CEO Update – Owl Talk Episode 5 Transcription

Get the latest update from CEO Jonathan Frost (UMSL ’99) on the Owl Talk Podcast, where he discusses the victories, challenges, and events that Sigma Pi has faced during the 2021-22 academic year. The only official Sigma Pi podcast, Owl Talk, is available on Apple, Spotify, and Amazon (Google Podcasts coming soon!) Listen here. 

Carpenter: Welcome back to the Owl Talk podcast. I’m your host, Drew Carpenter. This week we have the pleasure of chatting with the CEO and Executive Director of Sigma Pi. Jonathan Frost. Welcome, Jon.

Frost: Thank you, Drew. Thank you for setting this up. Thank you to the team for getting this podcast going. I hope that our listeners have enjoyed the first few, led by Grand Sage Joe Palazzolo, as he talked about the history of Sigma Pi, the relationship with Sigma Pi Society, and a little bit about Robert George Patterson. So thank you for having me join you this time.

Carpenter: Absolutely. I have a few questions for you today. Let’s go ahead and jump in. It’s officially spring. And so far 2022 has been off to a strong start for us. Can you share some of the victories the fraternity has accomplished thus far? 

Frost: Yeah, sure. You know, it’s an exciting time because we’re coming out of this post-pandemic, of a virtual environment for our chapters as they were trying to recruit. And, you know, you have to give it to our young men, they’ve done a remarkable job. First off, we had over 345 undergraduates and volunteers, registered and taking part in our virtual Mid Year Leadership Conference. That program helps train our officers and our volunteers on how to run your chapter, and best practices trends within the fraternal world. And then the exciting part is we’re seeing phenomenal growth with our chapters when it comes to recruiting. Year over year, we’re up 72% on new members. And out of that were up 59% on those that matriculated to become Initiated brothers of the fraternity. The other exciting part is we already have three new colonies up and running our colony at Iota-Beta at the University of Delaware, Eta-Pi at Kutztown, and then a brand new school that we’ve never been to before in 125 years. And that’s our Iota-Chi Colony at Coastal Carolina. So it’s been pretty exciting and is I think, as I’ve shared with many of our undergraduates, when I talk to him, what’s exciting is they are showing the value of Sigma Pi Fraternity men see the value of joining Sigma Pi on campuses across the country, thanks to the work and the efforts of what our undergraduate brothers are doing. 

Carpenter: Absolutely, getting to work with these groups firsthand has been extremely encouraging, and seeing the dedication these members have for Sigma Pi, it’s such an early stage in their membership, it certainly pushes me to want to continue this growth process. Moving on to our next question, what would you say are some of the challenges that fraternity faces this year?

Frost: You know, that’s a wonderful question. Drew, this is one that, you know, you, Chris, the staff, everybody involved, our partners, our boards, our volunteers. And you know, some of it is outside of our control. Some of it is what’s happening in the economy, what’s happening in the global environment, you know, the job market, how do our young men find the internships they’re looking for? How do they find jobs upon graduating? You know, and what does this economy mean, especially Sigma Pi is no different than any other organization or business, and the cost of goods and services is starting to increase and inflate on us. And so we constantly have to monitor that. And it’s not just for the national organization is the chapters as well, you know, they want to have, I’ve had some chapters tell me that they’ve seen huge increases from doing a formal event from five years ago to today.

And they’ve got to manage that as well as we do. One of the other things that have to do with the overall climate and the perception of Greek life. And it’s not is, I don’t think it’s as bad as it was with this Abolish Greek Movement. But you still have people that don’t understand the value of what we do. So there’s a constant battle when it comes to marketing and showing the value of how what a fraternity does or sorority does, as far as allowing young men and women to put into practice the theory that they weren’t learned in their classrooms and you know, and some of that also has to do the big challenge is lack of advisors have in our alumni more engaged.

Our Province Archons, our Chapter Advisors, they’re always looking for more people to help. And you know, and it becomes interesting because we have a group of, you know, 18 to 21-year-old young men who are trying to find their path, and having the mentors and the advisors goes a long way, especially because you’re seeing a lot more first-generation students, and having that senior wiser brother be able to come back and share their experience with and without that, I think it’s tough because again, when you’re 18, to 21, you’re still learning, you’re still growing, you’re trying to figure out life now that you’re away from home and you’re an adult, is some it’s good to have that mentor, you know, Drew probably yourself and I know myself, I have a list of people that I keep on speed dial. And that’s one of the things that we really are trying to look for, with our undergraduates, they have their speed dial of people with 5 to 10 more years experience in them.

Carpenter: Certainly, in my time in Sigma Pi, I’ve always heard that we have such a vast network of alumni out there, which is encouraging. Thinking about these topics here, the economy, internships, and potential jobs, as well as advisors and mentors, moving forward, our brothers should always remember we have such a vast network of alumni out there that they can contact can stay in connection with, they can potentially lead to some future endeavor. 

Frost: Yep. You know, Drew, I’ll even expand upon that a little bit, it kind of goes back a little bit with your first question of, you know, the accomplishments, I want to thank the almost now 1,000 alumni and friends that have joined us at various events since July 1. It’s been awesome. It’s just been awesome and amazing to get out there. And, you know, alumni are showing up and you know, they range from 25, all the way up to about 70 years old. And so the key thing is, how do we then keep them engaged after that event is over?

Carpenter: I know that we’ve had this conversation as well as with other members of the staff and the national organization. So I know we’re continuing to work on this. What can our members do to make an impact?

Frost: You know, wonderful question. Drew. Wonderful, wonderful question. I think it’s the age-old question that is always being asked by pretty much everybody I talk with is, what can I do? How can I help? You know, the last couple of years, especially for us, what I would call more senior guys got a little bit older in our years. This technology, virtual technology, allows for many more opportunities, the days of thinking that the only way you can be an advisor, you have to be in person, that’s gone, right? I mean, this, the Zoom calls, FaceTime, whatever it is, those days are gone, you can actually help by sitting at your house and offering 15-30 minutes to be a speaker, you know, so how can I help be a speaker? Be an advisor, contact your local chapter, see if you can come in and talk maybe you’re a younger alum, and you’re thinking, Well, I don’t really have a lot to give, actually, you do. Because you can talk about what it was like to go through that first job interview, what it was like to have to build a resume and put this together. 

If you’re a little bit more senior, then you can come back and talk about, hey, here’s what it’s going to be after your first job. Here’s what you want to pay attention to. So you can find your second or your third. So being an advisor is always critical. And there are a lot of roles. You don’t have to be a chapter advisor, which a lot of our older alum would refer to the term as a Chapter Director and is now called a Chapter Advisor. You don’t have to be the Chapter Advisor. There’s an advisory board. You know, if you could even commit to one hour a month, one hour a month, 12 hours a year, makes a huge difference. We also have if you want to be a little bit more involved. We have some Province Archon openings, Province Archons have a territory, anywhere from maybe two up to 14 chapters in that area. And you kind of helped manage it right is like one of our PAs has said it’s kind of like you’re the governor that area and you’re working with your other advisors to help make a solid value-added experience for the undergraduates. 

There are also national committees we recently had a wonderful opportunity to interview around 10 different alumni that have a vast amount of wealth in the investment world. And here soon, we’re getting ready to create an investment committee for the fraternity and an investment committee for our foundation. So there are national committees, there are board positions, you know, we do have elections coming up, we have a group of men that are running for the Grand Council. Plus, we have our Foundation, we have Sigma Pi University, and they’re always looking for volunteers. So there are a lot of ways Drew. 

Another one, if you don’t really have time, is to be a donor, we are so grateful for the gifts that our alumni give, we’re actually, you know, it’s pretty exciting because we’ve been having a lot of increase in donations this year, that we’re up at 83% year over year on our contributed support. And that’s our that’s, that’s gifts from $18.97 a month, to $1,000 a year, we’ve had alumni that have recently given all the way up to $90,000. So whatever, whatever way you feel that you can provide a benefit, and help and improve our mission and help us achieve our vision. 

Anything makes an impact and you know, years ago, and I still use it today, Drew is the present. That’s probably the key thing be present, whatever present means for you have your name be known that you’re still involved with fraternity because look, I’m 46 years old, my friends, the people I know, they’re guys I had not only went to school with which is number one, but it’s guys I’ve met traveling the country. And the benefit of that allows me as a professional that I can call people and just bounce things off. And you know, a funny story Drew out share this is I recently was at my alumni at Delta-Zeta Chapter, we held a little event and ran into a chapter brother of mine, Joey Neubauer, I had not seen Joey, since I left school in 2002. And that’s 20 years ago. And Brother, we hit it off. And it was like we just saw each other yesterday, the only difference was we spent time talking about our families, our kids, and where we’re at in life. But man, as soon as we shook hands and gave that grip, it was like no time had passed. And that’s probably the most beautiful part.

So for our alumni, whatever it is, whatever you can do, whether it’s donating, whether it’s your time, whether it’s your talent, whether it’s your treasure, just anything makes a difference. And it really shows that this is not just an undergraduate experience that it truly is a lifetime experience.

Carpenter: Jon, that’s all very interesting to hear. I’ve had similar conversations with alumni as I’ve traveled and, and just saying how, how many opportunities there are for people to get involved, how there are so many different areas, you can volunteer in how you can give back to the fraternity and it’s very encouraging to see our alumni, you know, join back in after so many years away, or maybe just a little bit of time away from the fraternity. 

Frost: Well, and I’ll tell you to Drew is even, you know, recently, you helped with initiation for a group of men at Coastal Carolina. And there were there was an alum there whose chapters are closed, but he still showed up and participated. And so I think that’s the other thing is, if you’re on if you’re listening to us today, number one, thank you, thank you for taking time. If your chapter isn’t open, you know what, that’s okay. You can still be involved. And look we have we’re right now working with as you know, Drew, we’re working with several alumni on their plans to bring their chapter back. And unfortunately, you do have some campuses where it may never happen due to whatever it is whether the university is still open are not or whatever decision they made around Greek life. However, you’re still a Sigma Pi. Just because the chapter may not be open currently does not take away from the fact that you are still a Sigma Pi through and through for the rest of your life. 

Carpenter: We all took the same oath, we all receive the same initiation. We’re all brothers for life, regardless of the status of our chapter where we are in our professional or personal lives. One last question for Jon. As many of our members know, the 55th and 56th Convocation is happening this summer in San Antonio, can you share some insight into what should they expect from that historical event?

Frost: Most definitely. You know, it’s interesting. I was just talking with a few people throughout this week is, due to COVID, we had to cancel 2020. And so we have a lot of our undergraduate brothers who didn’t initiate, I mean, if you’re a senior right now, think about this. If you’re a senior today, or a rising senior you initiated in 2019. You have no idea what a Convocation is. And what you know. And just on a sidebar is, you know, for our undergraduates that may be listening, I know more information is going to be coming to you. But Convocation is when we gather as a national fraternity. And we come together, and we not only have business items, legislative items, things like that, that we have to take care of. But it’s a way to connect, you know, we’ll have three, four, hopefully, 500 people at this Convocation. 

And let me tell you, Drew, this is not going to be like any Convocation that our alumni have seen. The days of three, eight hour days, in a business suit, sitting in a room, that’s done, we’re going to take care of the business virtually this year. So if all of our voting delegates, whether it’s an undergraduate chapter, whether it’s Alumni Club, whether you’re a past Gran Council member, we’re going to handle that part of it virtually. I give credit to Kevin Carey, who is on our elections committee, Alex Pettigrew and Chris Carter, and the whole staff that has really been putting time into the virtual aspect of how can we handle voting that way, and that’s good. 

But when you’re in person, when we’re all together, the energy that’s going to come from that, we’ll have a wonderful reception on that Wednesday night, August 17, that will be one of the things we’re going to kick off the whole conference with. And then there’s gonna be a golf outing as well that day, so on that Wednesday, the 17th, there’s a golf Sigma Pi Golf Classic, that evening is going to be a reception. Thursday, we will have some business because we have to provide reports and we have to update everybody on where the fraternity is. 

We do have a little bit more business in the afternoon. But we’re also bringing in some speakers to talk about mental health and suicide awareness, which is also a part of our Bonds of Brotherhood program that we’ve been putting together and starting to get information out on because a lot of people don’t know that’s a very important topic. And I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it. But we are going to have a speaker there. And then we’re also bringing in a professional speaker on Friday, who I think is going to get everybody fired up. We’re going to sit there we’re going to really dive into leadership and accountability. And what does this look like? And then we’re going to break everybody up, we’re going to allow the provinces these undergraduates to sit down with their province and talk about strategy and talk about growing their brand in their province. And what new schools should we look at, and we want their voice, that is very key, as we want the voice of our 18 to 21-year-olds to tell us what is it look like in your area, then we will have our elections that will take place and then we have our banquet. 

After the elections, we’ll have a banquet, we’re going to have a huge, awesome time. I mean, it’s hard for me to really, to put it into words here because it’s one of those things, as used to say back in the day, you know, if you weren’t there, you missed out. And then I think the key part is on that Saturday, there are no sessions. It’s let’s just go and have fun at Six Flags. Bring your family, bring your kids. The nice part is it is hot in San Antonio Drew. However, the Six Flags down there has a waterpark. So we want all of our alumni to come we are putting in a lot of effort that this is a wonderful time to hang out. And let’s be honest, this is going to be the first time, the last time we were all together in person was in January 2020 for the Mid Year Leadership Conference. 

So this will be the first time that we have brought all of our chapters together to celebrate Sigma Pi Fraternity. And the key part of that Drew when I say celebrate 125 years, brother 125 years, Sigma Pi has navigated global issues, global occurrences, tough times in the US, Canada, whatever it may be 125 years over 115,000 men have seen the value in this and we’re going to celebrate it and that’s what I’m looking forward to. I’ve already had my phones hit me up right now with people texting me wondering hey, how do I sign up? How do I get there? So if you’re listening, please make sure there is going to be an awesome time. And if you miss out, we’ll have another one in 2024. But it’s not going to be like this one as, as the when 1999 was switched into 2000. Everybody was partying like it was 1999. We’re going to celebrate like, it’s 125 years of a beautiful, wonderful fraternal experience for our members.

Carpenter: Jon, I’m looking forward to it too. It’ll be my first Convocation. I’m looking forward to the operations, the experience, and just having a good time with our brothers.

Frost: Amen and we’re excited, you know, Drew guys like yourself. I know, you know, if you’ve never been, it’s going to be mind-blowing. If you have been. It’s nothing like you experienced. And so that and I think one of the key things Drew’s you know, I’m glad you mentioned, that is not everybody has had the opportunity to go to a complication. And I think some of that had to do with the three days of eight-hour business sessions that were they can get boring. Let’s be honest. By changing this up, I think that we’ll also see a lot of returning people going forward, and people will see that, hey, we still like to enjoy ourselves and have a good time. And we’ll get the business done. But after the business, we shake hands, we break bread, and we celebrate our brotherhood as a group. 

Carpenter: And as I said, I’m looking forward to it. And I’m sure all of our brothers are too. That was the last question I had for you, Jon, thank you for being on here today. Thank you for sharing this wealth of information with us. But that will wrap up today’s discussion. Thank you for joining us on this episode of The Owl Talk Podcast. And thank you, Jon, for giving us this update. 

Frost: Yeah, thank you very much for having me, Drew. And, again, thank you to our listeners and our members. Without You, we wouldn’t be where we are today. So thank you again, Drew. 

Carpenter: Absolutely. Thank you. For everyone listening, make sure to hit subscribe, and please leave a rating and review on your favorite podcast platform. And as always, I Believe.