Before reading any further, please re-read the title of this article, and think to yourself – is this a good thing, or a bad thing?

Regarding “uncontrolled growth,” at first glance, business people would like this. “The sky’s the limit!” is the phrase that comes to mind. Upon further consideration, uncontrolled growth is not a positive thing. In the medical profession, uncontrolled cell growth is called “cancer.” Since we’re talking about living systems, the analogy is an appropriate one. Cancers must be eliminated for proper growth to occur.

In a linear thinking framework, one thing leads to another (and if you listened to the radio in the 1980’s, The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another” may have crossed your mind). We see this in our schools all the time. A tuition increase leads to an enrollment decrease, so the tuition must be raised to make up for the loss of revenue, causing a further erosion of enrollment. Schools that boasted 600 students 8 years ago could now be struggling to maintain 250 students. The easy scapegoats are the volatile economy, demographic shifts, and reduced birth rates, but those excuses have simply accelerated the decline. In this scenario, there are only two elements that are considered – enrollment and tuition. Many schools are coming to the realization that they have to market their schools, have an enrollment process in place, and engage in long-term development strategies so that they can continue to advance toward their vision (and, that vision needs to be much more than, “We hope we’ll be here next year”).  If the faith-based school near and dear to your heart has just a Web page that the supporting church or affiliated parish has created for them, that was great – 15 years ago.  Today, parents are looking for fresh, compelling and engaging content on the Web to pique their interest and initiate a conversation with the school.  A Web presence that just has sections of text conveys the message that your school is in the pre-iPad era of technology.

As opposed to linear thinking, systems thinking includes all the elements of Advancement – Development, Retention, Enrollment, Asset Management and Marketing – which are defined and in-play at the same time, providing a framework for control, as one element can be controlled by adjusting another. Anything extraneous is prohibited since it is not part of the system. It’s very enticing to say, “We’re $30,000 in the red this year, so let’s sell some candy bars. That’s an easy fundraiser.” That’s a lie – no fundraiser is easy. There is work that goes into any fundraiser. Sometimes it works (as in, raises a lot of money), and sometimes it doesn’t. The difficulty is that you can’t continue to keep doing the same fundraiser year after year for two reasons. First, by nature, fundraisers are short-term solutions to crisis situations. Second, if the same fundraiser is conducted in the same manner year after year after year, the law of diminishing returns will eventually take over, and individuals will be doing more and more work to gain the same result, or, will actually achieve a lesser result than was achieved in previous years.

System thinking equates your organization with a living system. Think of what would happen to your body – another living system, where all systems have to be functioning properly in order for you to function properly – if you’d eat a fast-food burger or two everyday. It’s quick, it’s cheap, it’s close by, and I don’t have to do a lot of work to get it, right?  But is such a diet good for you in the long run?  Most people would say, “No.”  Simply viewing it from the economic side of things, though, it seems to makes sense…just like uncontrolled growth.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2021