Fraternity life is often defined by the benefits it can afford its members because, by design, it is structured to provide friendship and brotherhood while supporting lifelong development. Brothers learn early on in membership that one of the most important aspects of personal development is that it requires balancing internal reflection with external relationships. This lesson is punctuated by the fact that fraternities are not meant to serve only themselves and those within their walls but also the community at large. By realizing the need to prioritize others and their development as well, brothers become true leaders and begin creating positive impact in their communities, thus growing closer through shared work and by learning to give back in meaningful ways. Giving back through community investment is one of the most valuable ways to start and maintain cycles of positive change by extending goodwill into the world.
The communities we live in, whether chapter houses, college campuses, neighborhoods, or entire cities, are important places and environments that we can call home.
They deserve the love and attention it takes to transform them from physical locations to safe, welcoming spaces for all. This is not something that occurs overnight, nor does it usually happen organically and without effort. It is hard work building a home, but the investment often yields positive results that span generations.
Serving others is a broad definition that is seemingly all-encompassing, but community investment takes many forms and is composed of several sub-categories. One of the most prominent distinctions to be made is the difference between “service” and “philanthropy,” which can be mistakenly used interchangeably. While they both have their benefits, effective impact is not made with one-size-fits-all approaches and learning when each type of investment is most meaningful is the key to success.
Service can be thought of as instances when brothers directly involve themselves, providing their time and talent towards a cause, other organizations, or specific acts. These acts can range greatly, from the grand scale of starting a non-profit organization to volunteering weekly at a homeless shelter. Another lesson that is taught through fraternity, and more specifically through service, is that all actions matter, both small and large. While it may not seem as important as donating millions of dollars towards international causes, the time spent collecting canned goods for a food drive or mentoring younger students after school also changes lives. In many cases, it may not even be possible to tell how drastically an investment has affected someone, but that does not minimize the value of service.
Philanthropy also requires time, but it more commonly centers around the donation of money or fundraising for a specific initiative. Financial investments provide tangible results and can also help drive the mission of a specific cause or organization. Fundraising events, by nature, can also raise awareness and kickstart momentum that invites others to join in and help. As such both service and philanthropy serve an important purpose, and both should be considered when deciding how to best give back in any given situation.
One clear connection for Delta Tau Delta is its philanthropic partnership with JDRF, the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. Support for JDRF can involve fundraising, volunteer service or education to help further the cause in a local community. When the Fraternity’s more than 130 chapters and colonies support JDRF, they support an organization built on the grassroots model of people connecting in their local communities, collaborating regionally for efficiency and broader fundraising impact and uniting on a national stage to pool, resources, passion and energy. Through this partnership Delta Tau Delta members use their collective power to make specific change with a global impact.
In thinking deeper and considering the scale of actions, it is essential to remember that external service and support is only half of the equation. For a fraternity, community building is equally vital to the brotherhood itself and members should be consciously thinking about how they invest in one another and the relationships they value. A healthy fraternity is one that acknowledges each of its members as an individual with a private life and personal struggles. Building up surrounding communities is one way to give back but uplifting fellow members and supporting them in their journey is also critical to building brotherhood and impacting those around you.
Joining a fraternity in college is a unique form of dedication towards oneself and others because it is, in a sense, an ongoing and reciprocating community investment. For every kind act or instance of paying it forward, there is a trust that the fraternity will recognize everyone’s contributions and be lying in wait for when it is most needed. In other words, the more you put in and the higher levels of leadership you serve, the more rewarding your relationships become. This is true on smaller scales, as brothers support fellow brothers, but it is also true at larger scales as chapters support other chapters. The benefits and the networks that membership provides are ongoing and so acts of investment should continue as well.
Fraternities should also be thought of as a community like any other when it comes to what types of impact are most meaningful, such as giving back through philanthropy and service. Members can always donate to infrastructure or support key initiatives – the same types of initiatives that members may have experienced as undergraduates as a direct result of the previous generations’ generosity. Then there are acts of service, such as volunteering to be an advisor, serving on alumni committees, or networking directly with younger brothers. The need to support one another does not end with graduation and community building is an endless endeavor that is always striving to be greater.
As time passes, it is easy to forget that, when things are going well, the safety net of brotherhood may go completely unnoticed. Members of all ages can rely on one another and, though challenging times may yield the most obvious instances of support, there is still a reason to celebrate lessons learned and experiences shared, no matter how small. Of course, it is still true that brothers typically shine the brightest in trying times and it is in those moments that fraternity becomes unforgettable.
The community created and the bonds forged are so powerful because no member is ever truly alone in life and there is always comfort in knowing that at least one person will say, “I’ve been there. Let’s talk.”
Delving one layer deeper, there ought to be a special appreciation for the small acts – a friendly word, a passing smile, or a hearty check-in call may not be meant to change the world, but they do make a difference. It is not always evident when an individual is experiencing hardship, thus making it impossible to tell how important a small act may be to them. For this reason, community investment is not just about specific, intentional acts. It’s the everyday practices that make for good men. Speaking respectfully, providing a helping hand, and actively listening to one another are just a few examples of how brothers can carry themselves and begin turning acts of kindness into forces of habit. While there is no single “best” way to give back, the most important thing is that community investment always be viewed as a priority, whether it’s directed at a fellow brother, local neighborhoods, or the entire world.