Transitioning out of the college bubble can be a tough proposition for young graduates. From new routines, moving cities, and entering the work world, the challenges are many — but one alumni association is working hard to ease the way.

From the day Eta Tau Alumni Association Founder James Knicker walked onto Texas State University’s campus, he recognized the importance of building a community that would last long after his college years. This search led him to the Eta Tau chapter of Sigma Nu Fraternity; one of the oldest fraternity chapters on campus in San Marcos.

From his studies in Business Administration, James knew first hand that networking is one of college life’s strongest benefits — both personally and professionally. Armed with this knowledge, he threw himself into fraternity life and became the chapter’s philanthropy chairman, partnering with local charitable organizations and promoting community engagement among members.

However, James soon realized that though the networking opportunities between current members were strong, there was virtually no structure in place for connections with alumni. He saw the chance for members to create better futures for themselves by getting the perspective and advice from trusted chapter members who paved the way before them. And thus, the Eta Tau Alumni Association was born.

“When I started this organization, I wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel, but rather find the best wheel and put it on our vehicle,” James recalls.

In the summer of 2018, James set out and recruited the new organization’s Board of Directors. From there, the paperwork was filed with the help of Resilia in November of 2018, and by January, the Eta Tau Alumni Association was an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The Vision Behind the Name

James and his board are already firing on all cylinders, mapping their strategy and building key programs for current and alumni members. Their first major initiative is a series of scholarships for active chapter members undergoing financial or physical hardship, such as those who have lost a parent or a financial support system. The association will offer those students scholarships for tuition assistance, school books, housing, and other types of support.

James recounts, “One of the Eta Tau alumni I knew in college broke his back working in the oil fields when he was in school. It was a really hard time for him, and he came from an underprivileged background to begin with. Having a scholarship like this would likely have made a big difference in his life.”

Another in-the-works initiative is year-round financial education for students. James explains, “Most high schools in Texas are not required to teach personal finance or financial literacy. Unless you major in business in college, after you graduate you might not be aware of things like stocks and bonds, or how to balance a checkbook. Our goal is to host a seminar at the fraternity house once a semester to teach these guys the basics of finance. We want to set them up for success in their life post-graduation.”

From Idea to Reality

Even the most successful of organizations can’t come to life without overcoming their obstacles. The Eta Tau Alumni Association is no exception. For the organization, overcoming skepticism from potential members was an important achievement early on.

“I think the biggest challenge we faced as we’ve started this organization was attempting to shift the culture and mindset around alumni organizations,” James explains. “Prior to our organization and our efforts, there had been other attempts to start something like this. But they had all been met in failure. So it’s natural that we might face a bit of skepticism as we start out. But what it comes down to is that we are able to show that we’re serious about this— that we know what we’re doing, and we’re going to get the job done well.”

Advice for Other Nonprofits

The Eta Tau Alumni Association’s story offers two key pieces of advice to other early-stage nonprofits on how to set yourself up for success as a nonprofit organization: first, “get the right people on your team,” and second, “treat your nonprofit like a business.”

While recruiting his Board of Directors, James carefully considered each candidate’s expertise in the area in which they were serving. The organization’s Finance Director, for example, has years of experience in the finance and banking industry. At the early stages of any organization, it’s highly important to get qualified, motivated people on your team.

James’ second piece of advice: “treat your nonprofit like a business.” He shares,

“When I thought about starting a nonprofit, this was my stigma: ‘The name says nonprofit, so it’s not a serious business.’ But when you break it down, there aren’t too many differences between a for-profit business and a nonprofit. You need someone to balance the budget, someone to do marketing and advertising, someone in operations to plan the various programs… it’s no different than a business, when you think about it. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions people have when they start a nonprofit.”

Lasting Connections Beyond the College Years

As the Eta Tau Alumni Association grows, they’ll continue to work with the current Texas State chapter to ensure that current members and alumni members are able to form meaningful, lasting connections. They’ll be kicking off their partnership with a crawfish boil in April 2019, giving alumni an opportunity to return to the Central Texas and meet the next generation of Eta Tau’s for networking and post-graduation opportunities.

“The feedback we’ve gotten so far from alumni and current members has been overwhelmingly positive,” James says. “Early on in this process, I received a phone call from the Eta Tau chapter president at Texas State, letting me know on behalf of the organization that they were so thankful. It’s historically been a very neglected area of the organization, and they were just really grateful that someone was finally putting attention and energy into this area. We’re extremely excited for the months ahead, and to continue to grow and develop as an organization.”

For more information about the Eta Tau Alumni Association and their upcoming events, visit their website — coming soon!