January: It’s Time to Change Because Times (and Your Audiences) Have Changed

As we celebrate Catholic schools this month, let’s take a look at how things used to be, and how adhering to “The way we’ve always done it” doesn’t cut it anymore.

For the longest time, Catholic schools survived on the sacrifices of female religious women and the members of the parish, since, at one point, the directive of every parish created in the United States was to first build a school before building a worship space (which is why so many Catholic churches in this nation look like school buildings).  Every parish had their own school – and book fees may have been the only cost associated with attending.

As the reforms of the Second Vatican Council began to take hold, it became clear that it was the job of every baptized Catholic to be fully alive in the modern world. The work of the Church was no longer relegated to religious men and women, but ALL the baptized were to be the “living stones” of the Church, spreading the Good News. One of the unintended consequences of this movement of the Holy Spirit is that the number of religious women decreased, which required teachers to be hired, causing costs to escalate, causing tuition to be charged, causing families to consider their economic circumstances before enrolling their children.

When tuition became insufficient to operate schools, fundraising began to fill the gap to support the activities of the school, but became a more and more prevalent line-item in a schools’ budget.  What was once a means to “make ends meet” now has a target budget amount that needs to be met every year to make for a solid financial base for the school.

Today, parents are “hitting the wall” when it comes to not only paying tuition that keeps rising every year, but being responsible for raising more and more money through sales of anything and everything from cookie dough to wrapping paper, as well as a myriad of “-a-thon” events.

In light of additional economic pressures, school have moved toward Development models, which “Seek Outside Sources For Funds:” alumni, businesses, community members, parishioners, philanthropic organizations, foundations and friends must first become “engaged” (that is, “deeply care about”) with the school, and then, through encouragement and a continually deepening relationship, must be asked to support it with dollars through Annual Appeals, Major Gifts, Grantwriting, Events, Capital Campaigns and Planned Giving opportunities.

While fundraising activities and events are still necessary during the transition from fundraising to Development, they should have parent coordinators to track activities, provide goals and reports of how far off target fundraisers were to determine if they are worth keeping, strengthening, or capitalizing upon as a “signature” event. For instance, if your school sells hoagies (grinders, subs, – whatever you call them in your neck of the woods), you should present a monthly chart of your progress toward your goal for the year to the parent/teacher group, rather than just saying “We sold 50 hoagies last month, so we’ll have to do better next month.” People want to know their efforts will have an effect, and what their results need to be.

“Doesn’t the board of the school need to hear that too?” you may ask.  Not really.  Fundraising is a function of the parent/teacher organization, as it strengthens and solidifies the parent community.  If there are no Development activities taking place at your school, then the board of the school really isn’t doing its job.

A functional, appealing, interactive, responsive and up-to-date Web site is integral to this process.  A school’s Web site is of critical importance today, as it performs three main functions, in this order of importance:

1) to market the school to prospective parents;

2) to showcase the achievements of the children and the school; and

3) as a resources for current parents to access information about the and their children’s progress. This portion of the site should be password protected.

Those who are in a position to provide financial gifts to organizations they care about support successful organizations, not because the students in the school are, as one parent was known to say several years ago, “They’re our kids” (which is a fundraising mentality), but because students, teachers and administrators are doing great things to bring honor to the school and the greater community to which it belongs. Keeping this thought top of mind makes a school an asset to the community, rather than a liability of the church, churches, parish or parishes the school is affiliated with.

Discovering additional sources of revenue through relationship development is the goal of Development. As fundraising becomes more difficult, decried in today’s media (since they “Turn children into sales people, requiring them to go door-to-door in what may prove to now be a dangerous exercise,” according to a comment made a number of years ago), and may even be considered to generate taxable income for parents, getting the community which surrounds the school to support it becomes an important part of your school’s activities.  The difficulty is that most school educators are experienced with the “school” side of the school (signified by a school’s Faith Identity or Founder’s Heritage, Activities, Curriculum, Technology, and Surroundings…where the first letters of each of those words create an acronym which speaks to what the school does) and little attention is usually paid to what needs to be done to be able to carry out the school’s mission and move the school toward its vision – Asset Management, Retention, Marketing, Enrollment and Development – where the first letters of those elements form a five-letter acronym that conveys an image in which the school must be prepared to face the challenges it will encounter).

Subscribing to these articles on the SchoolAdvancement.com site will assist in forming and advancement mindset to move from fundraising to fund raising (note the space between the words) through Development.

Next month: Detailing the Difference between Fundraising and Fund Raising

PS: If you’ve read this article before, please share it with other schools that you know are struggling.  As schools, particularly elementary schools, enter budget creation for the 2017-2018 school year, it  is now necessary to budget for an Advancement Director as well as add a line item for financial aid.  If your school is struggling, and its budgets have been created without these two essential elements in today’s elementary schools, that’s  symptomatic of a short-term mindset.  A short-term mindset conveys the hope to parents of potential students that the school will be around – for another year or two…and that’s NOT what parents want to hear when choosing an educational environment for their child.  They want to be in it for the long-term, and a “we’ll see what happens” frame of mind will not encourage them to enroll their children in your school.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2017