January 28, 2010

Do MC Greeks Have a PR Problem?

While roaming the internet, I came across this article in ChickSpeak that spoke about Multicultural Greeks. It was written by a member of a NPC sorority (it seems), and seemed to be full of misconceptions. To be fair, she is probably writing from her own experience. Who are any of us to refute that? However the picture painted of Multicultural Greeks had so little to do with what we actually are. Take a gander at the following quotes:

There are several large differences between multicultural Greek organizations and regular ones. While Greek organizations have chapters that collect members from one college campus, multicultural Greek organizations tend to be in a city with members from several colleges.

This may be true, but is not the norm. In fact, this is more common among the NPHC groups more so than MC Greeks.

These multicultural organizations seem to have evolved by minorities that had minimal or no appearance in the regular Greek councils. Specifically, they aspire to increase awareness about their respective minority’s presence in the community.

It seems here that the author is apply the MC Greek label to any Greek organization with an ethnic focus outside of the NPHC (Latino, Asian, etc.). To be fair I can understand this confusion. Many times when you see that a college has a "Multicultural Greek Council", that council is made up of these types of groups; and not necessarily MC Greek organizations (although many of these groups that focused on a particular culture in the past have added a multicultural focus). However if these organizations are branded "Multicultural Greeks", then it glosses over the uniqueness of Greek organizations that were founded to not focus on any particular culture at all.

While multicultural Greeks share many of the same interests as the typical sorority, the multicultural Greeks may promote specific values that resonate from their common background.

Here is where the misunderstanding is confirmed. To the author a "Multicultural Greek" is not an organization whose goal is to unite those from diverse cultures, but rather an organization that unites a specific culture. While this may seem like nitpicking, it is really a point to be concerned about because we still have work to do apparently in educating the public (and the university community) about who and what Multicultural Greeks are. It is difficult to recruit and work with school administrators when the definition of what a Multicultural Greek organization is remains so undefined.

I tried to leave a comment at the article itself, but the registration mechanism did not work for me.

August 4, 2009

Freedom of Association: Why Multicultural Greeks Should Be Concerned

The information session turned up a few surprises for me. The biggest one is that most of the participants were not unaffiliated women; but rather they were current sorority members looking for tips and insights. To prepare for the session, I ordered a presentation from the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors entitled "Founders Fever". This presentation was very interesting, and far too short. Also it was from 2005, so surely, things have changed just a bit since then. But I am getting ahead of myself here.

Like I mentioned before, many of the "Starting a Sorority" information session participants were already sorority members. So I needed to change my agenda considerably on the fly (I guess I deserve that; in that I did not surey my audience ahead of time). In attendance was a sister from a NMGC sorority (which I will not name). She herself was a founder of her particular chapter and after two years, found very little support from her host university. Not only was there no support, but there are barriers to their existence on campus. This is because they are not eligible to join any of the Greek councils presently on campus. And since they are the only multicultural Greek organization on campus, they cannot form their own council (my guess is that a council needs to have more than one organization...makes sense). Anyway, she is moving towards joining a service sorority; something that is not so daunting and is in a better functional position on campus.

There are quite a few things wrong with this picture. And before I get started, let me be the first to say that this is not about demonizing the colleges and universities out there. In my short tenure so far as a university employee, I have found that administrative changes at colleges and universities take time. In a college, you do not have the operational pressures that you have in regular businesses. Rather you have goals, priorities, and initatives -- things that may not always trickle down to the Greek community. Also, let's face it; Greek Life is something that students are concerned about. Not the host community of the school (even though they may benefit from the volunteer work of Greeks), not the faculty of the school, and not even the alumni of the school. The only way that Greek Life becomes a priority for a university is from a competitive marketing standpoint; where they may see that another, competing university offers various options in Greek Life where they do not.

But this lack of support from schools may be a deathblow to Multicultural Greeks. As Multicultural Greeks ourselves, we see firsthand the benefits to having us on campus; we add a new dimension to Greek life. But we are not in the same boat with other Greek organizations from an organizational, and operational standpoint. In the "Founders Fever" presentation, you had discussion between Multicultural Greek board members and campus-staff and administration that was pretty enlightening. For the most part, the campus-staff members just did not know how to handle the expansion of multicultural greek organizations on their campus. To some of them, they felt that someone coming up to them requesting to start a new chapter of a national MC Greek organization was pretty much along the same lines as someone coming up to them and saying that they wanted to start a new organization from scratch. If there were not already rules for recognizing new Greeks on campus, then the school comes up with them, largely so that they will not open themselves up to liability.

However this fear of liability may get in the way of freedom of association. One of the attendees of the "Founder's Fever" session was an attorney who was very supportive of MC Greeks. He basically said that while a school can place requirements on a group in order for them to be recognized, the requirements must be reasonable, and certain requirements can mean that the university is infringing on the student's right to freely associate with a particular group. It had some very deep points (many of which I can't elucidate on, since I am not an expert in law); but basically, a school's concern for liability issues is a responsible, and rightful move. However university students have certain rights afforded to them as well; and those rights do not deserve to be infringed upon.

Of course theory and reality are two different things. Few, if any, Multicultural Greek organizations possess the resources to launch lawsuits against expansion unfriendly universities. Even so, who can wait to go through the long court process? It would seem that any lawsuit would need to be between the slighted student, and the school; not necessarily the Greek organization and the school (or maybe I am wrong on this). It also seems to be excessive; what school would not just change their Greek Life policy, instead of trekking through courts? But that is the school; what about the students? Students are much more whimsical; and if they get the air that the school is (or wants) to make things difficult for them, then they are more likely to just move on from it.

A bigger point of concern here is the disconnect between Multicultural Greek organizations and schools. In many ways, we think we are on the same page but we are not. They called for a national council; the NMGC was created...but somehow it is still not enough. They called for insurance policies; no problem, many groups put the policies in place...yet there are still other logistical requirements that are harder to deal with (such as alumni who live near to the university). The final result are many young people who get discouraged and feel like they failed. This is not the case, they did not fail. They are just dealing with a system that is not equipped to properly fuel their success.

July 22, 2009

A Multicultural Sorority Cannot Use A Community Multicultural Center?

The title sounds incredulous; but I found this letter to the editor (which I'll paste below) which states just that.

To the Editor:

This is in response to Kristen Ziegler's article "Proposal for multicultural center accepted" in the Mar. 23, 2006 edition of The Weekly. I am the president of Theta Nu Xi, the multicultural sorority mentioned at the end of the article. While my sisters and I greatly appreciate the fact that our plan to donate to the Center was included, there is a larger issue at hand which has been overlooked.

The reason we decided to fundraise and donate the proceeds to the Center in the first place is that we were originally included in the plan as an organization that would have use of the Center. Unfortunately, Theta Nu Xi has been removed from the final proposal because we are not affiliated with the College. However, Ziegler writes that part of the Center's mission is to "provide support to the community and outreach to the Allentown community." Although Theta Nu Xi is not recognized by Muhlenberg College, it is an official Allentown chapter. If the Center is supposed to serve the Allentown community as well as Muhlenberg students, how can the exclusion of an Allentown-based multicultural organization be justified?

The national organization of Theta Nu Xi was involved in this fundraising effort and my sisters and I are still going to donate everything we have received to the Center. Even though our organization has been prohibited from using the Center, we still want to support the effort to promote multiculturalism at the College and in the Allentown community.

--Nikki DeMaio '08

July 2, 2009

General Information Session on Starting a Sorority for Women

On July 19, 2009 at 12 p.m. (noon) there were be a general information session online (via AIM chatroom) for any woman who is looking to start a sorority or just curious about what being in a sorority entails. Participation in this session confers no comittment in any was on the behalf of the participant. Please send an email to president@deltagammapi.org by July 17, 2009 with your AIM screenname in order to participate. Session length will be at least 1 hour. Women only please.

May 3, 2009

Multiculturalism at the University of Alabama

Every now and then I conduct Internet research looking for news articles on multicultural Greeks. A great article was published this past Friday in the student newspaper at the University of Alabama. The school, whose Greek system has been traditionally segregated between white and black organizations, is now going through a great deal of cultural integration. The integration is happening within both predominantly white and black organizations. White students are joining historically black organizations and black students are joining historically white ones. One of the newest sororities at UA is Sigma Lambda Gamma, a historically Latina-based sorority with multicultural membership.

The University is also embracing multicultural organizations. The school has had a chapter of Delta Xi Phi Multicultural Sorority since 2002. Multicultural Greek life is still relatively new when you look at the greater history of fraternities and sororities, however the forming of these multicultural groups at the University of Alabama is a good sign. Multicultural fraternities and sororities are growing nationwide and have the potential to be found eventually on every college/university campus that welcomes a Greek system.

I would like to thank Miss S. for inviting me to write for this blog and for creating a forum to discuss Multicultural Greeks Today.

March 23, 2009

501(c)(3) vs. 501 (c)(7) Non-profit Status

Note - I am neither a tax or legal expert or professional. Please consult with the appropiate, licensed professional before you make any changes to your organization structure!

At the end of 2007, my sorority was officially incorporated. In years past (maybe 15-20 years ago) you could put off incorporation if you only had one, maybe two chapters. Of course nowadays, that is difficult to do and not recommended. The threat of litigation and the feeling of being limited from an operational standpoint are not things that should be pressing issues to young organizations.

Like many new groups, we opted to use an incorporation service. We decided to do some research on our own first, but overall, the process was pretty painless (and not too expensive). Now incorporation is at the state level. When our corporate certificate was issued, we were filed as a non-profit. However since the state we incorporated in has no income tax, our attention was then placed towards obtaining non-profit status with the IRS (so on a federal level). This is where it got interesting.

An attorney friend of mine let me have a handbook entitled "How To Form a Nonprofit Corporation". I found it very interesting, but it was quite clear that the book only addressed the formation of a 501(c)(3) organization. Ok, that is a commonly used term, so no big surprise there. But there was a surprise; because, the definition of a 501(c)(3) is:

The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.

(The bolded part is my emphasis)

We were working with a legal office on the IRS application for 501 non-profit status. However the more I read in this book, the more I started to question if we would be approved for 501(c)(3) status. After an overview of our financial and activity records, they agreed that the sorority would be more suited for 501(c)(7) status, which is:

"[c]lubs organized for pleasure, recreation, and other nonprofitable purposes, substantially all of the activities of which are for such purposes and no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder."

They key here is the distribution of revenue. If we had a budget where the majority of our funding could be funneled into "eliminating prejudice and discrimination", the 501(c)(3) status would be more suiting. However this is not currently the case with our current budget, and may not ever be.

What many older greek organizations have done are establish foundations which are 501(c)(3); probably because the bulk of any income coming into these foundations is then distributed out for the "charitable cause" of helping the sorority, providing scholarships, etc. I found this page online regarding an interesting question regarding the practice of having a 501(c)(3) pass money along to a 501(c)(7). I have also seen some organizations who are 501(c)(3) themselves. The details and specifics as to how they accomplished that I can't really fathom. I am definitely not saying that these organizations have done something improper. I simply do not have that great an understanding of the tax code to say anything one way or the other. If anyone out there is a member of such an organization and privy as to how this works, please feel free to comment. :-)

I must admit I have been pretty surprised regarding the common misconception that non-profit automatically equals 501(c)(3). Even in the office of the company we are working with, I've had administrative staff refer to my application as a 501(c)(3) application even after the determination that we would not be trying for that. Sorors in my sorority also question the designation. It seems to be a let down that donations and dues to the sorority will not be tax deductible. However since our dues in are less than $500 annually, they alone probably would be less than most of our sorors' standard deductible (unless they also have other significant charitible contributions).

I am also finding out that the 501(c)(7) status is not totally question-free for fraternities and sororities either though. In Rev. Rul. 66-360, 1966-2, it was determined that a sorority was not eligible for 501(c)(7) status! It seems that in this case, the IRS determined that the main function of the chapters was to fund the national headquarters of the sorority; whereas the point of a 501(c)(7) is to be organized for the exclusive purpose of fraternal bonding. Talk about a gray area! The only faux paus I can see this group could have committed is not allocating all of the costs out towards operations or for the public good. However it does bring into question programs administered by the national headquarters that will relay some cost benefit to the members; such as corporate discount programs and group rates. This is because dues paying members are "shareholders" and technically no shareholders are to take part in an fianancial gains (it's hard to say if "discounts" can be seen as fianancial gains).

In any case, no revenue generated by any kind of non-profit is taxable. Yet it is always advisable to file a tax return, even if your revenues are under $25,000.

March 12, 2009

Insurance for Multicultural Greeks

Philip Velez wrote a great article on insurance for fraternities and sororities. It should serve as a starting point to see what the main issues are. I would just like to expand on that and relate the experience of my organization and the road to getting insured.

It had been several years since my sorority expanded and we were held in high esteem by the administration of the schools were were present. Then, at one of the schools, there was a "changing of the guard" so to speak. The Greek Life office got a new director and suddenly every fraternity or sorority needed to be insured or would not be recognized.

Although we were not insured, my sorority agreed unanimously that we needed to obtain an insurance policy. We even suspended pledging until we could get insurance in place. At our upcoming conference, we were presented with a figure around $2,000 to get the insurance. Only later that year would we find out how "off" that amount was! Apparently this amount was what was being discussed around the Greek grapevine; and also this insurance was not general, but event specific.

However we soon found out that amount was way off. There were only two insurance companies we could find, MJ Insurance and Willis HRH that would insure a sorority. We went with Willis since they were able to get a quote to us much faster. The policy was > $5,000. Since we didn't just have that money laying around in a bank account, we needed to restructure our dues system in order to get the money by the next due date. However, we needed to deal with other costs as well; in addition to the bills we already had. That's when we decided to launch a campaign to get our alumna to become paying members again. Thankfully it worked, and we were able to obtain the insurance policy.

Being insured is a good thing for a fraternity or sorority. However it seems as if both the schools that require the insurance and the insurance industries are out of touch with the nature and needs of multicultural greeks. We operate on a smaller scale, we do not own real estate, and we do not have a hired staff of 20 or more people. Just as general liability policies can be easily secured for a business, a greek organization should also be able to go out there and have a wide variety of insurance products made available to them.

Another solution is that the schools can see to it that the members of it's multicultural greek council are insured. Of course in our case, this would not work in that not all of our chapters have a multicultural greek council. Then you have some sisters who would be covered and others who were not. There are other issues as well. But theoretically, it makes sense. If a university wishes to benefit from a comprehensive Greek life program, then they certainly should look into properly maintaining it.

In the meantime, we will keep doing what we are doing. And I think it is only fair to let people out there know that a good majority of the colleges and universities out there will not let you expand to their campus unless you can prove that you are insured. This alone, without a doubt, instantly stunts the growth of many multicultural fraternities and sororities.