This article is geared to those folks who have the responsibility of “doing it all,” and do not work for a school where there is a Development Director, a Marketing Director, an Admissions Director, a Business Manager and a Principal (who is the de facto Retention Director – although corporations are now beginning to add a Director of Customer Experience to their leadership team). It may be kind of difficult to follow, so this article may require several readings before it is understood (just like a good reading assignment).

If you’ve read other articles on this site, you’ll recall a text I’ve referred to titled “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.  In it, he says that most of the time, we often start with “what.”  In many goal-setting exercises, the main focus is to figure out “what” you want to do, then outline “how” you’re going to achieve those goals.  The motivation to reach those goals, however, is based in “why” they’re important to attain.  Therefore, it stands to reason that more goals will be reached if one starts with “why,” then considers “how” to fulfill the “what.”  Applied to all the things a school has to do when it comes to Advancement, you already know why you have to do these things – because the future of your school truly depends on them.

(Tangent: But “why” really isn’t the first question to ask.  The first question is “Who.”  More about that in upcoming SchoolAdavancement articles.  If you’d like to know more now, drop an email to [email protected] with the words “Start with Who” in the subject line.)

Truthfully, “who” isn’t even the first question to ask.  The first question is “where.”  It’s the essence of strategic planning.  The problem is that most strategic planning questions jump from “where” to “how” – and that’s where or how the problems begin.  After “where” is answered, the next question that should be asked is “who,” followed by “”why,” and then “how.”

In that spirit, “How do you do this ‘Advancement’ thing if you have to do everything?”

Here are five potential pathways:

1) Marketing as the origin – Start here…but only if you’re collecting all your tuition and students currently enrolled in your school stay enrolled in your school from one school year to the next;

2) Put the system in place – Start all five aspects of advancement and adjust as necessary. This is the preferred method, but you must have a good grasp of what it means to work systemically rather than working linearly;

3) Work backwards (the least effective, and will take a very long time to see results) – Start with Development. This is for you linear thinkers who are having a difficult time putting the whole system in place at once and thinking systemically. Choosing this path means that a significant amount of time – possibly 10 years – will be required before you see any significant fruit from your work. Why? Development is a long-term strategy which will take 3 to 5 years to get rolling. If you start to focus on Enrollment (another long-term strategy) only after Development has begun to bear some fruit, it will take another 3 to 5 years to bear significant fruit. Even if you start both of these processes simultaneously, it will take 3 to 5 years to germinate any signs of success. Also know that along the way, you’ll have to put Marketing and Retention strategies in place. With linear thinking, Marketing and Retention are usually grouped into Enrollment, even though Marketing plays a key role in Development as well. Additionally, the remaining element – the linchpin, if you will – to be implemented is Asset Management. Why? Development and Enrollment processes are related, and are usually school-driven functions, as are Marketing and Retention. Asset management, on the other hand, is oftentimes the responsibility of a business manager rather than the Development/Advancement Director, or may be a function of a parish or church business manager or an off-site bookkeeper. In these cases, the responsibility is delegated to a person not directly associated with the school, and, unfortunately, results in Asset Management strategies which are removed from the system created by Development, Marketing, Retention and Enrollment to the detriment of the system.  The business manager is doing his/her job; the principal is doing her/his job; and the development director is doing his/her job – unfortunately, not realizing that all of these jobs profoundly impact one another leads to a status of, as today’s kids put it, “#fail.”

Many schools today have principals who are desperately trying to improve these four elements of their school, and many are successful in doing so; however, the school still finishes the year in financial arrears to the tune of five figures. Why? Because a business manager still manages tuition receivables the same way they did it 20 years ago, or believe that Asset Management has nothing to do with Development, Marketing, Retention and Enrollment. It is, in fact, the “glue” that holds the system together.

4) Start with Asset Management and Retention – These are effective short-term strategies, followed by Marketing (a 1 to 3 year strategy) and then Enrollment and Development (3 to 5 year strategies).  While system makes the most sense this way, it will mean that significant income will only follow 3 to 5 years into the future – and the unfortunate expectation is that boards and administration want to see IMMEDIATE results; and

5) One Day at a Time – If you look at a finance department of a major organization, they’ll cut checks once a week.   So, plan your schedule to work on each of the five aspects of advancement on one day per week. Just don’t make Mondays or Fridays your day to “work” on Development. Development means meeting with people, and Mondays and Fridays are the worst days for that. Mondays are where all the difficulties from the weekend manifest themselves, and Fridays are the days where people try to leave early if they possibly can.  A lunch on a Friday might be good, but just try to schedule a meeting with a business leader at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon.  It’s next to impossible.  It’s best to schedule meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Schedule your Retention work (letters or phone calls to current parents, etc.) on Fridays. With that in mind, here’s a suggested week:

Monday – Marketing
Tuesday – Development
Wednesday – Enrollment
Thursday – Asset Management
Friday – Retention

If you’re still thinking, “But HOW do I do these things during those days,” that’s next week’s article!

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2023