This is part two of three items from Seth Godin’s book, “The Dip” (New York: The Penguin Group, 2007).  The idea behind “the dip” is that everything worth doing starts out as a new challenge with excitement and enthusiasm…but then the going begins to get tough, for a variety of reasons: the economy, demographics, increased choices, other interests, etc.  The premise of the book is that too many excellent ventures quit when they start to experience “the dip.”  To quote the text:

The Dip is the secret to your success.  The people who set out to make it through the Dip – the people who invest the time and the energy and the effort to power through the Dip – those are the ones who become the best in the world. (Godin, 23).

I believe Catholic, Christian and other faith-based schools are experiencing a “dip.”  Chances are your school is one of them.  In the territory that I serve, while the number of closing and merging schools has declined over the past five years, there are schools that are being reconfigured under centralized management structures, along with some mergers and closures.  There have also been some school that have been given another year to try to “make it through” their dip.

How do I know this is just a Dip and not a “cliff,” as the book refers to it?  Because there are many Catholic, Christian and faith-based schools that are successful, evidenced by increased enrollment, unique and robust curricula focused on 21st Century skills, excellent donor support, engaged parents, community recognition, and awards.  There are even some schools that are building structures to house special programs, and others that are now trying to figure out how to expand their school.  How can this happen, especially when other schools are experiencing difficulties?

Because – and this may be difficult to comprehend at first – the Dip creates scarcity, and scarcity creates value.  Another quote –

Who doesn’t already know that the secret to success is to be successful, that providing a great product or service is the right thing to do, and that you shouldn’t quit in the face of adversity?  You don’t.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that your boss and competitors don’t know either.  When it comes right down to it, are you quitting any project that isn’t a Dip? Or is it easier not to rock the boat, to hang in there, to avoid the short-term hassle of changing paths?  What’s the point of sticking it out if you’re not going to get the benefits of being the best in the world?  Are you over-investing time and money so that you have a much greater chance of dominating a market?  And if you don’t have enough time and money, do you have the guts to pick a different, smaller market to conquer?

For many, these are harsh words (and I take comfort in the fact that people said that very same thing about Jesus’ teachings).  For many schools, “If only” is the quote of the day.  If only there were more students in the school.  If only more people came to the open house.  If only all parents participated in the fundraisers. If only there were this few if “only”s.

But here’s some good news.  If you have your set of “if only”s, you have just set goals for how to get out of the Dip!  The thing is that they’re not magically going to happen…you have to make them happen.  Here’s some help:

“If only there were more students enrolled in the school…”

Want to get more students in the school? Have current students invite their friends – all on the same day!  Invite their parents, too!  People will get the sense of what it’s like to have a school full of kids again!  If you can’t demonstrate the experience, create the experience.

“If only there were more people at the open house…”

Serve food – not cookies and punch either.  Ask a local caterer if they would donate some really nice appetizers, coffee, iced tea and water.  And schedule at least four or five open houses.  You might not get a whole lot of people for the first one, but when those who come talk about the food offered, you’ll get requests about the second one.  And the next one.

“If only all parents to participate in fundraisers…”

Give them some personal credit (credit, NOT money or discounted tuition) for it.  Remember, you’re dealing with Generation X parents who always want to know “What’s in it for ME?” or Millennials who have student loans to deal with in addition to tuition costs for their kids.  So rather than 100% of the proceeds of fundraisers benefitting the school, have 50% of the proceeds benefit the school, and 50% can be stored in an account as “points” (that are not connected to dollar amounts) to be used for tuition reduction for the next school year for that family.  If the child is disenrolled, the parent forfeits the points.  Such a plan encourages retention, too.

While those are just a few things to help you get through the Dip, you may have read this and thought, “Oh, but that’s just sooooooo much work…and my teachers will never go for it,” then ask your teachers if they’d rather do all these things to get your school through the Dip, or get their resumes ready for the next step of their journey?  There’s usually no gray area here.  As it says in Deuteronomy, “I set before you life and death…choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live.” (Deut 30:19).

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2009-2019 (Original Publication Date: 20090323)