Archive for the 'Members' Category

We Don’t Need No F****** Staff

Monday, February 11th, 2008

As you know, I’m an advisor, and I while I do run into chapters that don’t have an advisor, I confess to be surprised when I meet BBYO members who don’t know why they should have one, or even have staff at events. It’s not their fault that they feel that way – after all, BBYO does little to explain to members why they should have staff beyond the usual “it’s a policy” argument (which is weak).

So I thought I’d take a few minutes and write about why it’s actually a good thing for a chapter to have staff at events, and why it’s even better to have an advisor.

  • You have someone around to talk to the cops. This one’s especially for AZAs. In our paranoid society, any group of teens, particularly teenage boys, out after dark, is presumed to be dangerous. It’s not fair, but it is what it is. Somehow having adult staff around seems to calm the police down.
  • It helps recruitment and retention. Parents (at least the responsible ones), tend to care about where their teens are and what they are doing. Knowing there is adult supervision can have a huge impact on their willingness to send their teens to events, especially prospectives. Being able to promise parents that events are staffed will absolutely help you with recruitment. Keeping that promise will absolutely help with retention.
  • It’s good backup. Leading a chapter can be hard, especially if you are trying to correct some questionable conduct. Knowing that you have adult backup if necessary can really help your confidence – even if you never use it.

These are things that any parent or staff can do. But there are some things that an advisor can do that are harder or impossible for casual staff: (more…)

On Faith and Programming

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

AZAleph posted an insightful comment here, that is deserving of further response. He talks of faith and programming, but even he does not reach high enough.

So let’s talk of faith.

AZAleph believes that a great I-Board could be selected by a dedicated and informed assembly of delegates (such as CLTC graduates). I believe that, given the right encouragement, almost every Aleph in the order could become informed enough to help select I-Board. BBYO is all about faith, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it is that ANY statement that casts doubt on the potential of a BBYO member to participate, accomplish a goal or make a wise decision is a mistake. It is only through faith in members that you can create an order consisting entirely of members who will become leaders and take responsibility and choose wisely.

So all of you who have cast doubt on the ability of members to make wise choices (whether at elections or otherwise), you are right in a sense, but fundamentally wrong. The error is that even if you are right now, the only way to change this is to raise expectations, to have faith and act under the assumption that every member can rise to the high standards you expect. If you have faith, the membership will prove themselves worthy of that faith.

AZAleph states: …every chapter needs to involve their inexperienced members. Alephs do not gain leadership experience by doing (almost) anything EXCEPT FOR hands-on planning work.

Truer words were rarely spoken, but to see this as just a dream is a mistake. I know of more than one chapter where the rule is “everybody programs”, where most members plan their first event while still in 8th grade, and where, in any given term, the majority of members have planned at the very least a program at an event, if not an entire event.

How is this possible? It happens because those chapters have faith in their members, even the very youngest.

If you truly wish to change and improve the order, here’s a good place to start: trust your members. Set high expectations of them. And don’t lose faith even if they falter along the way – in the long run your faith will always be rewarded.

No Politicking?

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

In a recent comment, Baer’s Ghost (a ghost whose identity is not actually known to me), continued a debate relating to international board elections. I’ve been arguing that right now IBoard is chosen by a relatively small group of BBYO members who are active in summer programs, and that with modern technology there is no reason for this to be the case. His response:

I do agree that an online voting system may be of benefit – but what about politicking? That’s part of the reason why we don’t have open elections, isn’t it? So how do you suggest getting around it?

This raises a very important and deeper issue, one that is particularly relevant as we enter our national election season. What exactly is politicking, and why and when is it bad (or good)?


Building a Great Chapter, the BBYO Way

Friday, October 26th, 2007

I have to share with you the amazing success story of Thomas Carlyle AZA. I don’t know that any chapter has ever started out so strong. Consider their first event: “Chapter Launch Overnight” that took place last week.

The process began a few weeks earlier when they recruited their advisor (parent of one of the Alephs). He filled out Advisor Appointment Request (form ADV-1) and submitted it along with the Consent to Background Checks (form ADV-2), getting that process rolling.

Getting the charter members signed up with the next job. An informal get-together was held during which the soon-to-be members all joined b-linked. They took home and also printed out extra copies of the Annual Participation Authorization (PRO-3), Universal Parent Program Release (PRO-4), Universal Teen Program Release (PRO-5), Membership Release (PRO-1) and Participant Medical Information and Consent to Treat form.

After a bit of calling around, they were able to find a parent willing to host the overnight, and got her a Consent to Host a Chapter Overnight Program (PRO-2).

As you can tell, these guys really had their act together. They were making new shirts for the event, and since they wanted to sell the extras regionally they also filled out a Merchandise/Apparel Approval Form (0PS-2). Since they were planning to play Broomball they also filled out an Insurance – Certificate Request Form (0PS-3).

They did have some obstacles to overcome. Some of them lived a bit distant from the overnight house, so they had to fill out Mileage Waiver Form PRO-6. Regional staff discovered that one of the prospectives had slipped and broken a fingernail during their informal meeting, so they had to fill out an Accident/Incident Notification Report (0PS-1). The staff didn’t have time to check all the prospective advisor’s references so he wasn’t able to start by the time of the event. As a result the single parent hosting the event didn’t have a second adult to host as required by policy, so the overnight part couldn’t happen.

They finally met the day of the event, the 15 charter members along with a remarkable 12 prospectives! Unfortunately, by the time they went through the list of who had filled out which necessary forms they discovered that not a single charter member (and of course none of the prospectives) had filled out all of the necessary forms correctly. They also discovered that they had been so busy getting forms filled out, they hadn’t actually planned any programming. So the event had to be canceled.

But don’t worry, even though the chapter no longer exists (all the members and prospectives just headed over to the USY event happening nearby), all 15 of the charter members and 6 of the prospectives are now showing up as engaged on B-Linked! So all’s well that ends well. BBYO is happy. The teens are happy. Even USY is happy! Nicely done, Thomas Carlyle AZA (RIP).


Thomas Carlyle was an 18th century Scottish essayist who protested excessive regulation and rigid conformity to bureaucratic rules and red tape. See


Friday, October 12th, 2007

Recently Anna posted a comment about changing regional traditions. One of her statements struck me as particularly interesting. She said “I also see our regional staff trying to make our very unique region act like all the other regions”.

She’s not the first person that I’ve heard this particular comment from. I suspect she won’t be the last.

BBYO has historically always had a balance: on one hand, BBYO has been a single organization. On the other hand, regions were quite autonomous, often having their own traditions, policies and local administration. These regional differences offered advantages and disadvantages. On the negative side, the standards and quality of BBYO’s program varied considerably. The standards and quality of staff varied as well (I’ve worked with regional directors who were amazing, and others who were… not). On the positive side, regions were allowed to develop traditions that worked well with the local community and develop policies that were influenced by community standards.

Today, the message coming out of the international organization is that of “One BBYO”. Sounds good in principle, but as you’re finding out, it has problems in practice. (more…)

Leadership Isn’t Easy

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

When people talk about “youth leadership” their meaning isn’t always clear. For many adults, “youth leadership” involves giving teens the appearance of leadership without the substance. An example of that might be a school’s student council, where there are elections and debates but the students can ultimately make few if any decisions (and those decisions are, of course, subject to veto by the administration). No wonder many students look at student council as a joke, or at best good for a paragraph on a college application. Other examples are programs where leadership skills are taught through lecture and discussion – but no real opportunity to lead exists.

Even in BBYO, “youth leadership” is sometimes more catch-phrase than reality. Member’s decisions are, of course, limited by policy – but those policies are interpreted by staff. In cases where staff respects and defends (even demands) youth leadership, BBYO members can truly exercise real authority and carry real responsibility. But it’s not all that uncommon for staff to make decisions that are arguably more appropriate for the youth to make. And it’s not just staff – sometimes regional board will make decisions that should actually be made at the chapter level.


In the Good Ol’ Summer Time

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

I’m always astonished when I talk to advisors and members of other organizations like USY and FTY – how they talk about the end of the programming year and the summer break. For them vacation seems to include vacation from youth group activities as well.

Remarkably, it happens in many BBYO chapters as well.

If you’ve studied basic physics you probably heard about conservation of momentum – that once things are moving they tend to keep moving. Or put another way, it’s a lot easier to keep something rolling along than to stop it and restart it.

So it goes with chapters as well.

How can you achieve growth and momentum if you stop activities during the summer? Each fall then begins a whole new process of rebuilding and restarting. It’s often weeks or months before you’re back to where you were the previous spring. How crazy is that?

The best chapters look at summer as an opportunity. Event turnouts may get smaller as people travel and go on vacation, but that allows for different kinds of events, perhaps a bit more spontaneity. An event may consist of just an advisor and a few Alephs, but that can turn out great because with a small group it’s often easier to come to a decision and take advantage of cool opportunities that come along. Summer is a great time for campouts, swim parties, and chapter trips near or far. Summer allows you to do things that aren’t possible during weekends, like do factory tours that are only open weekdays.

Summer is a great time to start recruiting for fall, to invite prospectives to join in on some fun and laid-back programs. It’s a great time to work on planning some bigger programs for later in the year – the kind of programs that take time and advance planning.

Best of all, when fall comes around instead of having to struggle to “restart” the chapter, track down members and get them to start showing up again, your chapter will already be operating smoothly – momentum will be your friend instead of your enemy.

So have a great summer, and have a great BBYO summer – not just with summer programs, but with your chapter as well.

Fighting City Hall

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

On May 17th, Tommy from MAR said:

Though we are a youth-led movement, however, I’m not sure (and I guess this is a question), to what extent can we “change the rules”, as you say, to truly improve our Order?

I’ll do you the courtesy of not giving you the easy answer – the one you learn from school and mass media – either “in a Democracy everyone can have an impact” or maybe “you should respect authority, they have experience and know what’s best”. I think I’d choke on the words.

I’m going to give you the truth as I see it.

The simple answer to your question is – it depends.

Now lets cut the crap and talk about what that really mean.


The Coed Conundrum

Monday, May 21st, 2007

I’ve been having a fascinating conversation with Tommy from Mid-America region. In his comment of May 17 he asks two questions, and I thought I’d respond to the second one first – the issue of “late night rooms” and revisit the whole co-ed housing question.

First, let me remind everyone that I only speak for myself here, so the following interpretation of BBYO policy is not “official” by any means.

So let’s get right down to business. The purpose of the no co-ed housing policy is NOT to prevent AZA’s and BBG’s from hooking up. As an advisor, I have no problems with that at all – to a significant degree that’s what conventions are for.

The purpose of the no co-ed housing policy is to, believe it or not, preserve fraternity and sisterhood. Surprised? Bear with me.


Hooking up at Conventions

Friday, May 11th, 2007

In a recent comment, Tommy from Mid-America region argues that convention rules should be more lax so that Alephs and BBG’s would have more opportunity to “hook-up”.

He is absolutely correct.

In my post “The Convention Game” I argue that when members violate convention rules they are not only breaking their word, and truly going against the very foundation of BBYO as a youth led organization. Tommy, in his comment, points out that this is a lot to ask for from a bunch of teens with raging hormones. This is true. He does not quite say that raging hormones should be an excuse for breaking the rules – if he did, on that we would part company. He then makes a strong case for changing the rules. In doing so he is, from my perspective, embracing his role as a leader in BBYO.

I don’t know what role Tommy plays in his region, but whether Aleph or RAG (or even advisor), I encourage him to mobilize his friends to modify the rules. This needn’t be difficult. For example: I’ve been at more than one convention where they had a large “late night room” – those members who wanted to could hang out together well past curfew as long as they didn’t actually fall asleep (though inevitably some did). A good regional director will be open to creative suggestions for more social opportunities, but it’s up to the members to raise this issue if they feel existing rules are too strict.

Convention planners should include plenty of social programs – I’ve seen some cases where they were so focused on separates they didn’t plan nearly enough social time. I’ve also seen conventions go so far off schedule that what social time was planned was lost, either through poor planning or lack of cooperation by members on basic issues like getting to meals on time.

As an advisor, I agree 100% with Tommy’s observation that one of the most important purposes of conventions is for Alephs and BBG’s to hang out (if not hook up). On more than one occasion I’ve offered (unofficial) advice to members on how to accomplish this without a major rules violation. But the way to increase these opportunities is not by condoning rule breakers and breaking trust. It’s by changing the rules and being trustworthy. To give you an example: A “late night” hangout room such as I describe can only work when the members can be trusted to follow the agreement that makes such arrangements possible.

It is my obligation as an advisor to see that convention rules are followed. It is the responsibility of the youth leadership to enforce the rules so that advisors don’t have to. It is the obligation of every member to follow the rules as they promised. And most important of all, it is the right of every member to be vocal and involved in changing the rules for the betterment of the order (and yes, that includes the social aspects as well).