The Business of Frats: How a UMD Fraternity Budgets for a Party

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By Casey Noenickx
For Unwind magazine

A handle of Zelko sits on the floor of the fraternity, surrounded by sweaty students dancing and rotating the bottle while taking pulls of vodka. A fraternity’s very own bartender stands in the corner mixing drinks and offering Natural Light to their guests. It’s a familiar scene to many, yet few guests question how the alcohol got there.

There is in fact an easy system for getting the alcohol to the party. According to a UMD fraternity-that wishes to remain anonymous-they begin to fund their parties at the beginning of the semester by collecting unofficial dues through their members.

For both fraternities and sororities, members pay official dues per semester that support a variety of activities. For most fraternities, however, members must additionally pay unofficial dues in order to support throwing parties.

Both the official and unofficial fees are required for this fraternity, $300 for official dues and $350 for the unofficial dues, but it is possible to be put on a payment plan depending on the member’s financial situation, said the chapter’s president.

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“Throughout the semester it’s delegated for each event that we have to purchase items that you wouldn’t necessarily want to buy through official dues,” he said.

The money is pooled through a Tilt account or a Venmo account that the social chair or various other members can use to purchase the amount of alcohol needed for the party.

The overall cost of the party varies depending on the type of event it is being held for, such as a pre-game, a social or a post-game, and the party’s expected duration, according to the fraternity’s social chair. The greater the volume of people, such as for a post-game, the greater the budget needs to be.

“The hardest part is budgeting for everything when we throw parties,” he said. “We have a lot of costs like alcohol and chasers and cleaning supplies and decorations, all of which we need to budget for, so we know we can only spend a certain amount of money per party, so we don’t run out [of money] too quickly.”

This year’s largest party cost the fraternity close to $800, according to the chapter’s president. The price usually doesn’t reach such a steep figure, according to the social chair, who works with the treasurer to maintain the budget. The members had to learn how to use their money sparingly in order to pay for an event of this magnitude.

“The last thing we want to do is run out of money halfway through the semester,” he said. “Then we can’t have parties anymore unless we make guys pay more.”

The fraternity has a risk team that they assemble for every party, with sober brothers who take turns monitoring the party’s activities and guests, said the chapter president.

To reduce liability at open parties, only brothers, new members and a few friends are allowed to come in. But the fraternity lets most of the girls into the party until they hit maximum capacity, the president said.

In the past, the fraternity brothers have charged boys who aren’t brothers to come to open parties, which was great for fundraising but too difficult to maintain, according to the president.

“It becomes a slippery slope with who you’re going to let in and how many people can come in and how much to charge,” he says. “With that money collection, it becomes very hard to monitor if you have someone working risk that isn’t really paying attention to what they’re doing, or forgets to give the money to the treasurer. We lose track of that money.”

Already this year, the fraternity has had parties that had run out of alcohol when more people attended than they anticipated, according to the social chair. He recommended having a list of names of the attendants or closed parties to makes the night easier for the fraternity.

“I always feel terrible telling people they can’t come in,” the social chair said. “But in reality if we had open parties all the time we would be running through our money really quickly.”

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