How Big is Too Big?

January 22nd, 2007 by bebersghost

With the increased focus on engagement, recruitment and numbers, it makes sense to consider for a moment what is the best size for a chapter. Not that there is any one right answer. Rather, it’s important to consider the tradeoffs of various chapter sizes. To understand these tradeoffs, let’s consider two chapters, one with about 20 members, another with about 50.

First, consider a 20 person chapter.

This is actually a fine size for a chapter. It’s large enough so as long as the age distribution is fairly even, it’s not at risk of collapse. The chapter is small enough so everyone can become close to each other – a closeness that can result in strong fraternity/sisterhood. On the other hand, low turnouts to an event can be frustrating for event planners, and it can sometimes be difficult to find enough people willing to put in the effort to accomplish everything the group wants to do.

Now consider what happens when the chapter grows to 50.

Many things that are relatively easy for a smaller chapter become much more difficult. Communications is more challenging, as is finding housing for events or even a place to eat. Events tend to become much more chaotic – it’s much easier to get a group of 20 quiet than a group of 50. In short, it’s much harder to manage and run a larger chapter.

But being harder has its advantages as well. Event planners rarely need to worry about having enough people for their event. Moreover, the very difficulty of managing a large chapter requires members to develop strong leadership skills. Fraternity and sisterhood takes on a different meaning in a large chapter – it becomes the force that allows members to work together and get along even if they don’t like each other (and in a large chapter it’s virtually certain that disputes, disagreements and misunderstandings will arise – though small chapters are certainly not immune to these).

Chapters don’t often consciously choose their size – they evolve into them. Whatever size chapter you have, I hope you remember to appreciate what you have, and don’t assume that another chapter is better because they are smaller or larger – each has their advantages and challenges.

Oh, and if your chapter is under 20 (or lacking in younger members) – you might want to consider some serious recruiting. Because if there’s one thing everyone can agree on it’s this – zero members is far too small for any chapter.

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