HOW Do I Do the Things I Need To Do?

As promised, this week’s installment speaks to another aspect of the “how” to handle Advancement. While last week’s article outlined a methodology relative to Advancement (taking the five aspects one day at a time until a comfort level has been established to be able to juggle all five with continuous re-prioritizing as necessary), some folks have told me that’s not the “how” they need help with.  Their “How” deals with their additional responsibilities and duties than fall under the “Other duties as assigned” clause in their job description.  They were hired to raise money, but the more that’s raised, the more that’s expected, and then other responsibilities somehow land on their desk, and they have no idea “how” to do what is now expected of them.

“How” seems to be the question that’s asked by schools more and more today.  We can figure out “What” we need to do: increase enrollment, generate more development revenue, improve curriculum, fix the roof, find a better way to collect tuition rather than sending invoices to parents from the accounting program and hope they pay them.  We can also “Start With Why” as author Simon Sinek suggests, and realize that all those things together can fit under the overarching principle of “I need to ensure the long-term viability of the school.”

The problem is the connector between “Why” and “What” – and that’s “How.”

Notice that if you simply progress linearly from “Why” to “What,” “How” can just be a question, and “What” becomes the answer.  “How” becomes very difficult when you realize “What” you need to do needs to connect back to “Why” once again through “How.”  (You may need to read that again, or draw a picture of what that means, since it’s the essence of a tri-elemental system.)

A Development Director might be engaged with an annual appeal, grant writing, planning a special event (like a dinner/auction), and working with alumni to coordinate reunions or a golf outing. Their focus is on generating income; it’s not on working with prospective parents to ensure they enroll their child for the coming school year. In fact, they have no desire to do that.

As long as there is someone else to handle enrollment (the admissions director), retention (the principal), asset management (the business manager) and marketing (the communications director), then everyone can focus on their individual responsibilities, meeting weekly in an executive team meeting to review successes, challenges, potential difficulties and all-out threats, keeping an eye to yearly pre-established strategic goals, but always focusing on the shared vision.

It’s not uncommon, however, for everything Advancement-oriented to fall on the shoulders of one that was hired to be the Development Director of the organization.  If that’s the case, then the Development Director has a decision to make: either learn “how” to do those things, and “how” they fit into the greater systemic scheme of Advancement, and request their title be changed to accurately reflect the additional responsibilities, or find another situation where only Development responsibilities will be necessary for success in one’s position.  It’s important for a person in this position to question the institution’s definitions of Advancement and Development, since it seems that many schools define Development and/or Advancement differently.  Too many individuals as well as board members today still think it’s just another name for “fundraising.”

“Fundraising” is short-term focused; Development is long-term focused on sustainable revenue.  To gain some perspective, let’s take a “long-term” look (in this case, about 8 years) back at our nation’s history.

I’ll bet you’re thinking “8 years? That’s not long-term!”  And you would be correct.  History is easy to be viewed this way.  In fact, the inference of the word “history” is what happened 40 or 50 years ago, rather than what happened yesterday.  However, we don’t have that same type of perspective when looking forward.  We focus on what’s in front of us, what around the bend, or what we’re going to do this summer or this winter.  And technology is shortening that view.  Strategic planning used to deal with 5 year plans; now they’re down to 3, simply because things today can change instantly.  The difference is that in the past, it took a bit of time to feel the effects of the change.  Today, the effects of the change are immediate.  So let’s look about 8 years in the past.

Economists said Great Recession ended in June of 2009, but the recovery would be slow.

And now you see the problem with “how,” since the next logical question is, of course, “How slow?”

That short-term forward focus makes us think that when something as disastrous as an economic recession ends, everything should be “back to normal” immediately.  The difficult realization is that “recovery is now the new normal.”  States were looking to cut budgets for 2010, and bail-out funds dried up.  Governments were looking to cut costs, and many elected officials were ousted in the November 2010 elections. Four years later, and after another round of elections where officials were ousted due to perceived stagnation, banks were still tight on credit, companies were still holding on to cash, and unemployment was in the double-digit range in many communities. Yet, the stock market kept flirting with record levels!  That’s because the stock market isn’t necessarily driven by what’s happening with the common worker.  Bad news for the worker (such as layoffs and consolidations) is good news for the stock market (since layoffs means the company is in a better fiscal position).  Continued threats of economic crises in other parts of the world, unrest in the Middle East, the price of oil and concern with other nations of the world buying US Securities which increases our nation’s debt level also have an effect.  The actions of our nation’s leaders and businesses drive our nation’s economy, but the actions of every other world leader impacts our nation’s economy too.  As we continue to move deeper into not being able to predict what’s on the horizon, it helps to know that the “murkiness” is common in the life cycle of any organization, and flexibility is the key to survival.

The analogy of the tree is so fitting to what we’re experiencing.  The African proverb states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.” Let’s continue the analogy – deep roots make it easier for the tree to find nourishment in the dry season; pruning is necessary for growth; rigidity (“standing one’s ground”) will cause the tree to snap, as it must be “strong enough to bend” in order to confront harsh winds; and it must drop its seeds so that more trees can be grown to continue the growth process. I’m sure you can think of more comparisons.

As for Development, “now” might be the third-best time to grow fund Development. While the first-best time was 20 years ago, the second-best time is during times of prosperity, when you really don’t need to be out there, day-in and day-out, raising significant dollars. After all, if you do that, then the goal for the following year will be to raise even more dollars, right?  Unfortunately, and all too often today, too many individuals think that in times of prosperity, “We don’t have to work too hard to meet our goals” is almost always accompanied by “Everything’s great, and we’re not interested in changing.”

The problem is that kind of thinking is precisely the problem!  The non-profit world not just fears, but dreads, having a surplus, lest some watchdog group brings up charges that they’re “making too much money.”  In times of economic prosperity, non-profits need to significantly exceed their goals so that in times of need, they will have enough to meet the needs of their constituents, which is when non-profits are called upon to do so.  As for schools, many of the schools I’ve visited with over the past eight years simply hope to survive another year, and a there is no three to five to ten year plan.  Unfortunately, such a mindset does not inspire those who are considering enrolling their children in a faith-based school for perhaps the next 4 years in the case of a high school, but for the next 9 or 10 years in the case of a PK-8 school…and that’s the real danger of short-term planning.

As for budgeting, year-to-year budgeting is necessary; but what’s even more necessary is tracking the current year against the budgeted amount, in addition to where the organization was in the previous year at that particular time of the year.  It provides a measuring stick to see where the organization is headed.  Just looking at a year-to-year comparison is like looking at a schools enrollment from year to year, rather than analyzing the grade to grade enrollment on a diagonal to see how the cohort progresses through the years.  Too many schools plan this way (how many 3rd graders will we have next year), but then analyze the historical data horizontally (how many 3rd graders were there over the course of the past five years, and let’s compute the average).

Development also requires a “long-term” outlook, with at least a five-year historical perspective to envision a five-year projection into the future.

In a time when everyone is telling you to cut back, you need to prepare yourself to do more. Or, do it differently.  More about that next week.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2017