So many faith-based continue to lament the fact that there’s so much work to be done, personnel are being stretched to their limits, and it seems that more and more efforts only result in precariously stable or continuously declining enrollment.

If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s a law of physics.  Just like the laws of gravity and inertia, the law of diminishing returns means that as time progresses, more and more energy will need to be put into a system simply to maintain it.  If growth is expected, then a change or shift in the process is necessary.

Also, a change is coming in the philanthropic space that your school needs to prepare for.

First, to change the paradigm, here are five reasons why faith-based elementary schools need a full-time advancement director today that will focus on development, retention, enrollment and marketing:

1) The principal, as the leader of the school, needs someone to be out in the community as the ambassador of the school;

2) The advancement director is the “salesperson” of the school – and guess what happens to companies that don’t have salespeople;

3) Schools need someone on the “business” side of the school to balance out the activities of the “school” side of the school;

4) Your school needs to deepen engagement with various constituencies. Deepening engagement leads to a willingness to provide monetary support. Therefore, just as good marketing doesn’t mean enrollment will increase, hiring an advancement director won’t guarantee dollars will come rolling in overnight; and

5) You need to overcome objections, such as:

  • But we haven’t any money to pay an advancement director – Then budget for it.
  • But won’t that increase our tuition? – Yes, and while you’re at it, budget for an additional teacher and a part-time teacher for substitute situations.  Then you’ll have a position to cut if necessary.  Add having more than what you need allows you to be able to trim wisely.
  • But parents can’t pay us anything more – This is precisely why you need someone in this position, so that additional monies can be generated to provide scholarships and need-based financial aid.  There is a difference, and vouchers are not the answer.  Besides, how do you know they can’t pay anything? They’ll certainly find a way to pay for experiences, or the latest piece of technology.
  • But our board won’t let us raise tuition – If your school board is an advisory panel, and not the administrative body of the organization, then the principal is the administrator of the school. If the board recommends school closure, they’re not going to lose their jobs, but if the school closes, all of the teachers and employees of the school will lose theirs.

The emergent principle of this system is to prepare for the change in the philanthropic audience.  You’ve seen the change in your parent community already.  For elementary schools, Generation X parents started to move along your grade levels about 5 years ago, and today, more and more Millennials are enrolling their children in your schools.  Next year, Millennial children will enter the 9th grade…and those are parents that won’t take kindly to being charged “late” fees when they’ve made their payment a day or two before the due date.

Similarly, as Generation X has moved from elementary schools through high school and now, they’re parents of college graduates, they’re now seeing their children get hit with student loan obligations.  Note the timing of the furor over the student loan crisis.  It  began to make news headlines when parents became concerned to outraged over the responsibilities their children now have, since the first place those children turn to are their Generation X parents for help.

What does this mean for the future of development and advancement?  Most of the people involved in planned giving, making major gifts and philanthropic endeavors are members of the Great and Silent Generations, as well as Baby Boomers, who are now looking at leaving a legacy.  As more and more members of Generation X (the “ME” Generation), move into this space, the act of engaging them in philanthropic practices will become extremely difficult. Add to that those Millennials who are saddled with student loan debt, commenting, “I’ve given enough money to school because of the tuition I paid them,” and the mindset of engagement becomes even more difficult to transform into one that is focused on giving rather than getting.

It’s good to recall the words of the proverb, attributed to both the Chinese and African cultures: “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the second best time is now.