Charting the Future: Some of the Challenges

By Gil Gerald

Between 1964 and 2006 272 Clinton Ave. served as a fraternity house for a brotherhood and sisterhood first established at Pratt Institute in 1898.

Between 1964 and 2006 272 Clinton Ave. served as a fraternity house for a brotherhood and sisterhood first established at Pratt Institute in 1898.

After more than a decade of considerable effort, beginning around 2006, of fashioning a future for what were then called Delta Gamma Theta (fraternity) and Tau Delta Phi - Delta Gamma Theta Alumni Association, the question before the membership is are we on the right track? Should we continue and refine or should we radically change our strategies over the next five years?  Having personally been one of many who put in so much hard work, in my case since January 2013, it has been painful to raise the question with fellow board members, including all of its current officers. Of late, one-on-one and with the entire Board, I've tended to sound alarms.  Even in light of all we have achieved, especially in implementing Gallery House, first conceived and started by Bro. Jon Levy, all I’ve spoken with have agreed that these questions are timely and appropriate for open discussion at the May 18, 2019 all-day retreat to update the DGT Alumni Association's Strategic Plan.

The short and sweet of the challenges are as follows:

  1. DGT has yet to identify and develop a plan for obtaining the capital, much more than the $1.2 million estimated in 2013, for restoration and renovation work needed at 272 Clinton Ave. Preliminary review of capacity among its members to raise 60-70% or more through six figure donations does not look promising. Capital campaigns rely on large donations up front from a small proportion of potential donors (30% or less) for the greater part (70% or more) of the fundraising goal as well as to help drive smaller donations. In formulating the first plan, Pratt Institute, acting through former President Shutte, offered to support the Strategic Plan (‘we like it’) but they preferred to own the property and provide for some ‘creative way’ to ‘enshrine’ DGT there, with apparent implicit ability to provide continued access to the property for DGT functions. DGT did not pursue this option and I was also opposed as was the rest of DGT’s leadership.

  2. Gallery House successfully engages three to four Pratt Institute students in a semester-long internship program geared to building their skills in designing, curating and promoting a design or fine arts exhibit. Students value the experience. However this success has not sufficiently or consistently translated into bonding, participation in, or commitment to DGT and its members as a social and professional networking group beyond the semester experience. A key hope was that Gallery House would serve as a gateway for engaging new members into the organization and help to continue it in this new programmatic form. Undergraduate members who completed Gallery House have included a large number of foreign students who return to their countries, and upperclassmen have not been clamoring to move into the House. Like many of us experienced upon graduation, our energy turned to building a career and establishing young families. Beyond serving as meeting space once a week and serving as exhibition space once a semester, the property is not used by undergraduates. Additionally, our alumni events have mixed results in terms of turnout. High or low turnout to Pratt Alumni Day seems to correlate with correspondingly higher or lower turnout of DGT Alumni stopping by the House on that day.

  3. Burnout is setting in among the usually small corps of individuals, 5-7 in number, who manage the property and manage risks and finances, as well as handle legal requirements, meetings, documentation, communications, events and the constantly needed repairs. For this group in particular, although we enjoy working with each other, the payoff is limited in terms of hoped for results of efforts, mainly an influx of new blood and leadership for the future continuation and viability of the organization, as well as more active involvement of DGT alumni. Many ideas have been generated, such as those formulated by an Alumni Task Force Group that met online to develop plans. However, getting any one of these ideas off the ground itself requires new volunteers. On a personal note, I’ve been progressively stepping back and changing roles with the hope that doing so helps build and retain capacity within DGT to continue best practices in essential areas of governance, such as bookkeeping, tax filing with federal, state and local authorities. My window of physical presence in New York comes to a close in 2022, when I most probably will move to the Southwest USA.

  4. Finally, there is some sense that I share with others that changes in the broader society and culture, as well as new technologies, have had a profound effect on how people engage socially and civically, not only during their college years, but throughout life, and that these changes underlie, at least in part, the continuing challenges we face to adapt and change as an organization. For at least two decades sociologist and others have published about this issue, such as in the Winter 1996 issue of the American Prospect. Since then expanded use of digital technology and the internet have piled on many additional implications.

There are a number of proposals that have recently emerged or re-emerged informally in conversation. Selling the property and shutting down or scaling back DGT has been mentioned. Also mentioned are donating or selling the property to Pratt with some exchange agreement that supports DGT Alumni Association’s continuation. Pratt has consistently said, through its Vice President of Student Affairs, that they would support a re-emergence of a fraternity for undergraduates if we were part of a national fraternity. That begs the question of course, is a fraternity in addition to the two on campus viable—is there a market for an additional one? We determined in 2012 that this was not apparently viable. Before May 18, there will be conversation with members of Pratt Administration as part of an environmental (external) scan. It has been suggested that Gallery House could continue as part of the mix of strategies to be followed for the next five years. Obviously these are heavy questions to visit and revisit.

Should there be a determination coming out of the retreat to recommend to the membership that DGT cease to exist or function as we now know it, there will have to be an orderly transition and timeline for carrying out the change. It would likely require two readings of any resolution (two membership meetings to pass and then ratify the decision). Under law, as a non-profit, in disposing of its assets, DGT would have to give these to charity or to a charitable purpose.

In conclusion, this article, is in no way intending on suggesting that there is a majority of members or of board members who have predetermined that DGT should close its doors or who favor a particular change in strategy. It is a sincere assessment by the author that some serious discussion, examination and resolution is in order.