Enjoy this interview with Brother Brian Smith as we continue to highlight volunteers who make a difference every day for their chapters. Brian talks about what it’s like to volunteer, why he does it and how you can get involved!
Q: How did you start volunteering?
Brian Smith: I started volunteering the year that I graduated from Cal Poly Pomona (1997), pretty much out of necessity. When I was an undergraduate, my chapter had no Board of Governors or House Corporation. We had a few alumni that would advise us on occasion, but there was never any formal structure to it. There was no long-term vision or planning for the chapter, and the success of the chapter varied greatly from year-to-year, based mostly on how effective (or ineffective) the chapter president was each school year. Myself and another chapter member who graduated the same year, Mike Stump, both decided that there must be a better way and that we needed to finally establish a BOG for our chapter, to help set some guiding principles, and to help ensure a bright future for our chapter.
Q: How does your position effect the chapter?
BS: The first couple years, we weren’t very effective as a BOG since we were too close to the undergraduates in age and relationship. But I guess that I was somewhat effective early on in my specific role as a Chapter Advisor, in helping chapter Presidents navigate the paperwork and bureaucracy that comes with that role. After a few years, though, we finally started to hit our stride as a Board. Each subsequent chapter E-Board listened to our advice more often, and most were very open and willing to hear about, and learn from, our past successes and mistakes.
Our BOG has always had a desire to serve in more of an advisory role as opposed to a controlling role. We’ve given the chapter’s leadership plenty of leeways so that they can learn and grow from their mistakes. Over the years, we’ve fine-tuned our processes to assert control when needed but to still strive to be more advisors than controllers. I think that this methodology has kept the job of volunteering for the chapter less arduous and not too time-consuming unless needed for certain tasks, which is a good thing now that most of us have wives and kids on top of our other responsibilities.
It was probably after about five years from founding our BOG that we really hit our stride and started making real change. We refinanced the chapter house and made some much-needed renovations in the early 2000s, something that the undergraduates would never have been able to do on their own without alumni volunteers guiding that process. More importantly, we helped to set the chapter up for its long-term goal of becoming a Maxwell-Level Chapter. By 2003, the chapter had been nominated as a Maxwell Finalist for the first time. We didn’t win that year, nor the one or two more times that we were a finalist in the several years that followed. But, finally, in 2010, the chapter reached its ultimate goal and took home the Maxwell Award at the National Convention in Denver! It was a culmination of a decade-and-a-half of work on behalf of the BOG that the undergraduate members of the chapter. It really made all our hard work as a BOG, and my efforts as an alumni volunteer, really feel worthwhile. It was honestly one of the most thrilling moments of my life!
Q: Why do you volunteer?
BS: I continue to volunteer as Chapter Advisor to this day because I want to give back to the fraternity, and specifically to the chapter, that has given me so much in life. All of my closest friends are Phi Tau’s. I met my wife through the fraternity. My entire wedding party consisted of Phi Tau’s. I go to work every day with two of my closest brothers, as the three of us run a successful website development and marketing company in Ontario, CA, Haven Agency. So, for the most part, I have Phi Kappa Tau to thank for most of the major accomplishments in my life.
I consider myself to be a very loyal person, and I’ve remained a loyal volunteer to my chapter for nearly 20 years because of all the relationships that it’s afforded me. Besides my close friendships with my brothers, as a volunteer, I am constantly making new bonds of brotherhood with the undergraduates who have followed in my footsteps. Working with the members of the chapter’s E-Board, you can oftentimes find a little bit of yourself in them. Then you work to help them bring that, and the best of themselves, to the surface as they work to continue to make the chapter a success.
Sure, at times it can be a daunting and trying experience, but you can work through those obstacles and strive to keep the chapter moving in the right direction. Working with the undergraduates can also keep that spirit of youth alive, as you can share your past experiences and stories with the younger generations, and you can also create new memories as you attend events with them.
Besides my own personal fulfillment, I also volunteer because I want my chapter to be around for many decades more. Not just so that I can visit, or have a voice at National Conventions, or help foster the spirit of brotherhood and leadership that runs so strong in my chapter, but because I have two sons, and I hope that at least one of them ends up being a student at Cal Poly, and eventually, finds his way to becoming a brother in the Delta Tau Chapter of Phi Kappa Tau.
Q: How can brothers, who haven’t volunteered before, make a difference?
BS: I believe that any alumni of Phi Kappa tau can make a difference in his chapter, or to the fraternity in general. If time is a constraint, a financial donation can be a big help. No matter how big or small, a donation to a chapter’s educational grant fund, or to a chapter’s House Corporation can add up over time and make a difference.
If money is a constraint, then you can volunteer your time in any number of ways. You can stop by a BOG meeting and see if there are any openings on the Board that you might be interested in filling (it’s generally only a time commitment of a few hours a month), or you can just listen in and see if there’s any advice that you’d like to share. You could stop by a chapter meeting, meet some undergraduates, and just share your stories of being an active member of the chapter. I feel that it helps the undergraduates to work for their chapter more when they see alumni who still care about the chapter, and who want to ensure that it has a bright future. Even just attending any chapter-sponsored alumni even can go a long way towards keeping morale in the chapter strong.
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