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Alpha Tau Omega/CompuServe Partnership
Alpha Tau Omega National Fraternity
Champaign, IL
USA

Year: 1995
Status: Laureate
Category: Government & Non-Profit Organizations
Nominating Company: CompuServe

Alpha Tau Omega chapters at 157 colleges and universities can access information at national headquarters and fraternize electronically via weekly scheduled national conferences, helping students to develop critical skills and the fraternity to reengineer its organization.
ATO is the first national Greek Organization to use a dedicated forum
through CompuServe for communication with its members. The immediate
benefits are three-fold. First, the ATO Forum allows the organization to
flatten its structure. Now, any member can log-on, write about a
specific issue or concern and know that his entry will be viewed by his
peers, the National Fraternity staff as well as National Fraternity
officers. Many times, responses will be written by a member of the
National Fraternity's board of directors or the chairman. This allows
direct access from the undergraduate rank and file to the leadership.
The response time is dramatically decreased in both outgoing and
incoming information. This allows clear communication regarding "why"
questions from undergraduates. "Why are we doing this, why do you do it
that way, why can't I get a satisfactory answer?" These are the types of
questions whose answers get diluted as they pass through the
organizational structure. By the time an answer gets back to the
questioner, it resembles something one might expect when playing the
childhood game of telephone. The direct communication exposes problems
sooner than traditional forms of communication. When a National
Fraternity policy is enacted, it could take months before enough
feedback from undergraduates, their alumni and advisors is heard to
fully understand and appreciate the policy's impact. Now, members are
encouraged to provide feedback immediately. It doesn't stretch the
imagination too far to understand the speed at which responses come back
if a policy is having a negative effect on chapter operations. For
example, a year ago, the National Fraternity outsourced the billing for
member dues and fees. This was a first for any Greek organization so
some rough spots were expected. While there was a general understanding
by National Headquarters that undergraduate were having some problems
with the new system, it wasn't until ATO went on-line with the Forum
that specific concerns were consistently communicated. Now, the direct
billing company is on-line in the Forum to make adjustments in their
program...as legitimate problems are raised.

Second, the ATO Forum promotes "conversations" between members. ATO has
157 chapters nation-wide with more than 8,000 members. There are two
different times each year when members from other chapters or regions
physically meet to discuss issues, problems and solutions. This
information transfer is always beneficial and always in demand by
chapter members, especially officers. The ATO Forum allows national,
regional or local conferences at any time. In effect, the medium is now
available to let an undergraduate chapter president in New York "talk"
with his counterparts in Florida, Clifornia, Illinois and Kansas any
time he wants to. Each Tuesday night at 10 PM CST a nation-wide
conference is held on a specific subject. Issues ranging from member
recruitment to continuing education have been conference topics. The
Forum not only allows members to take part in the specific issue
conference but also "talk" with other members in side conversations on
any issue they want to. Many people find it easy to hold two or three
conversations at one time. The event is becoming more popular every week
because members know that they can get on-line to ask questions and give
feedback about the issue at hand as well as touch base with their peers,
many of whom they've never met before. The pool of information available
to each member is greatly expanded because of the number of participants
and chapter operations are made easier because the ideas that work are
given a much broader forum to be promoted and discussed. Each time
undergraduates sign-on they are encouraged to see who is on-line and
take a couple of minutes to start a conversation with one or two other
people on-line. Our experience shows this promotes a longer conversation
and the beginning of a working relationship.

Finally, helping college students develop their "critical skills" is one
of the basic functions of a fraternity. The Forum allows a vast amount
of information to be stored in the electronic library for use by
members. Educational material on a variety of topics including finance,
leadership development, resume writing, communication and management can
easily be uploaded from a variety of sources. If an undergraduate
chapter has an effective publication for continuing membership
education, he can simply upload it from his chapter. It is immediately
available to all other chapters at no cost to the organization. Alumni
are also encouraged to share their expertise by uploading information
from the "real world" that would help members develop. The more
diversity in information available the better for the individuals and
their chapters. Past constraints because of budget considerations are no
longer applicable. In addition, information typically printed and mailed
from the National Headquarters can now be uploaded. This saves time and
money at National Headquarters and helps keep the officers who use the
information more organized.
Undergraduate members can now directly ask questions of and get answers
from the National Fraternity's leadership. This flattening of the
organizational structure is key in re-engineering Alpha Tau Omega to
make it an organization that is developing relationships and
communication.

Undergraduates can also "talk" to one another across campus or across
the country. This allows for an effective information exchange that they
would not otherwise receive.

Alumni volunteers can "meet" on-line without having to leave their home.
This helps solve the problem of alumni involvement. In the past, many
alumni did not want to serve because they were not close enough to the
chapter and needed to travel to attend meetings. Much of that problem
has now been eliminated.

What positive impact will your application have beyond its immediate
users? Will it change how others live and/or work? How will it impact
society? Because we're reaching college students, they will become
familiar with on-line services and the communications power of
conferences, e-mail and forums. This knowledge will give them an edge in
the job market and will benefit the organizations they own or eventually
work for.
Maintaining a continuous flow of information between Alpha Tau Omega
National Headquarters and 160 chapters nationwide had become a labored
process. Relying on the mail service and phone service to facilitate
this flow was imperfect at best. The end result of this problem was that
our chapters began to lose touch with what it meant to belong to a
national fraternity. They began to think of themselves as isolated
entities.

By utilizing the services of CompuServe through the creation of our own
forum on their service and by making use of personal computers equipped
with modems we were able to re-establish contact with our chapters.
Using e-mail and forum messages we now have, not only a strong
connection between ATO NHQ and each chapter, but a never before realized
connection between the chapters themselves. Now when a chapter has a
problem that seems unsolvable they can connect with the ATONet and
describe the problem to the rest of our undergraduates and alumni.
Suddenly this unsolvable problem becomes solvable because chances are
there is someone, possibly more than one person, in the fraternity who
has had to deal with this problem before and has a solution.

In addition, our communications with our volunteers has vastly improved
due to the connectivity allowed by the ATONet. By allowing alumni to
participate in chapter management efforts from a distance, we are seeing
a larger number of alumni who are willing to take part in this
responsibility.

Finally, by holding Board of Directors conferences and general meetings
on the ATONet using the conferencing capability we have been able to
reduce the cost of these functions dramatically. The conferencing
ability has allowed us to lower our transportation and accommodations
costs while maintaining the connectivity needed to manage an
organization of this size.
Alpha Tau Omega is the first fraternity to have its own forum through
any on-line service and specifically CompuServe. We are developing
applications that are relevant to college students use any technology
only if they see the value in using it. One application within the Forum
is the Tuesday Night National Conference. Every Tuesday night at 10 PM
CST, all ATO subscribers are encouraged to sign-on to "discuss" the
night's topic. Depending on the week, we structure it as an open forum
conference on a specific topic where the conversation is free flowing
with the help of a moderator. Other weeks we invite a guest to answer
questions about a specific topic. Guests have included representatives
from outside vendors to take questions on services being used by
undergraduates, National Fraternity officers who have a chance to hear
directly from the undergraduates and staff members who can explain a
particular policy and get feedback on the impact of that policy.

ATO is in the midst of an organizational overhaul. The old culture was
very structured with information being protected and lines of
communication strictly enforced. With ATO's evolution, it is vital to
connect the undergraduates and chapter advisors directly to the staff
and national officers. The Tuesday Night National Conference is one way
in which we do this. Interestingly, the conference allows undergraduates
to engage in side conversations with their peers while on-line. This
promotes new relationships and a transfer of information from chapter to
chapter. The hope, which is already seeing some fruit, is that
undergraduates and advisors will utilize the conference application of
the Forum to conduct discussions without prompting from National
Headquarters. The more of these conversations the better. Communication
and stronger relationships will make the transformation of ATO
successful. Witout ongoing and vibrant communicating between all
parties, the status quo will overtake the momentum.
Alpha Tau Omega is utilizing CompuServe and ATONet to increase
communications between the National Fraternity and the general
membership. It has already done that through the ATONet. The Forum
offers our membership a place to talk with each other, pose questions,
and seek out and offer advice from other undergraduates and alumni.

We are currently deep in the process of hitting our goals. Alpha Tau
Omega Fraternity has only been on-line since October 1994. Since then,
we have in excess of 250 users. Our ATONet users include undergraduates,
alumni, National staff members, and our volunteers. We are in hopes to
have over 1000 on-line subscribers by the end of 1995.

We are not fully operational at this time, but are quickly approaching
that phase. We are making leaps and bounds in creating a variety of
forums and programs to increase communication and educate our members
about the vast array of opportunities available through CompuServe.

Within the next year, Alpha Tau Omega will use CompuServe as a key
resource to communicate to our undergraduate members as well as increase
the involvement of our alumni. We are doing this by having educational
programs, a place for alumni to post available employment positions,
direct contact with National officers, and, of course, a place for
social gatherings with others across the continent. We hope that someday
to do away with all of the paper communication trails throughout the
organization. Instead, our members will receive a CompuServe ID with
their initiation number.
Even though ATO focuses most of its time and resources on students at
college campuses, the lack of computers owned by members was an initial
problem. Many chapters had members with computers, few chapters had
official chapter computers. Without a computer or access to one, on-line
services don't make much sense. The ATO Foundation helped solve the
problem by dedicating substantial monies to a grant process in which
chapters could apply for the money needed to buy and computer and modem.
The grant process was streamlined in order to get people on-line
quickly. Chapters that did have access to computers were encouraged to
use those computers as opposed to applying for grant money.

Another problem was getting the right software in the right hands to
facilitate getting members on-lne. Initially, a questionnaire was sent
to all chapters asking what kind of computer they were going to use and
what software specifications that computer required. A one-time shipment
went to all chapters with software. Follow-up telephone conversations
were frequent after it became apparent that just having software didn't
mean motivation to load it or get on-line.

In-person explanations of the Forum and its benefits were made at 13
regional conferences attended by undergraduates across the country.

Cost became another factor. Because we knew that chapters would hesitate
to spend nearly $150 a year for a subscription to the untested Forum,
the ATO Foundation agreed to pay for a one-year subscription for each
chapter. The expectation was that at least one other member within a
chapter would subscribe. This and the computer grant program raised
expectations that all chapters would be on-line. There were no valid
excuses for not logging on.

Getting alumni to sign-on was an even more perplexing challenge.
Communicating the benefits of the Forum to them was much different than
to the undergraduates. Mass marketing was initially used though the ATO
magazine and then follow-up calls were made to volunteers who kept in
most frequent contact with the National Fraternity. Local volunteer
Boards of Trustees were strongly encouraged to subscribe. Their
participation would allow them to hold on-line meetings without having
to travel to campus or other cities.

By this date, more than half of the first year's goal has been met.