As we celebrate Catholic schools this month, and Catholic and Christian schools begin their enrollment processes for the coming school year, let’s take a look at how things used to be, and how adhering to “The way we’ve always done it” doesn’t cut it anymore. In fact, in these pandemic times, that phrase is now officially dead, since everything is different today!
For the longest time, Catholic schools survived on the sacrifices of female religious women and the members of the parish, since, at one point, the directive of every parish created in the United States was to first build a school before building a worship space (which is why so many Catholic churches in this nation look like school buildings). Every parish had their own school – and book fees may have been the only cost associated with attending.
As the reforms of the Second Vatican Council began to take hold, it became clear that it was the job of every baptized Catholic to be fully alive in the modern world. The work of the Church was no longer relegated to religious men and women, but ALL the baptized were to be the “living stones” of the Church, spreading the Good News. One of the unintended consequences of this movement of the Holy Spirit is that the number of religious women decreased, which required teachers to be hired, causing costs to escalate, causing tuition to be charged, causing families to consider their economic circumstances before enrolling their children.
When tuition became insufficient to operate schools, fundraising began to fill the gap to support the activities of the school, but became a more and more prevalent line-item in a schools’ budget. What was once a means to “make ends meet” now has a target budget amount that needs to be met every year to make for a solid financial base for the school.
Today, parents are “hitting the wall” when it comes to not only paying tuition that keeps rising every year, but being responsible for raising more and more money through sales of anything and everything from cookie dough to wrapping paper, as well as a myriad of “-a-thon” events.
In light of additional economic pressures, school have moved toward Development models, which “Seek Outside Sources For Funds.” Alumni, businesses, community members, parishioners, philanthropic organizations, foundations and friends must first become “engaged” with (that is, “deeply care about”) the school, and then, through encouragement and a continually deepening relationship, must be asked to support it with dollars through Annual Appeals, Major Gifts, Grantwriting, Events, Capital Campaigns and Planned Giving opportunities.
While fundraising activities and events are still necessary during the transition from fundraising to Development, they should have parent coordinators to track activities, as well as provide goals and reports of how far off target fundraisers were to determine if they are worth keeping and strengthening or capitalizing upon as a “signature” event. For instance, if your school sells hoagies (grinders, subs, – whatever you call them in your neck of the woods), you should present a monthly chart of your progress toward your goal for the year to the parent/teacher group, rather than just saying “We sold 50 hoagies last month, so we’ll have to do better next month.” People want to know their efforts will have an effect, and what their results need to be.
“Doesn’t the board of the school need to hear that too?” you may ask. Not really. Fundraising is a function of the parent/teacher organization, as it strengthens and solidifies the parent community. If there are no Development activities taking place at your school, then the board of the school really isn’t doing its job.
A functional, appealing, interactive, responsive and up-to-date Web site is integral to this process, too. A school’s Web site is of critical importance today, as it performs three main functions:
- To market the school to prospective parents;
- To showcase the achievements of the children and the school; and
- As a resource gateway for current parents to access information about the school and their children’s progress through its student information system, and make payments and apply for financial aid through its financial assessment, capture and tracking system. Some schools are moving toward creating a second site – a membership site, that can be accessed via an app – specifically for the members of the school community…which is where your school needs to move today! Parents not only want to be treated as individuals, but as an individual group. The Web site is for people interested in the school; they want their “own” place that’s accessible on their mobile devices.
Indeed, times have changed. And if you’re one of those folks who say, “We don’t have the time nor the budget for things like that,” then there’s probably some very bad news ahead for your school’s future.
Those who are in a position to provide financial gifts to organizations they care about support successful organizations…not necessarily because the students in the school are “our” kids (as one parent was known to say several years ago, which is a fundraising mentality), but because students, teachers and administrators are doing great things to bring honor to the school, serve the community it belongs to, and spotlight where today’s successful individuals had their start. Keeping these thoughts top of mind makes a school an asset to the community, rather than a liability of the church, churches, parish or parishes the school is affiliated with.
Discovering additional sources of revenue through relationship development is the goal of Development. As fundraising becomes more difficult, decried in today’s media (since they “Turn children into sales people, requiring them to go door-to-door in what may prove to now be a dangerous exercise,” according to a comment published a number of years ago), and may even be considered to generate taxable income for parents, getting the community which surrounds the school to support it becomes an important part of your school’s activities. The difficulty is that most school educators are experienced with the “school” side of the school (signified by a school’s Faith Identity or Founder’s Heritage, Activities, Curriculum, Technology, and Surroundings…where the first letters of each of those words create an acronym which speaks to what the school does) and little attention is usually paid to what needs to be done to be able to carry out the school’s mission and move the school toward its vision (namely, Asset Management, Retention, Marketing, Enrollment and Development). The first letters of those elements form a five-letter acronym which conveys the fact that the school must be prepared to face the challenges it will encounter).
These articles on the SchoolAdvancement.com site will assist you in forming an advancement mindset to move from fundraising to fund raising (note the space between the words) through Development and on to Advancement, Growth and finally, Sustainability. Consider joining the SchoolAdvancement Facebook Group. And speaking of a membership site accessed through an app, SchoolAdvancement will soon become a membership site. After 15 years of providing information and tools for free, it’s time to put some parameters around the material presented here, especially since Web sites have become targets for cybercriminals looking to mine and sell personal information. EVERYTHING on the site needs to be protected with today’s privacy rules. The logistics are currently being researched and considered.
Next month: Detailing the Difference between Fundraising and Fund Raising
PS: If you’ve read this article before, please share it with other schools that you know are struggling. As schools, particularly elementary schools, enter budget creation for the 2022-2023 school year, may now be necessary to budget for an Advancement Director as well as add a line item for financial aid. In fact, consider adding a second employee rather than just an Advancement Director. If you’d like to know why and what type of employee to add, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “2 more employees” in the subject line.
If your school is struggling, and its budgets have been created without these essential elements, especially in today’s elementary schools, that’s symptomatic of a short-term mindset. It conveys the message to parents of potential students that the school will be around…for another year or two. That’s NOT what parents want to hear when choosing an educational environment for their child. They want to be in it for the long-term, and a “we’ll see what happens” mindset will not encourage them to enroll their children in your school.
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2022