…doesn’t mean all the following ideas that flow from it are necessarily great.

Today’s Marketing Matter focuses on several elements of the system of Advancement, namely Asset Management, Enrollment and, of course, Marketing.  In 2009,  “Weathering the Storm: Moving Catholic Schools Forward” by Leonard DiFiore, John Convey, and Merylann Schuttloffel from the Catholic University of America was published by the National Catholic Education Association http://www.amazon.com/dp/1558334580).  It speaks to five elements (sound familiar?) that provide solid financial guidelines for Catholic schools today:

  • “A K-8 enrollment of 225 (25 per classroom);
  • A per-student cost within $500 of the Diocesan median, unless higher costs result from a deliberate decision by the school to limit enrollment;
  • At least 70% of the school’s operating budget come from sources other than the parish and/or diocese;
  • Parish investment of no more than 20% of the parish’s ordinary income; and
  • Enrollment declines of no greater than 5% annually or 20% over five years.”

Indeed, these are great goals to keep in mind as your school moves forward in forming a firm financial foundation, and are excellent benchmarks for currently high-performing schools to maintain as a minimal baseline.

Note that if one replaces “Diocesan” with “market” in the second-listed element, and “supporting churches” replace “parish and/or diocese” in the third, and “parish” in the fourth, these benchmarks could also apply to Christian schools.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that individuals involved with faith-based schools may read this, and after investigation, find that their school’s enrollment is 158, have a per-student cost that is $875 higher than the Diocesan median, have 30% of its budget come from a sponsoring parish, 34% of the parish’s ordinary income supporting the school, and an enrollment decline of 6% annually.  If this is the finding, then those involved with the analysis may make the recommendation to close the school.

It’s important to remember that these are benchmarks – and in the corporate world, benchmarks need to be set before they can be achieved.  If the school is not performing at this level, then benchmarks become goals until they can be utilized as benchmarks.  The question then shifts from “What does the data say?” to “How do we get to where we should be?”

Remember, it’s what one does with the data that is important.  I’ve seen instances where Catholic Schools Week is a marvelous celebration of a school’s achievements, and then, two months later, the announcement is made that the school is closing.  Nothing dashes hope as quickly as telling parents and donors engaged with their school’s mission and vision that it’s closing, merging or changing in some fashion.  Even though there may be another Catholic school that is willing to accept them, three images have been formed in mindset of the school’s current parents:

  1. I’ve had my kids in this school…and now they close it.  Where did all that money go?
  2. If I move my child to another school, they’re going to have to get along with a new cohort of classmates, and what’s the guarantee that consolidation or closure won’t happen in that school before my child moves on to the next grade level?
  3. They’re offering me a $500 scholarship to enroll my child in the new school – but the announced tuition there is $750 per child higher there, and even though they’ve encouraged me to apply for financial aid, there’s going to be more kids in the school, so there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to afford tuition there.

This is why “school merger math” has shown that one school with 150 students merging with another school of 105 students usually leads to a new school with 210 students.

So let’s create some hope by using these items as goals to plan the work that needs to be done, rather than justifications for extreme solutions.

It’s also important to realize that while some information presented in a text can be solid, other information can be circumspect.  While the text states that “an effective Catholic school and strong Catholic identity go hand in hand” is absolutely true, the authors go on to say that “Catholic identity is the ‘value-added’ component of Catholic education that makes Catholic schools attractive to parents.”

Call me Thomas, but I would dispute that argument without seeing the proof.  We are a people of the “AND.”  As an example, Catholic and Christian schools espouse the belief that Jesus Christ was both true God AND true man.  Our schools are both a business AND a ministry.  They’re also a school, but that’s a trinitarian conversation, and we should have no problem accepting that concept either.

To say that Catholic identity is “value-added” means that we can effectively carry out our mission of being a Catholic school without a strong Catholic identity – and that’s not what today’s parents see, nor what the Catholic Church teaches!  A strong Catholic identity is not “attractive,” it’s expected!  Today’s parents are members of Generation X (the ME Generation) and the Millennial Generation, and won’t “pay” for expectations.  They want to know what makes your school a unique, special and remarkable place, and also want to know what’s in it for them – not just for their children.  Another point in the text supports this stance when it states, “In addition to providing a quality academic program, a Catholic school is expected to teach about Jesus Christ and proclaim His message.”

While on the subject of five elements, here are five “rules” of marketing to keep in mind.  Note that they are numbered, which means the first one is the first one in a linear process:

  1. Know Yourself;
  2. Know Your Audience and Your Market
  3. Communicate Your Strengths to Your Target Audience through Channels They Utilize;
  4. The Goal of Marketing is to Increase Inquiries; and
  5. Check and Adjust.

Compare this to the list at the beginning of the article, which uses bullet points to describe the five elements cited in the text.  The use of bullet points means they’re all important, as one has an impact on all of the others, and should be utilized as a system, not as a process.  Realizing this difference is foundational to being able to grasp the importance of thinking systemically rather than simply linearly.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2011-2021 (Original Publication Date: 20110214)