Wisdom, Serenity, Chaos and Timing

This week’s Marketing Matter (TM) deals with these four items, which, at first glance, could be difficult to connect to each other – Wisdom and Serenity are part of the “Serenity Prayer,” but Serenity and Chaos are opposites, and what’s Timing got to do with any of them?

I hope this will help “connect the dots.”  There are three parts to this week’s article: “The Difficulty of Change,” “The Advantage of Chaos,” and “Where is ‘When?'”  These could actually be three Marketing Matters, but because of “Timing,” it seems best to present them all at the same time.

They need to be presented in the context of the Serenity Prayer for them to make sense.  Although I’m sure you may know it, here is the first part:

“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”
– Reinhold Niebuhr

The Difficulty of Change

The following passage is from “Living Faith,” a small book of daily reflections and scripture passages, from July 20, 2005.  It’s extremely applicable to our current place in history, especially with parents calling our schools at this time of year, withdrawing their children, while other parents wonder if there’s any financial aid remaining at this late date.

“The Israelites could neither change the desert nor leave it. They found themselves thrown into an impossible situation that they could do nothing about. They could not help themselves. There was no possibility of living off the land. They did not know the way out of the desert. They were frustrated on all sides. The whole experience was a meaningless waste. And so they complained. Grumbling is the response of those who are unable to do anything else. Grumbling is a response made in utter frustration.

The Israelites complained chiefly about food and water, the things they needed most and could not procure for themselves in the desert. But these complaints about primary needs were symbolic of their entire experience of being in the desert at all. The desert was God’s way of bringing them to a state of total dependence on Him, and trust in Him. The longer they complained and refused to surrender to God, the longer the desert experience lasted.”

When we view our schools as ONLY a business, we put the entire burden of running the facility on the “customers” – in this case, the parents. That won’t work.  When we view our schools as ONLY a ministry, we put the entire burden of running the facility on the parish or church. For the majority of parishes and churches, that won’t work either.

It takes parents. It takes the parish or church. It takes people in the community. It takes alumni. It takes businesses. It takes friends and family that care. It takes other schools working cooperatively rather than competitively.  Seven components – but there are two more components – one of them is not of this world, but works through us.  It’s the “Holy Spirit” factor.  Too many people incorrectly exclaim a different second word of that phrase which begins and ends with the same letter.

We may think we can’t do anything to change our situation (since, if we know we don’t like the results we’ve been getting, something has to change).  But the ninth component is one thing that has even has the power to touch God.  We have free access to it, and we need to use it.  Prayer, according to Pastor Robert Schuller, is “The power to pull all things together successfully.”

The Advantage of Chaos

So you’ve decided to change some things…but only some things, because you don’t want to upset too many people at the same time.  You may want to rethink that approach.

Remember that with Advancement, you cannot think linearly; you must think systemically.  You can’t just do marketing, then development, then enrollment.  You can’t simply pick a starting point.  You might be inspired by one point, but can’t continue to work along that one item until it’s moving along.  I know one school that jumped on the Development bandwagon and raised over 1 million dollars in four years – all the while their enrollment was eroding.  Five years ago, future development projects funded by these donors were in jeopardy because the school was not showing growth from the previous contributions that were made.  Today, it’s closed.

You may want to consider making as many changes as possible at once for three reasons:  1) There’s always something to attend to.  If something “isn’t broken,” that doesn’t mean to leave it alone.  It may be the one thing that impedes the rest of the system’s progress.  2) Change is going to upset many people.  Dragging out changes upsets more people as the timeline drags on (now you can see how “Timing” fits).  Upsetting everyone all at once creates a sense of urgency that calls for everyone to do their part to pitch in and support the organization they’re a part of.  Remember, if something doesn’t personally affect someone, they’re not going to react until something does.  When you want to get as many people involved as possible, upset the apple cart so that everyone needs to get in there and clean it up.  3) As time moves on, you’re not making “changes” anymore – you’re making “adjustments.”  There’s a subtle difference in understanding.  Yes, an “adjustment” is a change, but it’s not perceived that way.  When you adjust, you’re still continuing with the plan, whereas a “change” would be a radical departure from the plan.

Notice that a plan must be the blueprint that is followed.  As a leader, you have to lay out your vision and goals so that people will “buy in” to the changes being made.  Those that become energized about the plan will speak with others to bring them to realization.  On a greater scale, it’s what we’re called to do, since evangelization is everyone’s job.

Where is “When?”

After publishing a recent Marketing Matter, I received some feedback asking why I did not address “When?”  I made the point of being able to answer the questions “Who, What, Where, Why and How,” but forgot the sixth question, When?  That’s intentional.  It’s because we never really know “When.”  We can plan for “When” to give us milestones, but the other five questions are more important than “When.”  Unfortunately, in our society of immediacy, even saying “in five years” as part of a strategic five-year plan is too long for some.  Most of society wants, no, expects, results “NOW!”  That’s a mindset that’s been formed via the media, and supported via the acceleration of technology.  For many things, however, it’s not a matter of “our time.”  If we accept that “With God, all things are possible,” we also need to acknowledge that the vision will come to fruition in “God’s time.”  Besides, we have to implement all the other elements (Case, Vision, Values, Mission and Strategic Plan) all at once, as in, “now,” to set the system in place, making “When” a moot point.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2015 (Original Publication Date: 20100809)