Ten Essentials for Sustaining Catholic Education

August 2, 2011

The national conversation on saving Catholic schools has gained momentum and moved beyond defining the scope and nature of the problem to sharing real progress. A growing movement in the philanthropic community focuses on creating change and implementing best practices to sustain and ensure the future of Catholic schools. Here we share Ten Essentials for Sustaining Catholic Education.

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1.    Seize the power of “and”

It is not a question of embracing either Catholic identity or academic excellence—it’s both. In today’s marketplace, we must be true to our mission and ensure first-rate academics. Whether promoting faith formation and test scores, securing press coverage for service projects and academic outcomes, or celebrating a Feast Day and MATHCOUNTS victory, we must tell our story with confidence and authority.

2.    Brand yourself

What makes the school unique? What sets it apart? Each school must identify its mission and communicate what is meaningful and relevant in a clear, concise and compelling way. If successful, the school will capture the desire, interest and imaginations of prospective parents and donors. Increased enrollment, retention, donor engagement and giving totals will follow.

3.    Know that behind every great company is a great CEO

Every school needs a great principal, a leader of the school community. To ensure this, you have to cast a wide net with professional and robust searches, leadership development and the authority to make decisions.

4.    Move beyond advisory boards

Boards of Specified Jurisdiction have official authority and entrust the laity with decision making, policy making and financial accountability. The boards are composed of the pastor and members of the school community who are goal and results oriented.

5.    Get your financial house in order

In focus groups with parents, a common criticism has emerged: They don’t know what’s happening with the financial management of the school. Following best practices in any business, schools need to generate and share financial information independent from the parish. The school must be transparent in its reporting and accountable in its actions.

6.    Change the candy bar culture

Schools must transition from sales-based fundraising to mission-based fundraising. We need to do what independent schools and Catholic universities have done for years:  annual appeals and major gift fundraising. In a culture of philanthropy, giving is no longer an obligation mandated by the parish, but rather a commitment by donors to making a difference in the school because they want to.

7.    Act like you are prepared to receive a $100,000 gift

Be sure to say thank you for the gift, use it for the purpose that the donor says and provide regular updates and ongoing engagement for the donor.

8.    Welcome the pastor who supports Catholic schools from the “pulpit”

Catholic schools are a mission of the Church and a mission of the parish. The pastor must be an advocate of the school and be proactive in speaking to everything that the school has to offer. The pastor is fully engaged in promoting the school—its mission, its brand, its successes and the value of the education.

9.    Let your voice be heard

Engage state legislatures through grassroots support for Catholic education. Whether in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida or any other state, advocacy for Catholic schools must include school choice and tax credit initiatives.

10.    Hire an advancement director

Every school needs a full time person who owns enrollment management, fundraising, communications and constituent relations as well as board support. The advancement director should be the principal’s “right arm.”