Create an Advancement Council

This is more of an “advancement” tip than a marketing tip, but since marketing is part of advancement, and new school year is just getting underway for many parts of the country, this might be a good time to step back and look at the big picture rather than having a laser-like focus on marketing.

A few years ago, I spoke with a colleague in Development who just completed a year of work with a consulting firm that works with Catholic schools.  She was feeling quite overwhelmed, since the school had set up quite a few standing committees to work on issues that were of importance to the school – a marketing committee, a recruitment committee, a finance committee, etc. Your school may have these types of committees in place as well.

The concern was how to be a part of all these committees, and meet when they planned their meetings. After all, the coordination of the activities of these committees fell to the Development Director.

Knowing that the average “life-expectancy” for a Development Director is 18 MONTHS, an additional 5 to 7 meetings per month is a great way to shorten that lifespan. Sometimes, the Development Director is seen as the “glue” that holds all the processes together, coordinates the efforts, and make sure everyone is on the same page.  The Development Director is really the cheerleader, the relationship builder, that creates the base of any advancement effort, and Asset Management is the glue.

But what if you’re a part-time Development Director (by the way, there is no such thing…even though your school may categorize your position as such). Your workload has just increased, and chances are, this will take away from the time that you have to seek major gifts, cultivate planned giving, write grant proposals and coordinate annual fund activities.

It helps to remember three things:

  1. There has to be a vision for the school
  2. These committees are in place to help with the processes involved in advancement, and
  3. There is a way that all the committees can be coordinated with only one meeting per month.

Simply remember the words of Jesus: “Let the children come to me.”

While that might sound demeaning to the individuals involved with the committees, it helps to remember the importance of roles, and the part they play in achieving goals. Think of your school as a successful corporation. If you were the CEO of a soap company, what would you do if the head of marketing came in with a great idea to market a new soft drink? That may sound ridiculous, but it’s comparable to committees that think of themselves as think-tanks, and come up with ideas for someone else to fund, plan, implement, and assess effectiveness. Multiply that by, oh, say, SEVEN committees, and you’ll have a development director looking for another place to work (or at least a soft pillow to cushion the blow of repeated head banging against the nearest wall).

Specialized committees need to know that they are “working” committees.  While they are called “advisory,” that doesn’t mean they’re to “advise” you on what to do, then step back and let you do all the work to make “their” vision a reality.  Advisory committees are not Governing committees – like the school board.  You might have a marketing committee that has a copywriter, a Web design expert, an advertising salesperson from the local radio station, a public relations professional, and a stay-at-home mom who used to be an administrative assistant before she started her family. Other committees may be composed of individuals with other gifts and talent which can be very useful to the work of that committee (A CPA and a bookkeeper on the finance committee, etc.).

Each of these committees must elect one person as the committee representative to the Advancement Committee. In our DREAM paradigm, we’d have a Development Committee, and Enrollment Committee, a Retention Committee, an Asset Management Committee and a Marketing Committee. Then, the chosen representatives come to the Advancement Committee meeting to share what’s going on in those committees, and then communicate back to the respective committees the proceedings of the Advancement Committee.  To continue the metaphor of the soap company, does the CEO go to each of the individual committee meetings?  No.  They’re making the connections and developing the relationships to make their business grow.

The school has a vision, and it is the role of the Advancement Director to advance that school toward that vision. In this respect, the committees help that process along. They don’t come up with their own ideas that may be out of step along the path that the school is taking toward its vision. The committees support the work of the school, and do (not just suggest) the work. This way, the Development Director becomes an Advancement Director, and only has one meeting a month to add to the schedule. However, one person from each of the committees now has two meetings they must attend…their committee, and the Advancement Committee meeting.

The net effect of this structure is that you’ll probably see the number of people on the committees decrease. When a committee is formed, many volunteer because they may want their voice to be heard, offering suggestions as to what should be done. When they find out that they’ll have to actually do work that may not be in step with what they’d like to see accomplished at that time, they quickly disappear. That’s not to say their suggestion was not a good one – the timing may not be right, or there may need to be other procedures put into place before their idea can be implemented successfully.

The vision of the school provides the map as to where the school is going. If your school does not have a vision, you might want to develop a detailed one before you put committees in place. Otherwise, they’ll create the vision – which may not be where the school administration wants to go. If you need to create a compelling vision for your school, check out “Create a Compelling Vision.”

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2009-2014 (Original Publication Date: 20090831)