You’ve probably heard the saying, “You can’t fight the system.”  Well, the truth is you can, but for the majority of the times that one may try to, the effort is an exercise in futility. But this article isn’t about keeping on fighting against all odds to prove a point, or to raise awareness. It’s not about “fighting” the system, because fighting it is what results in frustration. A system can only be changed, or, more correctly, modified…or shifted…or adjusted.  Further, if a system is changed in some manner, sometimes it’s transformed into a new system.  Even if a system is completely replaced, it’s replaced with another system.

A system is difficult to stop because once it’s in place and running properly, the growth that can occur is greater than linear growth that results from a successful process. We can see that success relative to the elements of Advancement in schools.

Let’s say a school decides to pay particular attention to its enrollment efforts. It follows up with parents of prospective students. It invites these folks to the school for one or two events a month even before the student is enrolled in the school. Parents of current students reach out to the parents of prospective students, asking them if they have questions about the school or have any concerns that they may help to mitigate. After doing this for two or three years, Enrollment grows by 10, then 20 more, then 30 more students per year as the years progress.

But because there has been no attention paid to Development efforts, the school still relies on fundraisers, and not only 2 fundraisers, but 3 or 4 fundraisers.  Or 5 or 6. Perhaps your school is like an association I was once part of that had 3 on-going fundraising programs through the whole year, and then put a “Fundraiser of the Month” in place for 11 out of the 12 months of the year.

However, if enrollment brings in more students, and marketing efforts bring in more inquiries to the school and retention efforts retains more students and development brings in revenue from alumni and community members through annual appeals, planned giving, major gifts and grantwriting, growth won’t just be in “one direction,” but in many directions. A successful system causes exponential expansion, whereas a successful process only causes linear growth.

Think of it this way.  If you’re a math major, and can appreciate SchoolAdvancement’s tetrahedron, you’ll appreciate this comparison.  Draw a circle, with a line that extends from its center to any point on its circumference.  Increasing the size of the radius allows the circle to grow so that it continues to remain a circle.  You may have your “inner circle” of friends, so you can see how the linear growth of the radius causes expansion. However, if you can think of an infinite number of circles around a central point, the shape that you come up with is a sphere. If the radius of just one of the circles grows, then all the circles grow and exponential expansion occurs.  That’s why they’re called “Spheres of Influence,” since growth must remain consistent in many directions (enrollment, development, retention, etc.) for the shape to remain a sphere.  When that happens, another issue, controlled growth, or, “sustainability,” comes to the forefront.

Fundraising needs to progress toward development. As development progresses, it causes revenue growth.  Advancement then needs to be put into place as the system so that expansion, and not merely growth, can occur.  Keep in mind that uncontrolled growth is just as dangerous as no growth.  Uncontrolled growth in a living body is known as “cancer,” and because the system takes on a life of its own, the analogy is a valid one.  The issue then becomes controlling the expansion, resulting in the sustainability of the organization.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2023