Last week I promised to show how asset management, retention, marketing, enrollment, and development become especially important as schools begin to think about preparing for the coming school year.

Each of the four of five elements of advancement (Development, Marketing, Asset Management and Retention) can have an effect on the fifth element, Enrollment, at this time of the year.  Not the enrollment for this current school year…but for next year, since parents are now starting to think about next year, if they haven’t already.  While open houses can’t be scheduled as they have traditionally been, there are still virtual visits and entrance exam being scheduled.  In Catholic Schools, planning and promotion for another different Catholic Schools Week is underway.

Let’s take a look at each of those four elements that affect enrollment for the coming year:

Asset Management – Tuition management and fee billing services allow schools to practice good stewardship. Stewardship is using time, talent and treasure wisely for the glory of God.  Let’s examine each one:

  • Time – Using a tuition management and fee billing company to offer payment plans to families allows office staff to stop “chasing” unpaid tuition, and make better use of that time to follow-up with parents interested in enrolling their children in the school. While you may only be dealing with 10 to 15% of families time and time again as the ones that require most of your tuition “adjustment” work, could your time doing this be spent more productively? If you’ve answered “Yes,” then what will you do when your school’s board says “No, we’re still going to collect tuition the way we’ve always done it – we’ll just do more fundraising.”  That’s when the questions really begin, such as, “Are the board members themselves going to do more fundraising, or will they expect school personnel to do more?”  Board members are usually volunteering their time and talent, and, in boards that are well-run, their treasure.  But, if they’re not, and members just tell the school personnel what they think they should do, that raises even more questions.  I am familiar with one school that had a board member who was a prominent attorney in the city, and had his children enrolled in the school.  He was quite upset when he was told that he missed the financial aid deadline, and let the administration of the school know that legally, the postmark is the official date of submission.  That situation led me to question why people were chosen to be on the school’s board, and what type of conflicts of interest and imputed income situations we could be getting into.  Further, a successful attorney asking for financial aid?  Why?  The school chose to pick up the application fee so it was free to him!  Could it be that since he was a board member, he was expecting some kind of remuneration for “volunteering” for his role on the board?
  • Talent – Staff members who are great at marketing and development can better use their time for these needed tasks than running to the bank everyday with a deposit. This doesn’t even touch upon the security offered through electronic funds transfer, and today, there’s a good chance that parents aren’t bringing checks to the school.  If the school is teaching remotely, there’s the chance that no one’s in the school.  There’s also a company which registers checking account numbers. Their slogan – “Register your checking account before someone else does.”  Frankly, that scares me.  Checks are quickly becoming an outmoded manner of payment…especially when one can pick up their “mobile device” (which is actually a handheld computer), go to an app, and pay someone with an electronic funds transfer immediately.  If you’re trying to keep your own financial information secure, remember that every time you write a check and give it to someone, you’re giving them your banking account information, conveniently printed at the bottom of the check.  And, can someone take a picture of those numbers with their cell phone today?  You may already do it to deposit a check.
  • Treasure – The enrollment of a student in a faith-based school carries with it the responsibility for the parent to pay the tuition. At least for Catholic schools, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops call the Catholic school a “privileged environment,” and with privileges come responsibilities. Adjust for hardships? Absolutely! But no tuition? Only if the school is a fully-funded ministry of the parish.  What about governmental vouchers?  Just remember, with government money comes government strings.

Retention – who’s coming back? One school I’m familiar with has pictures of every student in the school on one wall in the hall. On the wall on the other side of the hall, there’s lettering that says, “I’m in!!” And when the student is registered to return, their picture is moved to the “I’m in” side of the hallway. And, speaking of Christmas…

Marketing – what kind of messages are you putting out there about your school? Since many parishes are now welcoming people to come and worship together, you NEED need to plan to be at every Christmas Day Mass or Worship Service distributing information about your school.  If you haven’t done this in the past, you’ve missed out on reaching potentially the most significant number of people with children that may only come to Mass or your church’s Worship Service one time per year. It’s the golden opportunity to reach as many people as you can at one time (other than Easter, so put that on your “do” list now).

Development – The more year-end gifts a school receives, the more it can work to keep its tuition costs in check for the following year during budget preparation. And remember, the last week of the year is when most individual charitable contributions are made.  According to a 2012 GuideStar survey, 50.5% of the organizations surveyed said they received the majority of their contributions during October through December, commonly called, “The Giving Season.” (Source: http://nccs.urban.org/nccs/statistics/Charitable-Giving-in-America-Some-Facts-and-Figures.cfm).  And now, with Giving Tuesday happening after Thanksgiving, if you’re not asking people to invest in the successes of your school, you’re on a pathway that leads to a dead end.  By the way, does your school’s Web site have a conspicuous place where a contribution can be made?  No?  It’s time to rethink that as well.  And how appropriate, since Advent is a time of repentance.  Remember, “repent,” doesn’t just mean “to be sorry for” in its original translation.  It means to also “rethink.”

I know – you’re also saying, “This is a lot of work. And besides, we’re living in difficult economic times!  Why should we bother with development now? EVERYONE is stretched and no one’s going to give us anything.”  That sentiment reflects an attitude of “Despair,” and, unfortunately, “Despair” does not inspire parents to enroll their children in your school.  The last time I checked, “Despair” was also not one of the three things that last.  But one of those things is “Hope.” So here’s something to make you hopeful:

Now is the acceptable time – to start a development program, and develop a development mindset.

Why?

Because doing so takes time. It’s long-term. If you DON’T take the time, you WON’T have the talent nor the treasure to keep your school open for the long-term. In fact, difficult economic times is a GREAT time to start a development program!  Since it takes time, you can “build the machine,” so to speak, while the local market’s economic conditions may not be at their best.  Interestingly, you may not have noticed, but the stock market is at a all-time high, so according to Wall Street, this is a pretty prosperous time.  And while shoppers didn’t spend as much as they did last year on Black Friday, they actually started on Thanksgiving since there are predicted shortages and significant potential delivery delays forecasted.

But even if you still think this is a difficult economic time, that’s alright, since as time goes on, and the economy continues to build, your development program will build.

Starting a development program while the economy is in excellent shape requires ADDITIONAL time to “build the machine;” unfortunately, those board members mentioned earlier in this article will expect immediate results, especially if the school has just hired a development or an advancement director!  Sadly, most of those expectations of immediacy are not fulfilled since it takes time to build relationships which lead to significant advancement revenue – and that’s why the average development/advancement director’s tenure is about 18 months.  Then they look for someone else, or worse, not fill the position to save money, and then “hope” things will get better.  Also unfortunately, “hope” is not a strategy, and board members think it’s their job to tell the school leaders what to do, rather than realizing they’re the ones being called upon to lead with their gifts of time, talent AND treasure. Further, when the processes are ready to reap the benefits, the good times in the economy may have come to an end.  In prosperous economic times, the feeling is, “Hey, everything’s good now…why do we need to change?” Because, “The only constant is change” (Heraclitus).

Proof?  You’ve probably heard of Hilton Hotels. The first Hilton Hotel opened during the Great Depression.

Here’s a real-life example. My wife and I started a non-profit organization in 2009 to assist band and orchestra students in our local school district afford private music lessons and summer camp experiences. Not the greatest economic climate to start something, many would say, since the stock market dive in October 2008 led to the Great Recession.  Our goal was to raise $10,000 a year.  We surpassed that by the end of 2010, and the fund has continued to grow.  Five years later, the band won the State championship competition, and their success helped to generate a grant from a foundation, as well as several major gifts and matching gifts from the employers of the donors.  The fund now raises almost $25,000 per year.  Just last month, the band was awarded first place in their class (2A) at the Music For All/Bands of America National Championships.  Indeed, success begets success!  Despair and hand-wringing lead to failure.

“Now” is a time of change…and we only need to look to the news to see how extensive that change is with three pervasive Ps – pandemic, politics and protests – and, amen, it IS the acceptable time.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2021