Moving the needle on Diversity

Tutorial in two parts, with discussion questions

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

Study Guide for Video:
Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with several insightful leaders in the field of diversity. I have learned a great deal from them and they have asked me and other white colleagues to speak out on what I have learned about racism from the perspective of a white administrator of a faith-based school. If ever there were a time to share their lessons, it is now, when we have the opportunity to truly move the needle.

I have taken some practical insights which have appeared in earlier posts and formatted them into an 8 ½ minute video tutorial that will foster discussion among boards and administrative teams. It is broken into two parts to allow for discussion. The first part invites participants to reflect on what diversity is, why it’s important, challenges to achieving it and understanding outcomes. At the end of Part 1, please pause the video and invite participants into a discussion using the questions provided.

Text of video, Part 1
Most schools struggle with the challenge of diversity. They want to serve all kinds of students, but they often can’t attract under-represented minorities or fully involve them in the life of the school. Working on diversity was one of my greatest challenges as a school president, but also one of my greatest sources of joy. In the process, I learned that to understand why our schools struggle to achieve their diversity goals, we have to answer a few questions and we have to answer them honestly:

Why is diversity important?
What do we mean by diversity?
Why is it so difficult to achieve?
And what is our goal?

First, why is diversity important to us? As faith-based schools, we’re in the business of forming students with competence, conscience and compassion. If ours school were transplanted to the 1850’s, we’d like to think that the education our students now receive would give them the intellectual clarity and moral courage to recognize the evils of slavery.

But the views we would have been educating against were deeply woven into the culture, and opposing them would be as radical as anything we can conceive of today. The reason that diversity is important, is that after hundreds of years and many generations of weaving, the racism on which slavery was founded is still woven into our culture. Even in American cities we think of today as diverse, people of color are still experiencing exclusion from opportunity.

White people like me may not experience racism directly, but those whose skin is brown can experience it in some form on a daily basis. And it still has a huge influence on who has access to the rich opportunities our schools can provide.

So if we’re serious about fostering diversity in our schools, we have to face the legacy of slavery which, in many ways, continues to perpetuate the racism that is still alive today, even in the communities we serve. And doing something about it will arouse deep feelings, which can include fear, resentment, guilt and denial.

The second question is “What does diversity mean to us?” There are many kinds of diversity: economic, gender, academic or even geographic diversity with international students. As important as they are, the biggest challenge is including students whose families have been treated for centuries, to borrow Jesus’ words, as the “least of these.” Reaching out to the most excluded in our culture is still the apostolic frontier for faith-based schools, and at some point we have to cross that frontier and make a commitment to do things differently in order to achieve different results.

We’ve talked about why diversity is important and what it is. In the next part of this tutorial we’ll talk about why diversity is so difficult to achieve, what our goals are and some practical steps our schools can take to achieve more meaningful diversity. But for now, please press the pause button on your device and invite the members of your team to discuss the following questions.

Discussion Questions for Part 1:
1. How do you see issues around diversity, equity and inclusion relating to our school’s mission and spirituality?
2. Ask each individual to talk about what diversity means to them personally.
3. How important is having the diversity you’ve described? Why?
4. What kind of diversity do other members of the school community feel is important?
5. What have been our school’s successes and challenges in the area of diversity?
6. What sources do you look to to inform you about how our school is doing in this area?

Text of video, Part 2
In Part 1 we talked about why diversity is important to faith-based schools and what we mean by diversity. The third question is why is achieving racial diversity so difficult? I used to think that publishing our Equal Opportunity Statement would ensure that the barriers would be removed. But it became clear that most of the barriers are hidden. Barriers may be finances, language, location, lack of awareness and the symbols we use. Each of these must be addressed if a school wants a student body drawn from all communities, and many schools have made heroic commitments to eliminating these barriers.

But perhaps the biggest barrier is one we don’t see. “Whose school is this?” No one wants to attend someone else’s school. If I am Black, I don’t want to attend or send my children to a school that is clearly intended to serve White people. Because at some point, I will encounter something that tells me or my child, this isn’t “your” school. It may be the parking lot supervisor who interrogates me when I come to pick up my child. It may be being called on to give the “African American perspective” during a discussion of Huckleberry Finn.

Closely related is “Whose voices are heard?” Are there people on the board or in the administration or faculty who understand my experience because they have also lived it? If I am one of a handful of Latino parents, do I have to go to the parent information night where no one else would have my question or concern, or ask it in the same language? If the campus doesn’t always feel safe to me, is there a safe place I can go to get myself grounded again? And do most people at the school not understand why that safe place is even important, because for them the whole school is their safe place?

Finally, “What is our real goal here?” Is our goal to be able to say our school does not discriminate? That shouldn’t be hard to achieve. We don’t have to actively discriminate in a system where the barriers are built in. Maybe our goal is more substantial, like being inclusive and welcoming. This requires us to become more aware of the hidden ways in which we are not welcoming.

But the mission of our schools calls us to go a step further. Our institutions and our students have a responsibility to use their intelligence, skills and resources to dismantle and finally eliminate racism not only in ourselves but in society. To be anti-racist.

So here’s my advice to administrators and boards who are serious about moving the needle on diversity in their schools.

First, take time to have honest conversations about the questions we talked about above. Use the same depth of discernment and involve the same levels of the organization you would use to formulate your mission statement.

Second, if you are white like me, put yourself in situations where you are in a minority, like attending a Black or Latino church service, and ask what it would take for you to feel at home. Then imagine what it would take for the people around you to feel at home in your school.

Third, provide safe ways that students and parents of color can educate you about their needs, perceptions and challenges. It’s difficult for them to express this in a setting where most people don’t already share their experience. You’ll have to earn their trust, because many before you have lost it.

Finally, you’ll have to dedicate great effort to recruit faculty, administrators and trustees of color, and support them in the challenges of isolation that they will feel. One of the best ways is to keep in touch with your own students of color and invite them back to join the team. It’s a long game, but there is no short game on this one.

It’s hard to do this topic justice in a few paragraphs. If you want to learn more about discernment and other tools that can help you approach this and other school challenges, please explore our website at Feel free to forward this post and video to others who are key to meeting your school’s commitment to diversity. And thanks for having the courage to assure that the blessings of your school are available to all God’s children.

Discussion Questions for Part 2:
1. What difficulties has your school encountered in trying to be more open and supportive to students of color and their families?
2. How would you describe their experiences students of color are having at your school based on what you know?
3. What sources do you look to to understand their experiences?
4. What words would you use to describe what your goal should be in this area: e.g. 1) eliminating all discriminatory policies; 2) having a school as diverse as the surrounding community; 3) ensuring that all students and families feel fully included; 4) ensuring that groups which have been held back by prior discrimination have equal access to opportunities; 5) forming a community which is committed to dismantling overt and covert racism within the school and beyond.
5. What opposition do you anticipate to the goals you’d like to see the school pursue?
6. What would you personally be willing to do to support the goals?

Special thanks to Dr. Saj Kabadi of Regis Jesuit High School, Barbara Henderson of Bellarmine Preparatory School, Matt Balano of St. Ignatius College Prep, Dr. Donna Andrade of Fairfield College Preparatory School and Gwen White for their contributions to this post.

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Future-Forward Leadership

Leading Catholic Schools Through the COVID Crisis by Living Our Mission

Jeff Hausman, President, Arrupe Virtual Learning Institute
Jack Peterson, Principal, Managing for Mission

Dr. Tim Uhl, Superintendent, Montana Catholic Schools, and Blogger/Podcaster: “Catholic School Matters”

The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a worldwide crisis, it is a defining moment in the history of our Catholic schools as we have been presented with an entirely new reality. Not only are students and parents negotiating this new educational reality, many are relying on and searching for community and a deeper purpose in a time of great anxiety and confusion. The core tenets of our Catholic schools – educational excellence, leadership, faith, and community – uniquely position us to respond, serving our students, their families, and the Church.

Though the crisis is real and immediate, this is not a time for hasty action. Our response must be rooted in mission and consider the now, this coming fall, and the future. The following attempts to provide guidance to all who work in, support and benefit from Catholic schools as we negotiate the particular challenges that exist in our local communities.

The leadership of now.

There is a special brand of situational leadership needed in the midst of crisis that calls for clarity and action: clarity of vision and in communication, and integrity of actions. School heads and principals must reassure, listen, assess, formulate, and act. Ground your actions in values. Commit to your plan recognizing that it will need adjusting, and ask for forgiveness when necessary.

Educational excellence must remain at the center of our Catholic schools’ work. However, schools may need to temporarily redefine what excellence looks like. Excellence is defined by quality, integrity, and resilience. What are the quality standards schools should strive to attain in the next two months?  Integrity involves matching behaviors with purpose. What practices and benchmarks define the needed response? What supports are in place to help faculty and staff remain resilient and stay the course?

While educational excellence is paramount, the hallmark of Catholic education is the building of community and its focus on faith. Building community is our expertise and in times of crisis people seek out experts. Witnessing the ways in which schools are responding to students and parents is inspiring. Schools are using online tools to facilitate the ritual of daily morning prayer, the celebration of the Mass, the continuation of clubs and extracurriculars, communicating parenting tips, and simply being present to those in their communities. All of these efforts make a real difference for students and families, and they flow naturally from the hearts of our schools. This is Catholic education at its finest. We are grateful to all our colleagues engaged in this work with such courage and generosity.

These efforts also build goodwill for what comes next. The harder and more important part of leadership will be negotiating our new normal. One of the great metaphors of leadership during turmoil is that of taking a bridge to the opposite shore of a fast flowing river. Once the bridge has been crossed, however, many yearn for the safety of the familiar and wish to return. Sometimes the role of the leader is to burn the bridge to prevent a retreat. In today’s world, the coronavirus has burned the bridge for us, and the sooner we come to terms with the fact that we won’t be returning, the better off we’ll be.

This fall’s leadership.

Today, the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. Our hope is that schools will be in session in the fall but interruptions are likely. There is a strong possibility that enrollments will be down. Foreign exchange programs will suffer. Some parents will remain out of work. Endowments may be smaller and in all likelihood schools’ financial situations will be more precarious. Educators will be stressed not only from teaching, but from the disruptions to their personal lives caused by the pandemic. In short, things will remain unpredictable, and there will be a gap between current and desired programming and the resources available to support them. Pretending otherwise is folly.

This spring, our schools have been improvising and reacting to the new circumstances.  As we begin planning for what will almost certainly be a rocky 2020-21 school year, it’s important to ensure that these plans align with mission. For those in leadership, a clear-headed assessment of the state of your schools is essential. Hard choices will likely follow, and great care will be required to shape schools’ apostolic purpose, pedagogical practice, operations, and community.  It’s worth spending some time to consider how we would like our Catholic schools to be different this fall as a result of  their remote learning experience this spring.  How will the lessons from this spring shape this fall?

Leading into the future.

How we choose to negotiate 2020-21 will help inform a larger discussion about the future of schools – a future in need of a serious rethinking of “business as usual.” Up until now, this article has not advocated for any particular approach or solution as schools find themselves in widely different circumstances. Here, however, we must. We believe that the future success of individual Catholic schools lies in the collective of Catholic schools, setting aside competition and siloes. Schools must collaborate. Those who are willing and able to look outside themselves and innovate have a strong chance of stemming the tide and emerging as better, more flexible versions of themselves. Those that aren’t willing won’t.

Once again, we must turn to our core tenets of educational excellence, leadership, faith, and community. This time, however, the focus shifts from how schools currently live out their mission to how they envision living their mission in a manner attuned with the needs and capacities of their communities. We each need to ask ourselves:

  • How do Catholic schools orient their work toward their apostolic purpose of faith and service?
  • What does excellence look like for our students in Catholic schools? And how can we build a pedagogical model that best prepares them for a life of engagement for and with the world community?
  • Are there new business paradigms that might make schools more effective, efficient, responsive, and sustainable?
  • How do we engage, support, and care for all community stakeholders in the service of the Church’s educational mission?

Schools’ response to each of these important questions can be aided by looking outside the walls of their buildings and expanding their thinking regarding what and who they consider to be resources. Consider the Cristo Rey Network as an example. Twenty-five years ago when the first Cristo Rey school was being considered in the Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s southside, Fr. John Foley knew that something different was needed. With the support of benefactors, businesses, the Society of Jesus, local Catholic schools, and other community members, a new model was born that has now spread to communities across the United States and involves numerous religious orders and dioceses.

Today, technology serves as the bridge schools need for deeper, more meaningful collaboration. A myriad of approaches and tools exist to improve student learning and provide access to quality content, programs, and talent. Other resources are in place to share business functions and provide more direct access to stakeholders.

Each of the contributors to this article represents an organization working with Catholic schools across the US and Canada.  To help them become stronger, we consult, podcast, facilitate conferences, make free resources available, provide on-line learning options and do everything we can to help Catholic schools find strength in collaborating with each other. Our work gives us a unique perspective on the critical importance of collaboration for our schools going forward. Arrupe Virtual, for instance, employs talented teachers from throughout North America in offering coursework schools can use to augment their current offerings; and the Arrupe Bridges Project provides schools a virtual ecosystem for collaborating with one another on hybrid brick-and-mortar/online programs of common need and interest. All for the purpose of helping schools effectively manage existing resources and access critical, quality, mission-aligned resources and talent from others.

In Chapter 9 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of coping with change by saying, “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Through this coronavirus crisis, we are being provided new wine. Now is the time to choose where to store it.

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Using Volunteers in Major Gift Asks 

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

Using volunteers in Major Gift solicitation can often be a source of frustration for Faith-based schools.  Large non-profits like universities abandoned the practice long ago.  But for most faith-based schools, who don’t have the resources to hire a staff of Major Gift Officers, there is still an important role for volunteers in major gift solicitation.

In this post I’d like to focus on the challenges of using volunteers, what they need to be successful and how schools can ramp up their effectiveness.

For people new to development, using volunteers may seem like a no-brainer.  They don’t need a salary and that very fact can make them compelling ambassadors for the cause. But quality control is crucial to successful gift solicitation and it is difficult to maintain when asks are being made by volunteers.  All but a very few require a lot of TLC to be effective.

For a volunteer to be effective at major gift solicitation, they must have 5 characteristics: capacity to give at that level themselves, the time to do it well, passion for the cause, knowledge about it and confidence to ask for a monetary gift.  It’s difficult to find people who already possess these five characteristics.  If we do a little math, we can see why.

Let’s say your school has 10,000 people on its database.  Major gift askers should be those who themselves are capable of giving at that level.  So about 10%, or 1,000 people, will be eligible by that criterion.  Then they must have sufficient time flexibility to set appointments, make in-person asks, follow-up and attend report meetings. About 50% will be able to make that commitment.  We’re now down to 500 candidates.  They also must be passionate enough about the school to ask others for donations.  25% might already meet that criterion.  We’re down to 125 folks.  But they also must be knowledgeable about the school and the specific cause for which money is being raised.  If we’re lucky, 50% already have that knowledge, giving us 62 people.  But the biggest factor is that they have to be confident about asking for money, and probably only 5% have that confidence innately, so we’re down to 3 people.  3 people out of 10,000 possibles who are ready, willing and able to ask for major gifts!

But don’t give up, because this assumes we can’t do anything to dial up those percentages.  We can, but it takes a bit of work.

Capacity to give

Let’s start with the first characteristic, the capacity to give at the major gifts level.  It’s one thing to say that 10% of the school’s constituents should be capable of making a major gift.  It’s another to know who they are.  If the school has done a good job evaluating and segmenting its database, it will know who meets this criterion.  This will focus the search considerably, but to determine which of them meet the other criteria comes down to asking them.  If the school wants to use major gift volunteers, it should incorporate a volunteer ask into its gift asks.

One consultant I worked with designed the volunteer structure so that if every slot was filled and if only the solicitors themselves gave at the level they would be asking others for, the campaign goal would be reached.  Every slot wasn’t filled and not every volunteer gave at the level they were supposed to.  But there were enough other people who declined being a volunteer but were grateful to get away with just making a pledge, that the campaign did reach its goal.

Time flexibility

The second characteristic of an effective volunteer is having enough time flexibility to do the job right.  Of course, successful people never have extra time.  But you can convince a larger percentage of these folks that they do have time for your fundraising effort if it is disciplined, well organized and has clear timelines.

It’s especially attractive to compress the commitment period with clear completion dates and offer options for time-frames that the volunteers can choose from.  If they think the commitment is open-ended or that their time will not be used efficiently, potential volunteers will protect themselves by saying they don’t have time.  A well-organized campaign will allay this fear and broaden the pool of volunteers.


The third characteristic is passion for the school and the specific cause.  Some people are already true believers who bleed your school colors.  Others are passionate about some aspects or are in an early stage of coming fully on board.  It may sound obvious, but we should never assume that just because we hear from people what a great school we have, that we don’t need to keep the pilot light burning.  The development staff and school leadership should use every volunteer contact as an opportunity to inspire them about the school and give them reasons to be excited.


And that relates strongly to the fourth characteristic volunteers need to succeed: They need knowledge, and they need it on three levels.

First, they need knowledge about the school and the specific cause.  They may think they know all about the school because they have children there, attended themselves or are on the Board.  But when they’re in front of a quizitive donor, they will be grateful you took the time to arm them with answers about the school’s current achievements and needs.

Second, knowledge includes knowledge about the prospect they will be meeting with.  They may be acquainted with the person, but they also need to know that person’s interests in and history with the school.  And why your research should give them confidence about the size of gift they’ll be asking for.

Finally, knowledge also includes an understanding of what their responsibilities are and the gift solicitation best practices that will make them, and the campaign, successful.


Each of the prior characteristics—capacity to give, available time, passion and knowledge—feeds into the final, and most important, characteristic:  Confidence asking for money.

I said earlier that about 5% of people are comfortable asking for money, but the reality is that for most, that comfort level depends on other factors.  Some of those, like events in their personal lives, are beyond our ability to influence.  But others are not.

Providing robust and engaging training, modeling the asking process, role-playing, accompanying them on their first call and providing regular and encouraging follow-up can make a huge difference.  I’m struck by how often schools undershoot or just don’t give enough thought to the support that volunteers need.  I also find that building supportive accountability and recognition for whatever the solicitor is able to achieve will help draw forth the volunteer’s energy and commitment.

I want to stress the importance of confidence in the development process.  A volunteer basically wants two things: to help the school and to be successful.  They don’t want to fail.  And if the school hasn’t done what it needs to convince them they won’t fail, the risk of embarrassing themselves and letting the school down will be too great.  They will either decline to participate or fail to make calls and show up at meetings.  They need to be confident that the school is the best investment donors can make to accomplish their philanthropic goals, that the current project is really needed and well-conceived, that the campaign will succeed, that they are equipped to do their part, and that someone will be there to give them all the support they need.

If they have this confidence, they will communicate it to the donors and the campaign will be energized.  I think it’s unfair when a school expects volunteers to generate the confidence themselves and doesn’t take enough responsibility to inspire and encourage them.

Having read all the foregoing, you may be thinking that using volunteer solicitors isn’t worth the effort needed to recruit, train and support them.  In your school’s case, that may be correct.  You must make that judgment.

But if you are willing to design and sustain a robust volunteer solicitor program, you will find that you have a coterie of committed, passionate, knowledgeable and trained ambassadors reaching out to the community.  And if you’ve created a role that they enjoy and take pride in, you will be able to call on them time and time again.

If you want to learn more about development or other management and governance best practices, please click through to our website at, or email me at

Thanks for the confidence you have in faith-based education, and your willingness to inspire that confidence in others so that your school can reach its full development potential.  God bless.

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Board Committees

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

Board committees are indispensable for carrying out the work of governance. As important as I believe they are, they can often be counterproductive, and some argue that Boards should not even have standing committees. I believe that boards can’t fully carry out their responsibilities without committees, but they need to be aware of common pitfalls. In this post, I explain why Board committees are important, what their proper role is and how to structure and use them properly.

So, why have committees? The main argument against committees is that they can draw board members into areas that are the responsibility of administration. Board committees focus on arenas which often reflect the school’s administrative structure: for instance, an education or academic committee that corresponds to the work of the Principal, an Advancement committee that corresponds to the work of the Development Director, and so forth. The natural temptation for those on such committees is to see their role as giving direction to the administration. When this happens, they interfere, even if unintentionally, with the responsibility and authority the Board has delegated to the school head. Administrators then have two masters, which will always lead to inefficiency and often serious operational breakdowns.

As real as this pitfall is, committees are still important. It’s unrealistic to expect Boards as a whole to take the time to understand every arena of the school’s strategy, performance and risks without dividing up oversight among its members. But assigning this oversight without overstepping its governance role requires a clear understanding of the committees’ role.

The proper role of Board Committees

The role of committees corresponds to the role of the Board overall, which I have discussed in my tutorial on the Board’s Role. Committee members wear three hats, labeled Policy, Sounding Board and Volunteer.

Wearing the Policy hat means advising the Board on governance level policies related to their arena; wearing the Sounding Board hat means providing advice to school personnel without giving direction; and wearing the Volunteer hat means assisting school personnel on some project, with no more authority than any other volunteer.

Committee members bring value with each hat they wear, but if it’s unclear which hat they’re wearing, this undermines the authority delegated to the administration. For instance, if they project Policy or direction when they are just being asked to wear the Sounding Board hat.


One way to make the committee’s proper role clearer to its members is having a Committee Charter, which can be reviewed by the committee every year, and shared with new members. The charter should state the Committee’s three-part role:

  • To serve as the Board’s eyes and ears for a particular arena so it can recommend governance level policies to the Board
  • To serve as a sounding board when administrators seek additional perspectives
  • To assist the school administration on specific tasks as volunteers

The Committee Charter should also include expectations of members, similar to those for Board members, including supporting the mission, respecting the delegated authority of the administrators, confidentiality, etc.

The Charter can then spell out any specific responsibilities expected of the committee by the Board. For instance, the Finance Committee can be charged with receiving the Administration’s proposal for the budget and presenting its key assumptions to the rest of the Board for approval.

Each Committee Charter should be approved by the Board initially and whenever the committee seeks to revise it. (If you’d like a free copy of a sample Committee Charter, email


Each Board committee should include at least two Board members, but it is also a good practice to include additional members not on the Board. This will broaden the skill set and perspective of the committee and also serve as a means for identifying and preparing future Board members.

Some feel that employees should not serve on Board committees, but I’ve found that if roles are made clear, some employee participation strengthens the committee’s knowledge and builds trust in the Board’s processes by the faculty.

I’ve found it helpful to have the administrator whose portfolio most closely aligns with the committee serve as the committee’s administrative liaison, which means providing staff support to the chair and helping her craft agendas. But it’s better if liaisons are not voting members of the committee, which helps keep the Board committees and administrators in their swimming lanes.

The ideal size of a committee is 5-8. Factors to consider are: the number of Board members available to serve on committees, the number of committees the Board needs (see below) and the range of expertise and perspective required.

How many committees?

The committees a school needs must ultimately be determined by its own circumstances. But limiting the number of committees is one way of assuring that trustees are not dragged into the weeds.

Some committees are required by the by-laws (for example, an Executive Committee) some by statute (like an Audit Committee) and some by the internal needs of the Board (say, a Governance Committee). It is also common for Boards to have a Development Committee, a Finance Committee and a Mission Committee because these are so key to the Board’s fiduciary responsibilities.

Boards may be tempted to set up committees for every area important to the school’s success, such as academics, athletics, campus ministry, strategic planning, technology, facilities, personnel, student life, and so on. Not only will this tend to draw the Board into micromanagement, but providing Board presence on all committees will either spread trustees very thin, overburden them with multiple assignments, or necessitate a large and unwieldy Board.

The school should keep its committees as few and as high-level as it can, and if circumstances require a committee focused on a particular topic area, consider having an ad hoc committee with a defined life span, instead. And then consider whether this really needs to be a Board Committee or a committee set up by the administration to provide a report to the Board.

I hope this overview of Board committees is helpful. If you have more questions about the governance of faith based schools, please visit our website at or contact me at I pray that your school will receive fully the fruits your Board has to offer, especially through its committees. God bless.

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What kind of Board do you have?

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

Nearly every faith-based school has some kind of board. It may be called a commission or a council. It may be advisory or policy-setting. But there is some group that provides community representation and guidance to assure the school is responsive to, and supported by, the community it serves. Linking to the communities they serve is of paramount importance for faith-based schools. But how boards function in that connecting role can seem more like alchemy that science. They vary in their authority, structure, level of engagement and operating style.

It’s often difficult for board members and others to put their finger on just what the board is supposed to be doing and how it should do it. A good place to start is understanding what kind of board a school has. This post reviews the variations and their ramifications. Think of it as sort of a field guide for boards.


To identify what kind of Board your school has, the first characteristic to look at is its authority. If the board is a true governing body, it sets high-level policy, hires, evaluates and dismisses (when necessary) the chief administrator and has ultimate fiduciary responsibility for the assets of the school.

However, many boards are advisory only. Their schools are generally owned by their religious sponsor, like a diocese, parish or a religious order, which therefore has ultimate authority and fiduciary responsibility. So the local board is advisory only, offering various perspectives and expertise but not itself setting policy.

There are advantages to a school being owned by its sponsor, especially if that entity has deep pockets and robust staffing to deal with the challenges that arise. Unfortunately, that circumstance is becoming rare. Religious orders and dioceses are finding themselves stretched thin and not able to meet the financial needs of their schools. Unfortunately, the response has often been to simply close them.

But most orders, and now many dioceses, are moving beyond ownership, recognizing that they can assure fidelity more effectively through sponsorship processes. They are shifting governance to more autonomous local boards. For this shift to local governance to work, however, requires accountability for the mission entrusted by the sponsor, and unfortunately, advisory boards are ill-equipped to shoulder that responsibility.


As governance has evolved, some faith-based schools find themselves with more than one board. They may have a Board of Directors or Trustees, which has policy making authority. But they may also have above them a group known as Corporate Members or a Board of Members, who retain ultimate ownership authority.

A Corporate Member can be a bishop, a religious superior or her or his delegates. They will often reserve a few key powers, like setting the by-laws or approving large financial transactions, and delegate all the rest to the local governing board. This structure is one way to assure fidelity to the faith-based mission, but empower the local community to take responsibility for the school’s operating needs.

Some schools have an advisory board in addition to a governing board. And some schools have three levels of governance: a Member Board, a Governing Board, and an Advisory Board. Multi-tiered governance structures are cumbersome and lead to confusion about who is responsible for what.

Most schools are evolving toward a single Board. Religious orders which have relied on Boards of Members to oversee the governing boards are finding it more effective to use a sponsorship process much like accreditation. And governing boards, rather than maintaining a separate advisory board, find it more effective to use their own committee structure to involve additional people.

Regardless of authority and structure, to be effective, boards must have a high level of engagement.

In my work with schools, I have found that many boards are passive. They meet rarely, and when they do they mostly hear reports from the administration. Other boards are more active in their engagement and have clear responsibilities, like approving the budget or high-level personnel policies. Still others are proactive, using strategic planning to prepare the school for new realities in the years ahead.

And some boards are overactive, crossing into operational areas that are best entrusted to the school administration. The sweet spot for boards in most cases will be the pro-active level. Here the school receives the full benefit of the board’s collective expertise without the intrusion into operational concerns that it has neither the time nor agility to address effectively.


The final characteristic for identifying your board is its style, which can vary from informal to formal. An informal style may be attractive because it feels simpler and more expeditious. As boards evolve however, they need more consistent processes and written procedures as a way to make sure that complex matters are addressed appropriately.

For example, they may feel that bringing on new members without a formal vetting and nominating process is working just fine. In many cases, it probably is. But it is difficult to achieve the diversity, community leadership and skill sets of a high performing board without a thoughtful selection process.

So what kind of board does your school have, and what kind of board does it need?

Do you have an advisory board because your school is owned by your order or diocese? It may be increasingly difficult to find consistent and robust support from your sponsor because their resources are spread thin. But you may also find an advisory board to be passive, because it doesn’t bear ultimate responsibility and wouldn’t have the necessary authority if it did. Your challenge is to find ways to empower it by entrusting it with meaningful responsibility.

Do you work in a multi-level governance model, where making decisions can be cumbersome, and it’s not always clear who has what responsibility? Your challenge is to achieve clarity and a high level of trust among the different players. This requires sustained attention to process and personalities.

Is your board operating more like a mom and pop outfit than the governing board of an important and complex organization? Your challenge will be to help the board understand the importance of its work and commit itself to processes that better match the caliber, or desired caliber, of the school.

Any of these models can be made to work, but it requires recognizing which reality you’re living in, and what challenges stem from your model. Responding thoughtfully will move the school toward a governance structure that will better match its current and future needs. The effort may be complex and at times taxing. But it is probably the most important thing you can do to assure your school’s viability in the face of the challenges ahead.

If you need help, our website at has many downloadable resources. And I’m always happy to answer questions if you email me at

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Implementing the Strategic Plan

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

I love developing strategic plans. Done right, they align a school community toward an inspiring vision for what the school needs to be, and can be. But whether a plan is successful or not depends on what happens after the plan document is finalized and distributed.

Before I began working with other schools on their strategic plans, I had the unusual opportunity to lead the formulation of four strategic plans during 32 years of administration at one school. With each plan, I learned more about what makes them not only visionary, but effective. The key is what I call the Annual Implementation Plan or AIP.

After months of gathering input and building ownership for the school’s Strategic Plan, people often breathe a sigh of relief, saying, “mission accomplished,” and get back to their normal routines. But the whole point of strategic planning is to lift the school above the routine to create its desired future.   The completion of the Strategic Plan is just the starting point for crafting that future. It must be followed by a rigorous tactical planning process to determine how it will be implemented.

Sometimes schools try to incorporate the Implementation Plan into the Strategic Plan. It sounds attractive to get the vision and all the x’s and o’s down on paper at once. But there are three reasons why this isn’t an optimal approach. First, combining strategy and tactics weighs down the Strategic Plan. People get caught up in the tactics instead of aligning around the overall direction the school is headed, which is the role of a Strategic Plan.

Second, implementation will require some flexibility. It can’t all be choreographed five or more years in advance. Having a combination Strategic and Tactical plan will be too rigid to adapt to changing circumstances.

And third, Strategic Planning and Tactical planning involve different people. The Strategic Plan is big picture and involves a wide range of people to make sure it has broad ownership and is responsive to the community’s needs. Implementation has to be owned primarily by the team of professionals who run the school. Administration, faculty and staff are the ones responsible for integrating it into the operations of the school, from curriculum changes to employee engagement, plant management and fundraising. They must collaborate with the broader community, but that community rightly expects them to take the leadership.

The instrument I use for tactical planning is called an Annual Implementation Plan because it is done annually, prior to the beginning of the school year. Each year the administrative team commits to the steps it will take that year toward attainment of the school’s longer-range strategic goals.

The most difficult Annual Implementation Plan, or AIP, will be the first. Imagine yourself in the forest and you have to cross a stream to get where you’re going. The Strategic Plan tells you that you need to do to get to the other side. The Implementation Plan tells you which stepping stones you’ll use to get there. I like to have administrators start thinking about those stepping stones as soon as possible, when the Strategic Goals begin to take shape. The initial focus will be on the first stone. That’s AIP Year one.

For each Strategic Goal, the question to be asked is what do we need to get done to lead toward its accomplishment? The stepping stones are what we call Objectives. The administrative team identifies each Objective, as well as the administrator who will lead its accomplishment. That administrator is tasked with preparing an Objective Implementation Plan or OIP, which spells out in some detail what the Objective is, the steps to accomplishing it, who needs to be involved and how much budget will be required.

Under the leadership of the chief administrator, the draft OIPs are shared with the other members of the school’s administrative team and finalized based on their input. Just as the Strategic Goals are the backbone of the Strategic Plan, the Objectives which are critical for Year One form the backbone of that year’s Annual Implementation Plan. The chief administrator compiles and organizes these Objectives into an AIP document which he or she will present to the Board for its confirmation and use it to guide implementation steps taken during the year.

At the end of the year, the administrative team will revisit the Objective Implementation Plans, adjust them as needed and then identify the Objectives which will be critical for the next year of implementation. These will then form the Annual Implementation Plan for Year Two.

The process is a little more complex than that, but I want to give you the overall approach. The key things to remember are 1) Separate the implementation planning from the strategic planning process, 2) have the administrative team begin the implementation planning even before the Strategic Plan is finalized and 3) make sure the administrative team, under the direction of the chief administrator, is fully engaged in formulating and operationalizing the plan every year. If you don’t do this, you may have a beautiful Strategic Plan, beautifully collecting dust.

The Resources tab of our website at has more information about planning, including another tutorial about creating the Strategic Plan. I’d also be happy to answer any questions you have about implementation planning, if you email me at

I’m grateful for all you do to support your school’s efforts to shape its future according to its mission. Thanks especially for making sure that your Strategic Plan becomes a reality through effective implementation planning. May God continue to bless you in your work.

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President-Principal Relationship

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

The president-principal model was first being pioneered by Jesuit schools in the 1970’s and has now become common among Catholic and other faith-based schools. It has helped schools meet the challenges of a changing educational environment, but it presents a few challenges of its own.

It used to be that a school head or principal could manage the academic affairs of a school and maintain a limited relationship with the environment beyond the campus. But as the temporal demands of schools have increased, it’s clear that managing the financial, facilities, fundraising, planning, and community relations aspects of a school are more than a full-time job. Schools have found they need robust leadership that is both inward and outward facing. Hence the president-principal model.

The president’s role falls into three main areas: Mission, Resources and Presence. Let’s take a moment to look at these three.

Mission is the core of who we are as schools. School presidents interpret the official mission statement approved by the Board and make it come alive for the school community. They weave it explicitly and implicitly into every decision they make and into their formal and informal communications. They must call themselves, the employees, students and other members of the community to be accountable to that mission. And they must lead the school team in finding the best ways to accomplish it.

Second, the president is responsible for securing Resources needed for the school to succeed in its work. He or she shares this responsibility with the Board, as well the development, finance and facilities teams, but the president must be visibly active in attracting the resources needed so that the educational professionals can carry out their work at an optimum level.

Finally, the president is responsible for Presence. As the chief administrator, he or she is a symbol for the school and what it values. The president’s presence at a school or community event, to a grieving family or to important supporters signals their importance to the school. How the president conducts him or herself among the people who serve or are served by the school puts a human face on its mission and makes it real as nothing else can.

The principal, on the other hand, has a unique leadership responsibility for programs, school climate and faculty development. This is a huge job, really the heart of what the school does and who it is. Programs include not only the curriculum, but extra-curriculars, and student formation. School climate includes the culture, fabric of relationships and the physical and emotional safety of the students. And professional development includes hiring and evaluating, as well as the personal, professional and spiritual growth of the faculty and how they collaborate to create a coherent educational experience for the students.

Having said this, the principal also has responsibility for mission, presence and resources, but it is primarily to the internal community. It isn’t that the principal is confined to campus, but there is no way he or she can provide the cura personalis, or care for persons, needed by faculty and students if they also have to do so with the broader community.

Both are leaders, important leaders, in the school. And their leadership will overlap. Each must be a person of vision who is able to exercise authority. But what happens when the visions conflict? What happens when the exercise of authority overlaps? When the external demands conflict with the internal demands? This isn’t necessarily common, but when it does happen, it can lead quickly to dysfunction that can hamper both the president and the principal, and ultimately the school itself.

In some cases, the president and the principal will have similar skill sets. The president may have been a principal prior to becoming a president. In this case, he or she might have strong opinions about curriculum and faculty development. It may be difficult to resist intruding into the domain of the principal to make decisions where the president may feel very confident. Perhaps more confident than he or she is with some of his or her newer responsibilities.

In other cases, the skill sets may be so divergent that they lack sufficient understanding and appreciation of each other’s role. They rely on each other to do their jobs well, which means they need to understand the other’s responsibilities enough to provide appropriate support. The ideal is for the two to recognize that they have complementary jobs and have, or are developing, complementary skill sets. Presidents must resist micro-managing, even when they are sure they know what decision the principal should make. And principals must resist overstepping their authority, even when they are responding to the needs of their faculty and students.

For the president-principal model to work, the approach must be collaborative. Even though the president is ultimately the boss, he or she should want the principal to be a strong leader and have enough respect for the role of the principal that he or she doesn’t simply pull rank at every turn.

Research by the Jesuit Schools Network and my own research and experience suggest that the key to a successful president-principal relationship is a high level of mutual trust. And such trust requires regular and open communication. It can also be said that regular and open communication requires trust. So the president and principal must give themselves time to foster both trust and communication. As hard as it is to find the time for that, it will pay rich dividends for themselves and for everyone else who works with them.

I believe that an important part of communication is a supportive and consistent evaluation process of the principal by the president. This includes an annual, “summative” evaluation structured to make sure the president fully appreciates the challenges faced by the principal, as well as his or her accomplishments. It also should assure that the principal fully understands the appreciation the president has for his or her work, as well as the president’s expectations.

But evaluation should also include “formative” feedback, both formal and informal. The story of the woman who asked her husband why he never tells her he loves her is instructive. His answer was that he told her when he married her 40 years ago that he loved her, and if anything changed, he would let her know. Not a great way to strengthen a relationship. Both the president and the principal should complement each other when the other does a good job and encourage each other when the going is tough.

And it goes beyond that. As two highly visible leaders they need to support each other publicly. At any public event where one of them is speaking he or she should take the opportunity to introduce and express their confidence in the other. This isn’t just a way of increasing trust between them, but increasing trust in them as the leadership team of the school.

We have more information about best practices for leadership and governance, as well as free resources, like video tutorials, tools and templates, on our website at Please feel free to use these resources as you like to help you or others in your work, and don’t hesitate to contact me at if I can help you with a specific question. God bless, –Jack

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MfM Tutorials on Governance & Administration

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

This month’s post is a compendium of video tutorials on faith-based school management produced by Managing for Mission over the last 4 years, all in one place. With a new school year beginning, it’s a good time to remember as administrators and trustees that, like our students, we also need to keep growing and learning. And if you’ve been trying to explain some of these best practices to someone else at your school, you can send them the link to a tutorial instead. They can also be accessed on MfM’s YouTube Channel, or in the original blog posts by using the search function in the panel at the right of the screen.

Strategic Planning for Faith-based Schools 6:31 min.

1.pngThis tutorial explains how faith-based schools can do Strategic Planning which is truly strategic, broadly owned and implementation oriented. Such planning is critical to the survival and growth of faith-based schools. Given the dependence of the school on its support community, its planning method requires some special characteristics. Take a few minutes to find out what those are.

Setting Goals in a Faith-based School 6:26 min.


A step by step process for setting annual Board goals, showing charts and tools used. This same process can be used in other group goal setting situations, e.g. setting administrative or committee goals, or setting goals as part of strategic planning.

 Four Models in a Faith-based School 5:01 min.

3.pngThe leaders of faith-based schools must manage not just a business model, but three other models in order to accomplish their mission. This video explores the relationship of the school’s Apostolic, Pedagogical, Community and Business models.

Chain of Care 3:22 min.

4.pngEveryone in the school – whether teacher, administrator, or trustee – is part of a Chain of Care that supports the students’ experience of God’s loving, creative presence in their lives. “Managing for mission” means strengthening that Chain to transform students’ lives. Learn more about the importance of the Chain of Care and how it works in this video tutorial.

Diversity in the Faith-based School 2 parts 3:28 & 4:58 min.

5.pngAs president of Bellarmine Prep, Jack Peterson knew there were some communities that were under-represented in the school and students from them often had trouble feeling fully welcome.  He decided he wanted to find out why and it began a journey of revelation and treasured relationships. In this tutorial, he shares the four questions that he learned need to be answered honestly.  And he shares a few practical approaches that make a big difference.

Development Plan for a Faith-based School 7:54 min.

6.pngFaith-based schools rely heavily on fundraising to maintain quality programs and relieve pressure on tuition. Because of the unpredictable nature of donated funds and the tendency for immediate demands to take all our energy, every school should have a written, trackable Development Plan. This tutorial explains how to formulate an effective plan with an accompanying free template available at on our Resources page.

5 Requisites for Development Success 4:26 min. 

7.pngManaging for Mission’s Jack Peterson explains the 5 core requisites faith-based schools need to focus on to achieve their fund development potential. These 5 should drive strategy, time invested and performance evaluations, by both the Board and Administration.

8 Steps of a Major Gift Ask 6:21 min.

8.pngSuccess in procuring major gifts is key to effective fund development for faith-based schools. This tutorial breaks down the eight essential elements, from preparation, to making the ask, to following up. And it explains how to ask in a way consistent with the mission of the school.

Branding for Faith-based Schools 7:01 min.

9.pngMany types of schools are competing for resources and for students in an ever-changing environment. To succeed, they need to be clear not just about their mission, but their brand–how that mission is actually experienced by school families and potential school families. This tutorial explains basic concepts and approaches to branding for faith-based school as the foundation of marketing strategy.

The Board’s Role in a Faith-based School 7:57 min.

10.pngHealthy boards are crucial to their schools’ vitality and connect them to the communities they serve. Yet their role is often misunderstood. Jack Peterson explains the board’s role in a faith-based school and how board members and administrators can clarify the various hats trustees wear, so that these complementary components of the leadership team can fully contribute to the school’s success.

4 Best Practices to Becoming a Great Board 8:10 min.

11.pngThe 2nd tutorial in the Board Basics series discusses best practices for becoming a great board in four areas: Recruitment, Formation, Self-evaluation and the Board Policy Manual.


4 Best Practices for Doing the Board’s Work 6:22 min.

12.pngThis third tutorial in the Board Basics series explores four areas where proven approaches can ramp up the faith-based board’s effectiveness: committees, strategic planning, evaluation of the chief administrator and board philanthropy. Hopefully every school’s board is paying attention to these areas, but they may not be aware of a few key tools that make all the difference to the school’s accomplishment of its mission.

Discernment for Boards – Introduction 3:12 min.

13.pngThis Introduction is the first in a series of five tutorials about group discernment. These tutorials apply the principles of discernment developed by Ignatius of Loyola to the decision-making process of boards, and particularly those of faith-based schools.

The Spirit of Discernment 5:27 min.

14.pngThis is the second tutorial in MfM’s Board Discernment series. It explains the spirituality that underlies Ignatian Discernment and how boards can embrace that spirit and incorporate Ignatius’ insights into their decision-making.

The Habit of Discernment 5:48 min.

15.pngBy developing the habit of discernment in our daily lives, we can better participate in the discernment which boards must do together. This tutorial explains four habits that will strengthen decision-making in our personal and professional lives, as well as our work on the board.

The 6 Components of Discernment 5:42 min.

16.pngIn this 4th tutorial in MfM’s series on Board Discernment, we discuss the six components that are part of every group discernment. By giving advanced thought to these six components, and adapting them to our particular group and the questions it is facing, we can harness the power of God’s desire to see fruitfulness in our work and lives.

 The 4 Core Tools of Discernment 4:16 min.

17.pngIgnatian Discernment can seem so complex that boards put off embracing it. But the four Core Tools discussed in this tutorial are fairly easy to implement and can move trustees a long way toward becoming a truly discerning board.

Designing the Board Retreat 8:52 min.

18.pngThe boards of faith-based schools need dedicated time for work that can’t fit into their regular meetings. This includes planning, improving their own process, spiritual formation and team-building. This tutorial talks about how to incorporate all four of these elements into an effective and grace-filled board retreat.

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The Development Plan

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

Fund development is perhaps the hardest area of school management to plan for, and yet the area that needs planning most. The temptation is to say, “Well we’ll do our best and see what happens.” Given how much we depend on developed funds, that’s just not good enough.

I realize that there are many unpredictable elements in fundraising. But rather than being an argument against having a Development Plan, it’s actually a reason to be more intentional about our goals and how we intend to accomplish them. A written Development Plan keeps the advancement staff focused, widens the circle of those who can be involved, and gives the president and board a meaningful way to evaluate progress.

When I ask schools about their Development Plan, what they often show me looks more like calendar of events and appeals and how much they are expecting from each. The schools often feel these events and appeals are maxed out and the only way to increase revenue is to add another. I don’t want to denigrate this approach, but we can do better. To reach its full development potential the school must tap into the giving capacity of its donors and prospective donors. The question must shift from, “How much can this event or activity raise for us?” to “How much could our donors give if they were properly asked?”

In an earlier tutorial I presented the 5 Requisites for Development Success—Case, Prospects, Asks, Askers and Resources. Focusing on these five elements of the fundraising process will help us shift away from event-centric development to donor-centric development. Events and appeals reach a point of diminishing returns as we try to involve more people in what are mostly small transactions. We call that event-centric fundraising. Schools need to move toward realizing the aggregate giving capacity of the people who support, or would support, them. We call this donor-centric fundraising.

Managing for Mission has developed a template for formulating a donor-centric Development Plan. We offer you this template to lead the board and administration, development staff, and the development committee through a process of creating a collaborative plan for reaching the school’s full development capacity. You might want to download this template now to refer to as you read the following explanation of the process.

The Case Statement
In the first section of the template you will focus on the first of the 5 Essentials: The Case for support. Clearly, success depends on making a compelling case for support of the school. A Case is a value proposition in which the donor will see how their funds will be used. They need to see how they will benefit the school, its students, society at large and the donors themselves. The Case for support is based on the school’s mission and the strategic plan the school has formulated to accomplish that mission. It should be expressed in visionary and outcome-based language, but it also needs to identify important details about the school’s plan. I recommend including both operating needs and the bigger needs that might be sought in a capital campaign so that the school can see the whole picture.

The Case statement will eventually take different forms, adapted to various kinds of Asks and the types of marketing materials needed to support them. But this section of the Development Plan will serve as the source for shaping all versions of the Case Statement.

In the next section you will focus on the 2nd of the 5 requisites: Prospects. Funding the school’s plans will require a few donors making large gifts and many other donors giving at various levels. Not all will give at the level we hope. They may have other priorities, financial constraints or simply aren’t used to giving yet. So the pool of potential donors must be significantly larger that the number of gifts we hope to receive. The template shows how to build a Gift Table indicating how many donors, giving at what levels, will be needed to raise a certain amount of money. Often filling in this table will itself provide the first glimpse of the feasibility of the school’s goals.

The 3rd Essential for Development Success is Asks. That we need to make enough asks to achieve our goals might seem so obvious it’s not worth mentioning. But for many schools, maybe most, it is the Achilles heel. Too few Asks are being made in the right way. There are 4 rights to a meaningful Ask: asking for the right purpose, at the right amount, in the right way, by the right person.

Events and appeals are ways of asking, and they will remain part of a complete Development Plan. But they can’t be the only way, because they generally don’t move donors toward their full giving potential. So this section of the template helps the school identify the best ways to ask top prospective donors.  It helps us determine where events fit into that strategy. And it lays out how we will track the process from identification to research to cultivation to asking to follow-up.

The 4th Essential for Success is Askers, people to do the asking. Again, events like auctions and annual giving appeals are ways of asking, but to realize the full potential of those who have the most potential, we need to ask them directly in the right way described earlier. This section will help determine what role school leadership and staff will play and what role volunteers will play. And it helps the school identify the training and support that will be needed to make these Askers successful.

The final Essential is Resources. What investment will the school have to make to be successful? The big items are salaries, technology, consultants, publications, donor recognition, events and entertainment and travel costs.

Key Steps
After the 5 requisites, the template has a section for key next steps. This is important because the complexity and long-term nature of the plan can tempt us to stay in the abstract. The purpose of the plan is not to plan, but to act. This section is updated constantly and shows what we need to be doing now, to end up where the plan is pointing us.

If you would like a free copy of our Development Plan Template, you can click here and find it on our RESOURCES web page, where you will also find a more detailed explanation about how to write and Development Plan using the template. Or you can email me at There are other resources on our website at to assist faith-based schools on development and other governance and administrative issues.

Thank you for all your efforts to make sure your school has the resources it needs to accomplish its mission. It’s a blessing to your students and to the world your school serves.

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Setting Board Goals

Jack Peterson
February 2018

Boards fly at the 30,000 foot level, but the brushfires that commonly occur in schools can take our eye off the big picture and put our navigation at risk. A good process for setting annual board goals can help us stay on course.

The goal setting process described in the following is well-suited for Boards, but it can also be used by administrative teams and as part of the strategic planning process. It incorporates an acronym that many of us are familiar with, producing SMART Goals. An internet search will come up with a variety of words to match the initials in S.M.A.R.T. I’ve chosen ones that best correspond with the needs of faith-based schools.

S is for Significant. A goal that is not significant, will fail to capture people’s imaginations and fail to address the important needs the school faces. Goals by their nature should help us focus on what’s most important.

M is for Measurable. Goals are meant to guide us, but they can’t if we don’t see exactly where they’re leading or how close we are to getting there. We need metrics to mark our path. For some goals, especially those which are perhaps subjective but nonetheless meaningful, it’s hard to identify quantifiable metrics. But we must still know what it will look like when we’ve achieved the goal. And what it looks like if we don’t.

A is for Attainable. Before we set off on the journey, we better be confident we can finish it. What will have to happen, or have to not happen, if we are to achieve our goal? Does it depend on a good economy, the strength of feeder schools or decisions being made in the political realm?

R is for Responsible, as in who is. Many people will likely have to contribute to reaching the goal. But who will be responsible? Who will make sure participants get recruited and the meetings take place? If that person or group can’t be identified, the goal isn’t a goal yet but a wish.

T is for Timed. Running a mile isn’t much of a goal, if it takes me two weeks to complete it. But running a mile in 8 minutes, now that’s a goal! At least for me. Setting a completion date will help us schedule all the steps and make time for them in the busy board or school schedule so they actually get done and the goal is accomplished.

Collaborative goal-setting

The different between a successful and an unsuccessful strategy is that a successful strategy is one that people make work. And people will make a strategy work if they have ownership for it. So it’s important to use a collaborative process to the formulate the goals, involving those who will be key to achieving it.

In the case of setting annual Board goals, the first step will be to identify the issues board members consider the most important for the coming year. A way to do this is to list on a flip-chart all the issues members feel are important. At this stage we want to make sure nothing is overlooked, but this list will probably be too long to be effective. Goal-setting is one of those cases where less is more. The more we can focus on what is most important, the more likely we are to accomplish what is most important. So we need to decide as a group the three or four issues that rise to the top.

We do this by giving each Board member a fixed number of dots (3/4” peel-off dots available at office supply stores). I like to give them a number equal to the number of goals we want to end up with, plus one. I’ve found that most boards can focus on about four major goals successfully in the course of a year, so I like to give them five dots. Each participant goes up to the list we’ve created and places their dots next the issues they find most important. They can expend their dots however they like. If they think only three items are important enough to be considered, they can distribute all their dots only to those three.

After everyone has voted, the dots are tallied, and the top three to four issues are identified. The group then breaks down into smaller groups of equal size, one for each issue selected. Each group is given a large sheet of paper already prepared with fill-in spaces for the SMART goals. Each small group decides what the goal needs to be to address the issue they’ve been assigned, gives it a short 3-5 word name, and fills that in at the top. Next, they put a one or two sentence description of what the board is going to accomplish with this goal.

Then they briefly answer the SMART Questions on the sheet: Why is this Significant? How will we Measure whether we’ve accomplished it? What needs to happen, or not happen, for it to be Attainable? Who will be Responsible? And what is the Time-frame for beginning and completing the activities needed to accomplish the goal?

Then each small group presents its SMART goal to the Board as a whole. This is an opportunity to make sure all Board members understand what they are committing to and that the SMART characteristics have been addressed adequately.

Often the board chair, or the small groups themselves, will do some final editing and formatting outside the meeting. The goals are then confirmed at the next meeting and the board reviews progress at each ensuing meeting.

If you’d like to get more information about planning for faith-based schools, please explore our website, or to receive a free template for formulating SMART goals contact me at my email, You can also watch the video tutorial at the top of this post, which will show some of the tools described in this post.

Thanks for your extra care to make sure your school’s work is focused and effective. God bless.

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