Foundation News

Part 1 of 2: Where is the Fraternity going and how do we get there?

Jun 30, 2017 | Categories: Blog

Part 1 of 2: Where is the Fraternity going and how do we get there?
I’m going to take you on a journey through our history over the next two months to answer the question:Where is the Fraternity going and how do we get there? Theta Phi Alpha last held a long-range strategic planning meeting in 2007. This meeting of 28 sisters and friends was coordinated by Kristin Henkenius, Alpha Pi, and facilitated by Ginny Carroll of InGinuity. The plan that came from this meeting was to be a 20-year-plan. This group identified six areas of focus:  collegiate chapter growth and retention; education and training; infrastructure; financial stability and capability; lifetime involvement; and, marketing and communication. We are now halfway through the 20 years, so I started by looking at the updates and changes that have been made as well as the progress. 
Since 2007, we have experienced significant growth and make great progress towards these goals. We have chartered or reinstated 25 chapters and 10 alumnae associations. Think about that -- that’s nearly half of our chapters! In that respect, we are a very young sorority. How does an organization deal with that amount of growth over such a short period of time? Technology has played a large role, as well as changes in our volunteer structure and additions to our staff. Out of necessity to serve an increasing number of chapters, our staff began to take on more responsibility, still under the direction of Grand Council. In the last few years, Grand Council introduced the concept of governance and hired an Executive Director with significant experience in the fraternal world. 
While sisters understand the need for growth and change, some have expressed fear that we are losing our identity, or that non-members are making decisions for the Fraternity. The concept of governance is not new. One definition of governance is, “set the strategic vision and direction and formulate high-level goals and policies.” This is what Grand Council has always done and still does. There is a difference between governance and management. In the early years, Grand Council did both, although there are references to a paid staff member as early as the 1940s. A letter from Acting Grand President Irene Devlin in 1927 mentions the establishment of a central office. Today, governance still refers to the role of the Grand Council, and management refers to the role of National Office staff. The chart below illustrates the difference in duties between the Grand Council and the National Office staff (credit:
Governance (Grand Council)                        
Management (National Office staff)
*Sets norms, strategic vision and direction, and formulate high-level policies.                                                          
*Run the organization in line with the broad goals and direction set by the governing goals and body.                   
*Oversee management and organizational performance to ensure that the organization is working in the best interests of the public, and more specifically the stakeholders who are served by the organization’s mission.
*Implement the decisions within the context of the mission and strategic vision.
*Direct and oversee the management to ensure that the organization is achieving the desired outcomes and to ensure that the organization is acting prudently, ethically and legally.
*Make operational decisions and policies, keep the governance bodies informed and educated.
* Be responsive to requests for additional information.


Back to the question: Where are we going? I searched the archives for information about our earliest years and any reference I could find to the goals our Founders had in mind for Theta Phi Alpha. In our archives, we have a letter from Mildred Connely detailing our early history. She writes that Amelia “believed that Theta Phi Alpha would never “arrive” on the University campus until it enjoyed Panhellenic recognition.” She worked diligently to achieve that recognition. Some of our early expansion was driven by the National President writing letters to bishops asking for their support in establishing a chapter at a local university. A 1927 letter from Acting Grand President Irene Devlin confirms that Theta Phi Alpha was starting to petition for membership in National PanHellenic Congress (what is now the National Panhellenic Conference). While talking with Karen Rubican, AS, National Historian, on this topic, she described our growth since 1912 as periods of “feast or famine.” We have alternated between great progress and huge setbacks.
Bishop Kelly and Amelia had founded Theta Phi Alpha after the failure of a previous group called Omega Upsilon. Both were initially intended to provide support for Catholic girls to practice their faith while attending a public university. But I don’t think that’s all Amelia intended for us to be. If that were the only goal, then why was Panhellenic recognition so important to her? Why extend to other universities? 
Clearly Amelia had big dreams for us. Throughout the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Theta Phi Alpha applied for membership in what was by then the National Panhellenic Conference. We were finally granted full membership in 1952, so unfortunately Amelia did not live to see this achievement. We struggled through the late 1980s to maintain enough chapters to keep that membership. At one point, we were moved to associate member status and given a deadline to increase the number of chapters. It was during those years (the 1980s) that serious discussions were held regarding our existence. At the 1982 National Convention, the Grand Council was given the authority to decide our future. The Board of Trustees was charged with conducting research on our options of dissolution, merging, consolidating or forming a new sorority and were to report back by the next Convention. I am so glad that Grand Council chose to continue Amelia’s dream. By 1992, we had 36 collegiate chapters, which represented nearly 300% growth in 10 years! 
We have continued this rapid growth pattern until the present, alternating between periods of growth and periods of holding steady to develop the infrastructure to maintain chapters. In 1994, we rented office space in Bay Village and moved our “National Office” out of the National Executive Secretary’s home! (Make sure you are receiving The Compass magazine, because there will be an article in the Fall 2017 issue detailing the history of our National Office.) All of this happened because of the efforts of a large number of volunteers who sacrificed personal time, and sometimes their career, for the advancement of Theta Phi Alpha. Their efforts made it possible for us to be where we are today. Another factor in our success has been the investment in technology. A digital database and the use of email were two of the earliest tools we began to use. The growth of the internet soon brought us more opportunities to increase the frequency and ease of communications.
Throughout most of our history, members of Grand Council and other volunteers also managed the day to day work of the Fraternity. We are now on the cusp of transitioning, as Liz Eberhart, AG, National Treasurer, always says, “We went from a mom and pop company to a mid-size business in a short period of time.” Liz has volunteered at the national level with Theta Phi Alpha in a variety of areas from Editor of The Compass to Board of Trustees to Theta Phi Alpha Foundation Director, and now as our National Treasurer. As treasurer, she deals with the nuts and bolts of the business side of the Fraternity. As a loyal sister with over 30 years of volunteer service, she understands the member aspect of our organization as well as the business side. For the majority of our history, we were a small mom and pop company. We could handle the “business” of running the Fraternity solely with volunteers.
Sororities exist by competing for members on university campuses during recruitment and by competing with each other at extension opportunities. Even though we are all not-for-profit organizations, we succeed by excelling at sales and marketing. Our “competitors” in this “business” are the other 25 NPC groups. We need to deliver the same professional level of materials, programming, and service to our members in order to exist in this arena. There are many opportunities competing for the time and attention of a college woman today and sororities are just one of them. Our alumnae members are busy women who deserve to have a variety of opportunities for engagement with Theta Phi Alpha throughout their lives. Governance is simply another step in this direction as we seek to improve the quality and consistency of information, programming, and the entire member experience.  As we continue to grow as an organization we will be able to offer more services to our members. Next month’s blog will continue this discussion with some of the goals we have in place for the rest of this biennium.

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Theta Phi Alpha Foundation