September, October and November are full of milestones and watershed moments.  These three months are some of the busiest months in working with schools and educators.  Personally, quite a few people I know have birthdays in September, and many share the same birthday as I have.  It’s hard to believe that our first granddaughter is 1 year old today, and we will always, as Earth, Wind and Fire says in song, “Remember the 21st night of September!”  October is my wife’s and my wedding anniversary, as well as our son’s birthday month.  Perhaps there’s so much happening because these are the months of Autumn – the season of change.  November is the time where the transformation of Summer to Autumn seems to be complete, just waiting for Winter to kick in.

In November of 2010, my wife and I marked the end of our eighth season of marching band competitions as band parents.  Our youngest was a high school senior that year, and the four years of watching, cheering for and supporting our son followed by four years of doing the same for our daughter is about to came to an end.  It’s hard to believe that just five short years later, that same daughter graduated from college, and today five years after graduating college, has a full-time job, a car and a mortgage on a house!

Looking back a little further, fourteen Novembers ago, that same band parents organization I mentioned was on the verge of bankruptcy, with about $10,000 of cash in the bank – not enough to sustain cash flow through the rest of the school year.  That was the time I suggested we implement an advancement strategy, rather than continuing to rely on fundraiser after fundraiser after fundraiser.  Step one was a new Web site – since we had to begin to spread the word about the band and its achievements, as well as promote its performances and competitions.  The cost?  $40 for a template, $40 for an editing program, $10 for a Web site address/URL, and $10 a month for Web space.  We had to get it going, and had to get it going fast.  The biggest obstacles?  1) Some folks thought $210 was a lot to spend on a Web site and 2) Some folks didn’t like the design.  It took two months to get things moving.

Almost four years later, the site became the repository for all information about the band, development was in full swing, assets were managed wisely, current students encouraged those in middle school to join the band in high school, and the experience was so overwhelmingly powerful almost all band members chose to continue the experience throughout their four years of high school.  Where’s was that bank balance?  Depending on the month, it was between $80,000 to $100,000.  Proof that advancement works!

Fast forward five years.  Advancement is no longer practiced, the group has reverted to holding fundraiser after fundraiser after fundraiser, and the bank balance no longer flirts with six figures.  Proof that success is really all about leadership, and that results in organizational dynamics are truly seen over the long-term.

Sixteen Novembers ago, I started writing weekly marketing tips to schools I was working with.  It’s ironic, too.  In the above paragraphs, I believe you would agree that jumping from $10,000 in the bank to between eight to ten times that amount in less than four years is pretty remarkable.  Yet, a “Marketing Tip of the Week” (the precursors to Marketing Matters TM) from over a decade ago included a link to an article from FAST COMPANY Magazine written in 2002 that spoke of the need to prepare our children for the workplace that they’ll be entering, and not for the workplace that we’ve historically prepared them for.  If you’d like to read it, here’s the link:

What’s the irony?  Over a decade later, we’re still talking about preparing students for the workplace they’ll be entering, and just now getting things underway with the systems thinking necessary to create STEM/STEAM/STREAM initiatives.  We speak of AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress – but note that progress is linear, based on the results of the past, and does not emphasize the systems thinking necessary for significant transformative achievement.  And THIS year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the use of technology in the school that was spoken of in 2003 is finally being implemented – to the cries of parents everywhere wanting the “traditional classroom experience” for their kids!!

So, when you hear that it will be difficult to keep your school on a firm financial foundation in difficult economic times, and more attention is paid to curriculum, grading and classroom cooperation than is paid to the five elements which create Advancement, you can take comfort in the fact that persistent efforts on your part can begin to pay off in less time than it will take to restructure the school’s curriculum so that today’s students will be able to compete and achieve in tomorrow’s global market place.  That’s something that should make us uncomfortable.

Here’s something else to make us uncomfortable (and the reason for this article’s title): Public school districts have realized that they are non-profit organizations and are hard at work creating educational endowment funds, beginning alumni organizations, hiring marketing and development directors, and seeking outside sources for funds rather than relying on dwindling tax bases. If they’re not, they’re going to be doing that now!  Some Catholic, Christian and other faith-based schools are raising concerns about those Development actions and activities, but remember – Development is confrontational.  Successful Development efforts are predicated on the strength of the engagement of individuals with the organization.

The message is this: If you’re still stuck in “fundraising mode,” it’s now more important than ever to at least start to develop and implement Development strategies to support your school.  If what was stated in the previous paragraph makes you uncomfortable, that’s a good thing – because there is no impetus for change unless you’re forced out of your comfort zone, and become uncomfortable.  And if you’re not uncomfortable after what we’ve been experiencing for the past six months and “hoping” for a return to “normal,” it’s good to remember that hope is not a strategy.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2020 (Original Publication Date: 20050919)