Many schools have begun to realize that there are two things a school must do to ensure a long-term viability for their school:
1) Fill every desk (in other words, focus on Enrollment); and
2) Seek outside sources for funds (in other words, focus on Development).
These two strategies are “long-term” in nature. In other words, while all school leaders would like 30 additional students to show up on their doorstep tomorrow morning, or a check for $50,000 to arrive in tomorrow’s mail, chances are it will take years of work to get to that point.
Further, we have come to believe there are two sides to every story, and, if these are long-term strategies, then there must be short-term strategies. Interestingly, and incorrectly, the most popular strategy that most schools “discover” is Marketing. Today, with the promise of instant connectivity that social media purports, school boards and administrations are putting energies and resources into building their social media presence, thinking that doing so will produce immediate results.
Unfortunately, that could be one of the reasons why many faith-based and private schools are still shrinking and closing today.
It is true that Marketing drives both Enrollment and Development, the long-term strategies listed above. Marketing has a two-fold purpose; to attract parents currently not engaged with the school, and to share the achievements and accomplishments of the school and its students with alumni and other constituent and stakeholder communities.
But if you’ve been a frequent visitor to the SchoolAdvancement Web site, you’ll realize that thinking there are two sides to every issue is incorrect. There are never only two sides to every story, situation or coin…there are at least three.
With that in mind, Marketing is not a “short-term” strategy – it’s a “medium-term” strategy.
In 1985, I was hired as the Program Director of a public radio station. It was owned by a University and featured a patchwork of programming – NPR, jazz, classical, opera, ethnic programming, old-time radio programs, long-form interviews, as well as new music and talk radio programming. I was assigned the task of getting more listeners for the station so it could raise more monies from fundraising (the on-air marathons, which are still around today!) and rival the community-based public radio station that focused solely on Classical music for underwriting dollars. The station manager wanted to promote the station with billboard campaigns…but the product’s audience changed with every program that aired, and student announcers had a tendency to mispronounce names of world leaders, as well as names of classical composers. We had to get our programming streamlined and strengthened first, so that if someone tuned in, they stayed with us because of the quality of the programming, rather than waiting for the next mistake a student or volunteer would make.
How does this relate to our schools? Would you market your school to new parents if your kindergarten classroom’s roof was leaking? Would you hold an open house if the heat wasn’t working? If your school’s achievement scores were below the local public school’s, would you be proud to share that information with your prospective families? In almost every instance, you have to fix the product before you can market it.
And even if everything is “right” about your school, it will take time to develop a marketing plan and implement it properly.
If Marketing is a medium-term strategy, then are there short-term strategies? Are there things schools can do right now to help firm up their financial foundation? Yes! Remember that all five of these elements make up SchoolAdvancement’s DREAM acronym (Development, Retention, Enrollment, Asset Management and Marketing). In fact, it’s our assertion that Fundraising is not synonymous with Development which is not synonymous with Advancement. Advancement actually refers to advancing the mission of an organization toward its vision, and there’s much more to that than simply generating funds. This is especially true for faith-based and private schools.
Since two of these elements are long-term strategies and one is a medium-term strategy, that leaves two remaining strategies, which are “short-term” ones. Retention, in this case, does not deal with not promoting a student to the next grade as it does in the public school setting. It means keeping students currently enrolled in your school enrolled in your school. While that may sound redundant, it’s worth reading again, and again, since retaining students means keeping their parents and guardians engaged with your school community. It’s only when they “graduate” from your school that they become approachable alumni and parents of alumni that will potentially support your school. It’s also important to realize that retaining students requires different thinking than attracting new ones. Parents and guardians of these students are part of your current school community, and keeping them engaged with your school requires different strategies than those which are necessary for starting to engage parents and guardians of prospective students who you are hoping to enroll in your school.
Asset Management means successfully capturing all your school’s programmatic revenue – such as tuition and fees – and using these assets properly when it comes to financial aid allocation. Parents need to take their tuition obligation seriously, and now more than ever before, using a third-party tuition management and financial need assessment company makes a great deal of sense.
Both of these strategies drive Marketing. Successful Asset Management will allow you to budget funds to successfully implement a marketing plan, complete with an interactive and responsive Web site. Today, it’s the “face” of your school, and many times, the first interaction families and donors have with your school. Retention constantly engages involved parents and guardians in your school’s community, fostering the best marketing strategy that money can’t buy – positive Word of Mouth Marketing. You can subscribe to this Web site for various articles about Retention as posted with the “Advancementality” category, or pick up my text on Retention by visiting this link. As for Asset Management, I’m sure you know what company I’m going to recommend to you. Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll tell you why.
By the way, there are three sides to every coin – the obverse (head), the reverse (tail), and…the edge.
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2015 (Original Publication Date: 20100208)