Chapter 911

LA in AZ writes:

My chapter is falling apart. Girls hate each other, very few feel they can depend on other girls. It has turned into a high school situation in which theres the “cool” girls with power and then the others. I, as well as my sisters, have lost the love we once had for our chapter and for this organization.

I want to go back to the way i felt in the 8th grade: obsessed with my sister BBGs. It seems that no one LOVES our chapter anymore. We have lost the vital BBG spark we used to once have. Now, with over 10 seniors leaving, i fear my chapter will take a turn for the worse. I see my 40 member chapter dwindle each day and the prospect of our chapter folding is a serious posibility if something doesnt change soon.

What do you suggest we do? What programing have you seen in you time as an advisor that strengthens your chapter’s closeness? Should we just accept that this is what it is and try to do the best with what we have?

I know things seem bleak, but I find grounds for great hope in your words. First, it is not fair to say that no one loves your chapter or that you have lost that vital BBG spark the chapter used to have. It is clear that at least one person, you, does still love your chapter. And it is clear from your words that you carry that spark. And though you may feel you carry it alone, remember that carried within the very nature of each spark is the ability to light a flame. All that flame needs is fuel.
And fuel you have – for even after losing 10 seniors, you have 30 girls who have the potential to bring back that feeling and spirit that you remember.
The question that remains is how to light that fire?
The answer is both simple and hard. There is no magic program or activity that will change things overnight. But the principle of what to do is clear. The way sparks work in communities is through communication. Start by talking about your concerns with individual girls. Share with them your feelings and concerns and ask what they think. I’ll bet you find others who feel as you do. In addition to finding people who will join you in striving to improve things, by sharing your vision and memories of what the chapter can be, you’ll give hope to others (including some of the “outsiders” who may find in your words the hope to stick around and work with you to improve things).
After you’ve spoken to individuals, or small groups of 2 or 3, move up to other ways of communicating. Perhaps a report at a business meeting or event. Perhaps an article in a newspaper.
If you have an advisor, talk to her as well. In addition to providing you with additional insights, she can, through her own interactions with the chapter, reinforce your message. This is the kind of issue where it is difficult for an advisor to take the lead, but very possible for the advisor to play a strong supporting role.
In terms of building chapter closeness, the single best program I’ve seen is a good and welfare – where everyone passes a candle or flashlight around a darkened room and takes turns speaking without interruption. If you have a large group, set a time limit so that everyone has a chance to speak – then go around the circle again if time is available. This is a particularly good event at overnights, or the last event in a sisterhood program.
Best of luck, and do post a note to let me know how things go.
The Ghost

Leading from afar

You have to pity the regional and international boards. They often have great leadership skills, vision, dedication and ideas. Yet they are completely dependent on others to implement those visions. Consider the Grand Aleph Godol, International N’siah, any regional board member for example: they can have a great idea, but to make something happen at the chapter level is challenging. A visitation once a year hardly cuts it. Releases and powerpoints are very nice, but will they be read? Advisors are a mixed lot – and to be perfectly frank, tend (rightly) to be much more concerned with the functioning of the chapter and basic issues than pressing grand visions. So IBoard must rely on their regional counterparts, and the regional counterparts have to rely on their chapter counterparts… well, it’s like the old game of telephone: much is lost in translation.
Regional board members to a lesser degree have the same frustrations. In many cases they may have the title and the glory, but it’s the chapter leaders who have the power.
So what’s a poor regional or international leader to do beyond what they are already doing?
Perhaps, a slight change in perspective may help.
There is a very natural tendency when leading from afar to focus on working with counterparts: for example: the GAG on a visitation might spend most of his time with the regional Aleph Godol and chapter Godolim. The International N’siah might rely on the regional N’siot to communicate with the regions and chapter N’siot.
And I’m not suggesting this is wrong.
But consider this: the regional leaders are busy. They have big jobs. Plus, they are already leaders – top of the heap (so to speak). Even if a program is of great value, promoting it is potentially either a distraction, or more work. To put it bluntly – the personal incentive to promote the international agenda may be limited. So if IBoard comes up with a great program they want every region or chapter to do – it can be a tough sell.
But what if there was some magical way to get that vision or program in the hands, not of the regional presidents, or even the chapter presidents, but in the hands of some young or up and coming chapter leader. Someone who aspires to be chapter president or on regional board?
Now things are different. This program could be the opportunity they are looking for – the one that will get them some visibility – maybe even on the regional level. By adopting that vision, they can establish themselves as leaders. It can be the cornerstone of their election speech! They probably also have more time available to dedicate to the project – since they aren’t currently holding one of the top jobs. And if they might not yet be as skilled as the older members, enthusiasm and commitment can more than make up for that.
This may seem a bit crass. You might think that somehow self-interest compromises the value of the vision or program because there is an ulterior motive involved. But in my experience, when self-interest coincides with positive vision, great things happen.
Right now, much of the leadership at the regional and international level consists of various forms of “push” – ideas coming down from the top and (hopefully) suggestions and feedback coming up from the leaders at every level.
But if there was some mechanism for every member in the order to feel they had the opportunity to directly embrace and execute a program – you might get some “pull” – with these members reaching out to resources, grabbing the ideas an opportunities, and running with them. “Pull” can’t and shouldn’t replace “Push”. But especially given the ability of technology today to flatten hierarchies, one can’t help but wonder what would happen if this was tried.

BBYO Parents

Don’t get me started….
Over the years I’ve seen all kinds of BBYO parents, from the very good to… oh well. A recent comment by Samantha, the advisor for Shore BBG, inspired me to visit this topic.
Like Samantha, I am astonished by the level of disengagement of many parents. Many really don’t seem to have a clue as to what their sons and daughters are doing or are going through. What’s funny is that this can express itself two different ways. Some parents see BBYO as a baby-sitting service. They pay little or no attention to events, and barely seem to care when their kid gets home. Other parents constantly complain about what’s going on to the advisor or staff – anything to avoid actually talking to their son or daughter! Amazing!
Curiously enough, the latter group is the easiest to deal with. When a parent comes to me with a chapter issue, the first thing I do is bring the appropriate chapter members into the conversation. It’s good practice for them to engage directly with parents – there is no better way for them to understand their responsibility to the parents and community. And it’s good for the parents in that it helps them see the chapter as youth led. I remember one time a parent came up to me at a PIT to complain about something he found in the chapter paper. I called over the Aleph Sopher responsible for the paper so they could discuss it. Turned out the Sopher was his own son! Now that’s engagement!
I could whine about awful parents all day. But I’d rather tell you about the good ones. Here are some observations I’ve made about parents.

Staff Run – Youth Led

One of the most interesting comments I read on Facebook recently was from an advisor in Washington D.C. who posted the following:

One thing to note however (and this is primarily to the CRW people) is that there are only a small number of regions that function like yours where the teens actually do have a large amount of latitude, EGR is one of them, and Mountain Region is another, however as you head east you will find a lot more staff control, and red tape so know that is not just the international staff you are having to deal with but much more conservative teens and parents as well.

This reminds me of a non-BBYO program I attended in Washington D.C. where I got to see first hand the culture clash between the West and East Coasts. As I recall, the arrival of the California group sent as many tremors through the conference as the earthquakes their state is so well known for. Their students were intelligent, engaged, and were outstanding students – but God help the staff person who didn’t treat them with the respect to which they had been accustomed. They did not well tolerate being treated in a condescending or controlling manner. I confess, even their staff did not quite fit in.
BBYO is said to be a staff run and youth lead organization. And frankly, to this day I’m not entirely sure what that means. I suspect it means different things to different regions. On one extreme, you probably have regions and chapters, where youth leadership is more form than substance – where members have titles and get to make small decisions, but their advisors and staff are “running” the show. On the other extreme, you have regions and chapters where the organization is effectively youth run and youth led – and the staff serves primarily as a safety net and a true advisory role.
Personally, I prefer the latter. As a new advisor I was taught that anything the youth can do, they should do. I was also taught that it was my job to allow them to make mistakes. Youth run and youth led was the ideal, and I think we’ve done well on that score.
I’m not suggesting that other regions should follow that trend. Frankly, I’m not sure how one would go about changing a chapter or region’s culture in that manner. But these cultural differences, more than anything else, demonstrate the need for caution in creating national policies – that they should not destroy a successful local culture.

Ask and You Shall Receive…

Why it was just yesterday that I was wondering why BBYO didn’t provide an effective communications forum for advisors and low and behold – today I have an answer. It seems that a CRW advisor has gone off and created a forum for BBYO advisors to exchange views at It’s brand new but already there is some interesting discussion, and the category selection suggests that it has the potential to be a great resource.
I encourage all advisors to sign up. Don’t worry if the home page isn’t very welcoming (just an Accessed Denied message right now). Go ahead and and click on the Create New Account link. I got my account authorized in about a day and plan to start cross-posting there.
Highly recommended: http://TheAdvisorsForum.Org

Update Jan 9, 2020 – Looks like it didn’t go very far. But there is a facebook group now for that, not very active, but at least it exists.

On Communications

Nobody would argue that communications is critical to the successful functioning of a chapter or region. I expect by now most chapter communication outside of events has migrated to IM, chapter message boards and Email. Most regional communication is through mail (flyers) and Email.
Effective chapter leaders and advisors must be able to use these technologies effectively, and I believe you will find that most do. I know in my own case technology has dramatically changed the way I communicate with the chapter and region – and for the better.
That said, it is astonishing how poorly communication works on an organizational level within BBYO – despite the investment in B-Linked and new web sites. What we see developing in B-Linked is a strategy, that left unchanged, will serve to reduce the effectiveness of advisors and in fact marginalize them.
Follow the logic: