Since we’ve just ended another cycle of the five aspects of advancement, here’s this year’s edition of the “Midsummer Nights’ Assignment.”

I read at least two books over the summer and one during the school year.  Most of them deal with sales and the behavior of customers. Before you think that has nothing to do with schools, that’s precisely why many schools struggling to fill every desk are having such difficulties!

Development requires the same processes that sales requires – keep track of constituents, asking for gifts of funding (rather than asking for the sale), and following up with donors and prospective donors (rather than customers and prospective customers).

The enrollment process is congruent to the sales process too, since all constructs which must be present to allow a company to excel at sales are the same constructs that must be present in your tuition-charging school – a great product, great service, great people to connect with, a great feeling of enthusiasm in the tummies of members of your school’s parent community, and great word of mouth marketing from those raving fans of your school.

(Tangent warning:  You may have just thought, “A great feeling of enthusiasm in the tummies of members of your school’s parent community?  What does that mean?  Don’t you mean “minds and hearts?”  No, I don’t.  The mind and the heart are not the real seats of emotion.  For more about that, drop an email to [email protected] with the words “Seat of Emotion.”)

Most schools give their students a required summer reading assignment. The Diocese where I used to work had a Superintendent that made all us staff members as well as all the principals of the schools take on a summer reading assignment too!  Because we want our students to become life-long learners, we have to lead by example.

If they have a summer reading assignment, so do you.

Here are some resources I’ve gathered over the past few years. Pick one and read it. I must say that I never enjoyed reading, except reading about music and reading music.  My teachers always wanted me to read the newspapers to become informed about  events in the world, which only served to depress me, and do even more today!  Further, after speaking with students today, I’ve found it has the same effect on them, and psychology experts agree that news overload can create and reinforce a “scarcity” mentality rather than an “abundance” mentality.

And, by the way, it’s one of the issues behind social media and the polarization of our nation today – negativity sells, and the media need to attract viewers or listeners to offer advertising space.  The other issues are lack of respect, as well as a lack of concern for others.  Put all those three together, and you have today’s perfect storm.

So the next time you’re on social media, don’t get caught up in what’s being posted, but note that all the comments happen after someone shares a news item, their thoughts, requests for help in finding someone to do repair work, or life-changing and happy events (but psychologists say even too much of that can be depressing, since it could seem like everyone is happy except the reader).  It’s usually the comments after that item that causes the polarizing discussions to ensue.

So unplug, grab a book, and enjoy reading.  Focused reading.  Not on an eReader or your mobile device, because the alerts are distracting and will drag you back into the rabbit hole, and as research has shown, it’ll take you twice as long as you spend on it to bring you back to what you were doing and regain focus.

I’ve enjoyed these texts, as they have enflamed my passion for helping schools to grow – and, at times, have brought them back from the brink of closure.

While The Bible is the source of  much inspiration (especially the Book of Proverbs), if you read a chapter a day, it would take you about 3 years  and 3 months to complete it (or, you could read 3 or 4 chapters a day and  complete it in a year).  The following books, however, should take you only a couple of  days to a few weeks to complete. Give yourself the goal to finish it before the new school year begins. You can find them in your local Barnes and Noble or online at, and there are used copies available for extra savings.

Think Again by Adam Grant.  The sub-title is, “The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.”   This book takes a fresh look at critical thinking and the importance of questioning your opinions (not your beliefs and certainly not proven truths).  Grant argues that from this exercise comes wisdom, and the potential to position ourselves for success.  From the synopsis at

Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but in a rapidly changing world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. In our daily lives, too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We listen to opinions that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard. We see disagreement as a threat to our egos, rather than an opportunity to learn. We surround ourselves with people who agree with our conclusions, when we should be gravitating toward those who challenge our thought process. The result is that our beliefs get brittle long before our bones. We think too much like preachers defending our sacred beliefs, prosecutors proving the other side wrong, and politicians campaigning for approval–and too little like scientists searching for truth. Intelligence is no cure, and it can even be a curse: being good at thinking can make us worse at rethinking. The brighter we are, the blinder to our own limitations we can become.

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath (the authors of “Made to Stick”).  Here’s the description, which speaks to the experience of your school:

While human lives are endlessly variable, our most memorable positive moments are dominated by four elements: elevation, insight, pride, and connection. If we embrace these elements, we can conjure more moments that matter. What if a teacher could design a lesson that he knew his students would remember twenty years later? What if a manager knew how to create an experience that would delight customers? What if you had a better sense of how to create memories that matter for your children?

Remember that EVERY experience doesn’t have to be a delightful one, simply because we don’t remember “everything.”  Your camera takes pictures to help you remember those incredible “moments” that you want to remember.  Keep that in mind as you plan the “experiences” your school will offer its parents, students, parents of prospective students, donors, and prospective donors (that’s your five audiences) in the coming school year.

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni – I’m a fan of this author!  Check out this description from, and then consider the question at the end of the paragraph:

There is a competitive advantage out there, arguably more powerful than any other. Is it superior strategy? Faster innovation? Smarter employees? No, New York Times best-selling author Patrick Lencioni argues that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre ones has little to do with what they know and how smart they are and more to do with how healthy they are. In this book, Lencioni brings together his vast experience and many of the themes cultivated in his other best-selling books and delivers a first: a cohesive and comprehensive exploration of the unique advantage organizational health provides.  Simply put, an organization is healthy when it is whole, consistent and complete, when its management, operations and culture are unified.  Healthy organizations outperform their counterparts, are free of politics and confusion and provide an environment where star performers never want to leave.

Now, consider your school.  Is it “healthy,” or is it struggling to gain enrollment, development and fiscal health?  As a leader of your school, this is one of those brutal facts you need to look squarely in the eye.  The reason?  Parents looking at your school today want to keep their children there for the duration of their educational experience.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown – I chose this book, thinking it might be counter-intuitive to systems thinking since Advancement Directors need to do be mindful of everything working together as a system.  However, it actually reinforced some of the concepts I’ve offered in, such as making one each day of the week dedicated to one of the elements of Advancement.  When someone wants to hold a meeting with you regarding marketing on a Tuesday, but Thursday is your day to focus on Marketing, perhaps “No” is the correct response, especially if Tuesday is the day you’ve set aside to focus on Development by meeting with 4 prospective donors.

Create Distinction by Scott McKain – Scott shares the 4 Cornerstones of Distinction as a framework for how to make your school “distinctive.”  While I like to use the word “Remarkable,” the fact of the matter remains that you cannot be just like the school that’s just down the road from you.  While you might say, “We’re different,” if you both claim a focus on faith identity, excellent academics, and a caring and safe environment, then one of the two schools has no reason to exist.

The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising by Larry C. Johnson, CFRE – Larry has literally written the book on Development, calling it “Sustainable Fundraising.”  This verbiage distinguishes practices which support raising funds through donor engagement from what most folks call “Fundraising,” which is short-term focused.  Trying to support your school for the long-term on constant fundraising activities is an exercise in futility.  Larry’s eight principles provide a standards against which your processes can be evaluated.

What Customers Really Want: How to Bridge the Gap  Between What Your Organization Offers and What Your Clients Crave by Scott  McKain – Think students are your customers? Think again. Parents are. Why is  your enrollment declining? Because the tuition is too high, right? Think again.  Perhaps your parents aren’t perceiving value, and aren’t being treated the way  they want to be treated. The average per student tuition is hovering between $4,000 and $5,000 per child in  many faith-based elementary schools (5 years ago, it was around $3,500) and the cost of education is just over $5,000. When you consider that a “major gift” in  development circles is anything over $2,500, it’s not enough just to send your  parents a bill…especially if they have 2 or more children in your school (even with multi-child “incentives”).

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to  Take Action by Simon Sinek – Starting with WHY works in big business and small  business, in the nonprofit world and in politics. Those who start with WHY never  manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because  they have to; they follow because they want to.

Teach With Your Strengths: How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students by Rosanne Liesveld, Jo Ann  Miller and Jennifer Robinson – Think you’re good at something? You might be, but  it might not be one of your five top strengths. Focus on using these strengths,  and great results will follow.

Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow  by Karen Casey – As a culture, we fight change. But it’s the only other thing  that’s inevitable after death and taxes. So many schools see things changing  (declining enrollment, increasing tuition), and wonder what they can do about  it. If what you’re doing doesn’t bring positive results, then you have to change.  And it starts with your mind.  Changing demographics and depressed economies aren’t the reasons faith-based schools are closing.  The real danger is the mindset of pastors, principals, business managers and today’s parents of school students.

The Six Secrets of Change by Michael Fullan – In today’s business world, one of the most sought after skills today is an expertise in change management.  If you know you have to change some things or practices in your school in order to make it grow, this text provides what is necessary for change to happen successfully.

The Little Black Book of Connections by Jeffrey Gitomer –  Connections are important to success today. It’s not only who you know, it’s who  knows you. If nobody knows about you or your school, chances are your enrollment  efforts aren’t successful and your development efforts are lackluster. From an  alumni perspective, it’s not only who knows you, but who you will know. Make  those connections now, especially through social networking on the Internet.  Speaking of online presence, how is your school’s Web site?  Does it look like it’s 10 years old?  Was the last time it was updated more than a week ago?  Does it look the same on a computer as it does on a mobile device?  If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, this is your wake-up call.

The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn – Believe it  or not, Jesus talks about money in the Scriptures more than He talks about  heaven. It’s how we use not only the talents, but the time and the treasure that  are given to us which will determine how we’ll get to heaven.

The Dip by Seth Godin – In any great endeavor, there is always  a “dip” – that period where things seem darkest right before they takeoff and  turn into something wildly successful. It’s just that we don’t know how long the  dip will last if we keep working at it – which is why people throw in the towel  at the most inopportune moment.

Purple Cow by Seth Godin – Wouldn’t it be  a remarkable thing to drive past a field of grazing cows, and see one that’s  purple? You might even stop the car, grab your cellphone and take a picture of  it, to show that you weren’t hallucinating. If you want people to stop what  they’re doing and take a closer look at your school, your school must be  remarkable, distinguishing it from other schools around it. Is  it?

Retention: A Systems Approach to Growing Enrollment – by yours truly!  You can get your copy at  If you’ve already read it, then consider Marketing: A 12-Step Plan To Increase Inquiries to Your School.  It’s available at

(By the way, I have the URLs listed here since they’re not available on or

Next week, we’ll take a look at a framework you can use to make Advancement work for  you.  Since you’re familiar with how a student’s schedule in your school looks, you may like  this – a lot.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2023