faculty Advisor and at the encouragement of the Executive Director along with the support of the undergraduates (especially the President of the Chapter), I became my local chapter’s new Chapter Director in August 2003.

The August 2003 decision to become an alumni volunteer for the Fraternity has lasted until the present-day and, God-willing, well into the future. Among other volunteer positions for the Fraternity, I’ve served as a Chapter Director at two different campuses (MU and, for a short while, I held the position at William Paterson University), an advisor to my chapter’s alumni club, the Province Archon for New Jersey, a Trustee for the Sigma Pi Educational Foundation, the Treasurer of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, and – perhaps most importantly – as a mentor for graduating seniors and young alumni from my chapter. Last February, I was asked to take the various experiences that I’ve gathered as an alumni volunteer and provide a half-day training on alumni volunteering at the Fraternity’s Mid-Year Leadership Conference in St. Louis, Missouri (an invitation which was extended again this year and which I’ve accepted again). I immediately agreed and then began combing through my various experiences, perspectives, and training materials to build the best program that I could for my fellow volunteers from around the nation.

Through that process, I discovered that I’ve operated off of two golden rules during my time as alumni volunteer. Those two rules are:

     1. It isn’t about YOU.

     2. It’s NOT story time.

The first rule that a good alumni volunteer needs to understand is that his position is not about him, his feelings, his wants, or his desires. At its core, this perspective may be counterintuitive to what alumni volunteers believe when they agree to take the position. Most alumni volunteers want to remain involved with the Fraternity because they remember the good times and great relationships that they built as undergraduates. Others want to stay involved because they believe that they can help the chapter improve upon its programs that were operated when he was an undergraduate. The majority of an alumnus’ good, happy experiences with the Fraternity are generated from people and events where they, individually, could be the focus.

That cannot be the case when you are an alumni volunteer. When you agree to become an alumni volunteer, you are agreeing that the focus of your fraternal actions will no longer be about you.

Instead, the focus of your fraternal actions as an alumni volunteer must always be about the undergraduates. Your role – your purpose – is no longer to view the issues that created your love of the Fraternity from a perspective of personal gain or even one of personal involvement. As an alumni volunteer, you have to ensure that those connections are made available and strengthened for the benefit of future generations. This is often a hard pill for new alumni volunteers to swallow, yet adhering to a perspective of providing the most good to the undergraduates is the best way to ensure that you are acting truly as an alumni volunteer and not as someone who wants to hang around campus to exert some personally-identified influence on or even control over the chapter.

The second rule is that being an alumni volunteer is not story time. Again, this is a bitter pill for many alumni volunteers to swallow. At the core of this rule is the interactions that you have as a volunteer with your undergraduates. This can be something as simple as an undergraduate asking, “Hey, what should I do about Bob? He hasn’t paid his dues and he won’t return my text messages.” The incorrect answer would start off this way: “Well, when I was the chapter’s Treasurer…” or, “When I was an undergraduate we used to…”

What happened in that response? Not only does the alumni volunteer attempt to “answer” the question by providing a story, but they immediately make their interaction with the undergraduate about themselves and their experiences versus the undergraduate and his current experience. The undergraduate did NOT ask the alumni volunteer about what he did when he was in charge – he asked what he, as the current chapter leader, should do to resolve this situation. The proper response from the alumni volunteer would include different options that are available to the undergraduate given the structure of the national organization and the rules of the local chapter. If an example is a best way to answer the question, then the alumni volunteer might consider providing an example of how another chapter handles this problem – if he is aware of any examples.

There is an important point in the last sentence of the previous paragraph – that is, the alumni volunteer exists to provide answers and guidance. The alumni volunteer doesn’t exist to tell stories about his glory days. The most immediate and lasting way to become irrelevant to an undergraduate is to answer their questions by telling them your own experiences. Not only do you violate both of the golden rules noted above, but the undergraduates no longer see you as a source of relevant information. Rather, they will begin to see interactions with you as a chore that they have to endure every once in a while.

I’m confident that some alumni volunteers are out there reading this and are aware enough to recognize that they engage in story time when they answer their undergraduates’ questions. Most of those folks will think to themselves, “Well, Joe is full of it. My undergraduates enjoy my stories and it helps them build a better chapter.” To those few with that mindset, let me assure you – your undergraduates don’t enjoy your stories. As a national Fraternity, we bring in such a high caliber of young man that they’re too nice and too reverent of our alumni base that most of them won’t be honest with you and tell you that you’re boring the life out of them. Remember, if you’re advising through telling stories, then you’re already irrelevant to your undergraduates so you shouldn’t expect them to be truthful with you about how much your stories bore them.

If you make the focus of your interactions with the undergraduates about them and you provide answers to their questions, a funny (yet logical) thing may happen: the undergraduates will seek your advice more often. You’ll be viewed as a source of solutions. You’ll become the literal answer to their problems. Becoming that source of solutions, the answer to their problems, is what builds the bond between you and your undergraduates over not just a year or two, but over generations. Your current chapter leaders will tell your newly-elected chapter leaders that they should rely on you for guidance. You’ll receive the type of word-of-mouth recommendations that money can’t buy for an alumni volunteer.

And all it takes is to make the undergraduates the focus of your work as a volunteer.