The Three-Year Itch

We’re all familiar with the seven-year itch – the relationship term referring to the time frame when individuals tend to re-evaluate their situation – but what about the three, or, gasp!, two year itch. It is not uncommon to hear of chapters struggling with an apathetic membership of seniors and occasionally even juniors.

It is easy to picture the trajectory of membership in these chapters. Individuals come into the chapter as eager candidates, typically in their first or second semester as students. As they progress through their candidacy they develop a great passion for the organization, reaching an almost fever pitch at their initiation. The next year or two sees these members at the height of their involvement in the chapter – serving on numerous committees, being elected and appointed to positions of leadership, attending every meeting, social, service, and sporting event.

Then, suddenly, it happens. Brothers enter their third or fourth year in the chapter and suddenly forget the time and location for chapter meetings. Their interest in living in the house wanes. They are conspicuously absent from all activities of the chapter save for the most exciting and traditional social events.

But why? In some chapters and for some members it could be that the Fraternity served as a vibrant social outlet where none had previously existed. As members come of age, though, the opportunities for social interaction expand exponentially. Suddenly, the experiences and opportunities offered by the chapter begin to pale in comparison to those found on campus, in other organizations, with other friends, at work, or downtown.

Sound familiar?

Now, what to do about it?

Consider the experience your chapter is offering – social, educational, service, athletic, brotherhood, etc. Now ask yourself, who are we catering to? Is our chapter designed to place the most emphasis on the earliest stages of membership? Sure, candidacy is important and some in the chapter may never be as involved as they were in the time between bid day and initiation. And maybe some leadership positions in the chapter are best suited for sophomores and juniors. But does that mean the chapter doesn’t have anything specific to offer to those about to graduate? Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to keep all members engaged in the chapter through graduation and beyond?

Ideas for eliminating the three-year itch:

  1. Offer seniors-only events – brotherhoods, mixers with sororities, sporting teams.
  2. Use LEAD Phase IV: The End…The Beginning – provide opportunities for those about to graduate to learn about how to be successful in their first year on the job, participate in a networking seminar with alumni during homecoming, learn money management skills, practice negotiating salary offers, and defining what being an engaged alumnus looks like.
  3. Provide perks for continued upperclassmen involvement – preference in room picks or first choice in selecting house jobs.
  4. Have seniors serve as mentors for individual candidates – acting as a secondary big brother who is responsible for passing along his own experience and training the candidate on something specific (e.g. review of the candidate ceremony ritual or the history of the local chapter).
  5. Use the Affirmation of Knighthood ritual ceremony.
  6. Reward engaged and worthy seniors with nominations for campus and General Fraternity awards.
  7. Host a “senior send-off” dinner or chapter meeting where seniors address the chapter and are recognized for their contributions and achievements.
  8. Create a senior programming committee to focus on planning events and opportunities that provide specific value to upperclassmen.

These are just a few ways to ward off the three-year itch. Anything that bridges the gap between the value currently offered by the chapter and the desires of your most tenured members is worth a shot.

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