Thursday, September 1, 2011

Member Education Should be More Like Steak

Not the charred, flavorless, 'menu says eight ounces, what's on my plate looks no more than three,' variety you get at your local flair-on-the wall family restaurant. We already have plenty of pledge programs and initiation weeks like that. Like a bad steak, more often than not, our members spit them out. Pushed beyond their limits doing purposeless tasks, members leave, complain, or burn out.

We're talking steakhouse steak: juicy, succulent, mouth watering, "I'm not sure if I wore a big enough belt because it's just SO good," steak. What if undergraduate organizations focused more on delivering this type of educational product? Their mission: to deliver developmental programming so vivid, so mind-numbingly engaging that everyone is oblivious to the fact they are actually learning something. Instead, they focus purely on the joy of the experience.

And their members keep coming back, and back, and back, for more.

Think back to kindergarten or preschool. You know - when you began building the developmental foundation for the rest of your life. You learned to do more than count and spell; you learned to share, to investigate, to love. Teachers engaged you with one-on-one attention. If you fell, they helped you up. Better yet, they cared if you failed, struggled, or needed help. You learned social skills through interacting with the strange kid who always tried to put gum in your hair or the one who insisted you be the dog catcher when playing House while they got to be part of the family.

So what does this have to do with steak? A great steak, or any well-prepared, well-served meal for that matter evokes the same reactions. We laugh, we savor, we store the experience in our database of "What I should do again." We build an association between physical fulfillment and happiness.

This is the same association our members should build with membership development. But it all starts with the product we serve.

You may be asking yourself, "How can I turn my chapter's member education program into a perfectly cooked, porterhouse of personal growth?" Here are a few guidelines on how to cook it up:

1. A good membership development program is prepared properly.

Like cooking, developing others takes time, hard work, and commitment to purpose. Just watch an episode of FoodNetwork's IronChef: America if you doubt us. Too often, we spend our time designing our next recruitment T-shirt rather than providing the tools for our members to become good human beings.

2. A good membership development program is fresh.

Wondering why we chose to frame this blog post around a comparison to steak, rather than publish a article titled "5 steps to creating a membership development program?" Information delivered in a fun and exciting package is far more memorable than that presented as is. Think of ways to appeal to your members' five senses. Ask yourself: what can they see, touch, smell, taste, and hear that supports your material? Don't be afraid to get out of the chapter home and engage unexplored parts of campus. Field trips are fun for a reason.

3. A good membership development program is the right size portion.

Trim the fat. If a program doesn't align with your organization's core values, eliminate it. But, be mindful of what you replace it with; a hollow experience can be just as detrimental as a harsh one. Plus, you want your members to have enough to stave off hunger but not so much they get too full to finish. Start with the core values you want every member to exemplify everyday and create a program within your institution's standards and guidelines that speaks to your members' inner desire to grow.

4. A good membership development program is served by those committed to good service.

This blog post provides one of the best examples of customer service we've ever heard of. What would our members do if they received this level of attention from our officers, alumni and advisers?

Imagine if a student on your campus tweeted:

Hey, @yourcampusgreeklife, can you provide life skills, character development and friendship before I graduate? K, Thanks. :)

Would your organization be able to answer? How about deliver the actual product? Today? Tomorrow? We must have organizational structures and communication processes in place to evaluate and accommodate the needs of our students rapidly. Our future as a relevant campus community depends on it.

5. A good membership development program isn't consumed once.

Know of many steakhouses that subsist on customers who have a great experience and never come back? Similarly, our organizations rely on repeat customers. So why do most of our programs focus on new member experiences alone? Structure your educational program around outcomes for students of all ages. Encourage alumni to train and be trained. Engage the advisors on campus to participate.

We understand it's not a perfect analogy. Steak is a red meat. Too much steak, like anything, is bad for you. We respect and acknowledge our vegetarian and vegan friends who choose not to eat meat. But, there are plenty of people who don't like tomatoes, either. Don't get hung up on the analogy. Focus on the message.

If we don't do everything in our power to share memorable, values-based, thought-provoking and fun experiences with our members, there will be no one left in twenty five years to have bland, boring, or offensive meetings with.

Bon App├ętit!

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