Your First Question

As Catholic schools around the nation are preparing for Catholic Schools Week, this week’s Marketing Matters article is targeted toward Catholic Schools. However, any faith-based and private school can benefit from this article.

No doubt you’re gearing up for open houses, tours, and meeting with parents who are thinking about entrusting their child with you for their educational experience.  During the interview you or another member of your administration has with a parent of a prospective student, consider beginning your conversation with a question to establish the tone of the meeting, and a reference point to which you can ALWAYS refer whenever objections are raised (especially when the tuition discussion comes to the forefront).

In my training as a salesperson in the automotive industry a number of years ago, I was taught to always ask open-ended questions – in other words, questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Listening to the answer will then help determine your next question, and the conversation continues on. The only problem is that in our company-specific training, we were told to ask, “What brings you to (the company I was working for) today?”

Of course, the answers ranged from “Just looking,” to “my car” (get it? My car brought me here – took me a while the first time I heard that too).  Sometimes, though, the question was answered with something that led to a more productive conversation. With hindsight being 20/20, we shouldn’t have started with a “What” question – the discussion needs to begin with a “Why.”  Actually, the question was phrased as a “nice way” of asking “Why,” but the potential impact was lost.

If I was more adept at making connections back then, I would have realized the power of the “Why.”  My wife and I were a presenting team couple for a retreat program where engaged couples prepared for marriage in the Church, and the introductory session (even before the official “start” of the presentations) asked couples to dialogue with each other on two questions: “Why did I come here?” and “What do I hope to gain?”  This marriage preparation program also realized that the “Why” must come before the “What.”

Therefore, when sitting down your potential parents, rather than asking, “What brings you to All Saints and Angels School,” ask, “Why are you considering All Saints and Angels School for your child?” Then, LISTEN to their answer. Write it down if you need to. It can provide the statement at you can refer back to over and over again within the course of your conversations.

In the greater scheme of things, the “Why” is the essence of the Case Statement (remember that your Mission Statement answers the questions “What” and “Who”), which is very important in advancement and development departments. I used to believe that the “why” was an important part of the Vision Statement, but the vision relates to “where” we’re going and “how” we’re going to get there.

Think about it. There is a great advantage to knowing “why” something needs to be done. An employee may be more enthused about completing a project when he or she knows why it’s important, and “how” it fits into the greater scheme of things. A person may have greater empathy toward another individual when they know the reason behind an erratic behavioral pattern. And, of course, the answer to, “Give me one good reason why I should” may be the reason that person was looking for to persuade them to make the decision to change.

For those of you that like Geometry and brain research, think about it this way. Our brain likes to play with double entendres and homonymic devices. That’s one reason why “Why” in today’s culture of texting is transmitted as “Y.” When you observe the letter Y, it has three “arms” to it, just as the Holy Trinity is three persons in one God. If you add the internal angles that are at the intersection of the three “arms,” they add up to 360 degrees – a circle, which is the representation of God, who has no beginning and no end. Even looking at a crucifix, the outstretched arms of Our Savior form a “Y.” When we gaze upon it, and question, we receive the answer: “Because God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Indeed, there is power in knowing the “Y.”

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2008-2018 (Original Publication Date: 20080114)