Now that the winter break between the calendar years has ended and the second semester has started, we’ve begun a very interesting time period in the revenue cycle of the school.  January is the most difficult month to successfully capture tuition from parents and guardians of children enrolled in your school, and it’s the time when many schools start planning their budget for the following school year.  It’s a time when school administrators live in two different worlds simultaneously, utilizing managerial skills to get through the rest of this year, while employing leadership strengths to envision the future and plan for it.

For many administrators, it’s a very difficult time.

First, allow me to offer a word of encouragement to say that this is nothing new.  In fact, a mindset of duality (that is, being two different things at the same time) it is what every Christian struggles with on a daily basis.  We are in this world, but we are not of it.  Christians are a people of duality, following one who was duality personified, both true God and true man.  Remember, Christ’s title as Light of World makes perfect sense, since light is both particle and wave.  And, since we as Christians are called to be light for the world, we must recognize and accept the power of the “and.”

So it is with systems thinking.  As it pertains to your school, remember that it’s not just development, it’s not just enrollment, and it’s not just marketing.  And even though people think and say it’s all about the money, it’s not.  It’s ALL those things – AND more – all working together, as a system.

As your school begins to plan its budget for the coming school year, this may be the time you are considering raising your tuition.  You may not want to because of difficult economic times that your parents are experiencing.  However, you may be looking at your cash flow at this point of the year, realizing that every December, January and February are your most difficult financial times of the year.  Not because it’s the “middle of year syndrome” (as one school leader once called it), but because there are other “obligations” that parents feel take a higher priority – like Christmas gifts, and the ability to pay for them; or, perhaps a family lost their main source of income unexpectedly at the end of the calendar year; or, perhaps heating and electric bills are taking their toll on the family’s budget right now.  Then there’s this thing called COVID-19 this year – which, whether we realize it or not, will have ramifications that we may not be aware of or that may take us by surprise.

Perhaps the rumbling – and the grumbling – begins every year around this time.  If so, it’s time to call your entire marketing force together.  Not just your school’s marketing committee, but the whole marketing force.

If you have parents that are then openly discussing potential tuition increases, or, worse, potential closure because they can’t figure out how the school is going to continue to attract and keep students if you announce a tuition increase, then how can they be expected to provide the positive word of mouth marketing that is essential to bring new parents to your school so they can enroll their children?  If that’s what keeps you up at night at this time of the year, it’s time to have a conversation with your school’s community of current parents and guardians, and not just the ones that come to the PTG meetings.  ALL of them.  It’s important because your school’s parent community is your school’s marketing force, and if they’re not providing positive word of mouth about your school in the marketplace, it negates any positive marketing your school can deliver via your Web site, yard signs, advertisements, news stories noting the achievements of your school’s students, or any other strategy developed by your school’s marketing committee.

Just as businesses and corporations have meetings to discuss marketing, your school’s community of current parents and guardians are your best marketers, and must provide positive word of mouth about your school to help it to grow.  If they leave, your marketing force shrinks.  Further, a family that disenrolls their child and leaves the community means you must bring in even more children just to keep enrollment steady.  Once it’s known that a number of families are leaving, that usually begins a trend.  And since tuition is a function of the number of families in the school, any family that leaves has just made it more difficult for everyone else to remain a part of the school community.

Catholic Schools Week is coming up in a couple of weeks.  Some Christian schools have even banded together to create Christian Schools Month in February.   These are the times to celebrate with your current parents and guardians, and not necessarily focus on attracting new ones…unless your enrollment efforts to attract new students began in September, and this is another invitation to experience the positive energy in the school community.  And this year, you’re probably not going to have the opportunities to gather for lunches and events as you have been able to do in the past.  This is the time to really express gratitude to your current school community of parents and guardians, emphasizing the fact that remaining a vital part of the school community and becoming evangelists for the school is now more important than ever!

Remember, just as parents are your marketing force, keeping current parents engaged with your school is the job of your retention force.  You call them your teachers.

It is vital to share with your school’s parent community the message that they are the marketers of your school.  In the spirit of celebration, they need to evangelize the good news about your school to their friends and neighbors so that others will come and see what all the energy, excitement, and enthusiasm is all about!

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2011-2021 (Original Publication Date: 20110117)