Diversity for Faith-based Schools

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission


If the second Diversity video doesn’t start automatically, click here.

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. 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.

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 www.managingformission.com. Click on one of share buttons below to send this blog 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.

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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Elements of a Major Gift Ask

Jack Peterson, Managing for Mission
November, 2016 


In most cases, meaningful donations happen because someone asks.  That’s why it’s considered one of the 5 Requisites for Development Success.  When we’re hoping for substantial gifts from potential benefactors, those asks must be done in a way that is clear, thoughtful and compelling.  From my experience as a development director and school president, I’ve learned that 8 steps are crucial to making an effective request from an important donor.

The first step is setting the appointment:  Nothing happens till this does.  When calling to set the appointment, avoid making the ask while on the phone.  The call may go something like this

You:  “I’m working on the capital campaign for the school and would like to talk with you about your       possible involvement.”

Donor: “We’re not in a position to give at this point”

You: “That’s okay, all I’m asking for at this point is the opportunity to tell you what we’re up to and let you determine whether you have an interest”

Second, know the prospective donor: Even if you know the person, take time to review their file. You’ll often be reminded of important information that isn’t top of mind: children’s names, issues raised in the last conversation, events at the school, most recent gifts.  I’m surprised how often this information is key to the conversation.

Third, practice for the call:  It’s always beneficial to run through the call with someone familiar with the donor. It can feel awkward to role play in advance, but it’s amazing how well it prepares you for the give and take of the actual meeting.  If more than one person from the school will participate in the call, decide who will present what and who will make the actual request.

Fourth, give context:  Even if the donor feels she knows the cause well, take time to explain it and paint a picture for her. Use the case statement or materials prepared.  Numbers and logic are helpful, but more important is sharing your own motivations and emotional reasons for being involved.  Also, consider what you know about this person’s values and interests, look at the project from their perspective and frame your presentation in those terms.

Fifth, ask for a gift:  It’s important to ask for a specific gift, so that the person understands what he could do to make the overall project a success.  But it’s also important to be clear that it is this person’s choice.  They have been entrusted by God with this decision as a steward of resources.  If God trusts them with the decision, we can too.  The request might sound something like this:

“In light of what I’ve presented and the importance of this project for the school, we were hoping you’d consider a pledge of $500,000 over the next 3 years to fund the new college counseling center.  You may be interested in doing more than that, in which case we would be even closer to our goal.  Or you may feel you can’t do that much.  Whatever you decide, based on your understanding of the project’s importance and your own circumstances, will be gratefully accepted.”

After this is said, stop talking and let the donor respond to your request.  Our temptation will be to cushion the ask with more words.  More often than not, this is distracting for the donor, who is giving serious thought to your request.

Sixth, handle objections:  Objections may come after your request has been made, or they may come before.  In either case, these are opportunities to hear what the donor is thinking, so they’re crucial moments in the meeting.  The best way to handle objections is to acknowledge the legitimacy of the issue, share how you may have had to deal with that yourself, and then what conclusion you came to.  A good structure for doing this is called “Feel, Felt, Found.”  You might say something like this:

“I know how you feel about whether technology has more bad effects than good.  I felt that myself as I looked at that project and thought about the impact of technology in my own life.  What I found is that these kids are entering a world saturated by technology and we need to prepare them for it in a way that’s centered in our faith.”

Seventh, finalize the pledge:  If the donor agrees to a pledge before the meeting ends, have a pledge form ready and help them complete it to record their intentions.  In many cases, the donor will want additional time to consider the request.  Suggest a timeframe to get back to them to finalize their intentions.  Don’t simply leave them a pledge form, even if they suggest that.  Given people’s tendencies to procrastinate, they may get distracted and it will feel like nagging if you have to follow up.  Agree to a time that works for them for you to follow up. Wait to fill out the pledge form with them when they have made their decision.

Eighth, thank the donor.  Thank them for the opportunity to present the case.  Thank them when they’ve made a decision.  Have others important to them offer their thanks as well.  Helping to make this a great experience for the donor will increase the likelihood of giving in the future.

A free PDF version of a pocket brochure covering the 8 steps of a Major Gift Ask that can be printed and given to staff and volunteers is available from Managing from Mission, by emailing jackpeterson@managingformission.com. A free 6 minute video tutorial about making the Major Gift Ask is available at this link: 8 Steps of a Major Gift Ask.  To learn more about fund development for faith-based schools or managing your school around its unique mission, visit the other parts of this website at www.managingformission.com.

Finally, thank you for inviting potential benefactors to help you foster the spiritual and academic growth of the next generation.

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Branding Faith-based Schools

Jack Peterson, Managing for Mission
August, 2016

Branding has become a key concept in the strategy for any business today.  This should include faith-based schools.  But as much as administrators realize that competing for students means stepped up marketing efforts, there is still suspicion and misunderstanding around branding strategy.  Is branding really what faith-based schools need to be doing?

For me it’s clear that, to ready themselves for the challenges ahead, faith-based schools must indeed embrace their unique brand.  With the costs of education rising and a broadening range of educational choices families have access to—from magnet schools to charter schools, and home schooling to on-line academies—it will be critical that we distinguish ourselves and create an understanding of and loyalty to our brand.  But there’s a way to do it without forsaking, or for that matter cheapening, our mission or our charism.  The key is in how you define brand.

In my work, I’ve come to define brand as how our mission looks to our publics.  We’d like to think that our mission dictates our brand.  But it doesn’t, at least not by itself.  We can write the most accurate and compelling mission statement we want, but it will not prevent people from formulating their own mission statement for our school based on what they experience.  Having an accurate and compelling mission statement is a good place to start, in fact the right place to start.  But we still have to ask how this will look to the families we exist to serve.  Ignatius of Loyola knew this as well as anyone, and the Jesuit schools and ministries he inspired understand that simply having the right message isn’t enough.  We have to communicate it effectively.  There’s an old Jesuit saying, “We bring them in their door so that we can bring them out ours.”  People aren’t always ready to hear our message.  But if we understand what they are ready for, we can lead them beyond where they’re at to something deeper.

How do we do that?  To answer this question, I’d like to draw from what I learned from the marketing firm, JayRay (www.JayRay.com).  JayRay looks at brand as having three components—3 P’s if you will:  Position, Personality and Promise.  I like these three P’s because they give me a strategy for approaching the challenge of branding, and they are congenial to the spirit of a faith-based school.

Position is simply where people locate you in the in the spectrum of organizations which address the same needs you do.  There may be other academically excellent schools in your catchment area, maybe even some more respected than yours.  There may be other faith-based schools available.  But perhaps your unique spot is that you are the most academically superior, faith-based school in your area.  That might be your position in the “market.”

Personality is how people experience your school on a human level.  Are you strict and formal?  Are you relaxed?  Do you have a good sense of humor?  Do you value creativity, or discipline, or somehow both?  Certainly each of your teachers has her own personality, but your school has a personality too.  Hopefully, that personality is an expression of the love and welcome implied by the Gospel and spiritual charism of the school.  School personalities can’t be fabricated, especially not for marketing purposes.  But they are a good indicator of how well the loving spirit of Jesus is embraced by a school.  If that is not well, work needs to be done at the root level.  If your personality expresses your underlying charism, then the school should acknowledge and broadcast it.  This personality should be reflected in the speeches given by the president and principal, the way the school’s website looks, the photographs chosen for publications, even the types of media you choose to communicate with.

The word Promise is a great way to look at mission.  JayRay would ask, “What is it you promise to do every day as a school?”  Do you promise to be welcoming—every day, to everyone?  Do you promise to create a safe environment, to challenge all students to their full potential?  Do you promise to graduate students who are open to growth, intellectually competent, loving, religious and committed to justice?  And do you promise to work toward that each day?

One of the things I like about this approach to branding is that it is not, as so many assume, an outside-in approach.  We picture an ad agency coming up with a catchy phrase that tests well in consumer research and launching an ad campaign to create an image for their client.  But it doesn’t really work that way.  Well, maybe this works for some businesses.  But it won’t work for a faith-based school.  Brand has to begin at the very core of who the school is and radiate outwards.  JayRay describes it as a pebble in a pond with the waves radiating out from the center.  Teachers and office staff and custodians and coaches all have to understand the school’s promise as their promise and commit themselves each day to keeping it.

The school’s Strategic Plan is an important tool for aligning all community members around the position, personality and promise that shape its brand.  That’s why MfM uses a strategic planning process with its faith-based school clients that generates a high degree of stakeholder input.

In their own ways, which are very “corporate,” Apple and Starbucks have achieved high alignment with their employees.  Companies whose employees live out their brand have given us a great example.  It seems to me, however, that with the graces we are able to draw upon, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at the core of our schools, we should be showing them how it’s done.

Your school has a great message to share.  Aligning everything your school does around its core message is a big part of what we call managing for mission.  If you want to know more, please visit our website, www.managingformission.com.  And keep up the good work of bringing the mission of faith-based education to families who may need it even more than they realize.

This topic of Branding for Faith-based Schools can also be viewed as an seven minute video by clicking here. I encourage you to learn more about governance and school management by viewing the other tutorials on this website and our YouTube Channel.

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Faith-based School Boards 3

Best Practices for Doing the Board’s Work
May, 2016

Having great Trustees won’t by itself assure a great Board.  The other ingredient is effective processes for going about their work.  If you read the first two posts in this three-part series, you heard about the board’s role, as well as some best practices for becoming a better board.  In this post I’d like to talk about best practices for doing the Board’s work.

The areas I’ll focus on in this post are:

    Committees

    Strategic Planning

    Evaluating the Chief Administrator

    Board philanthropy

Committees

Boards do their work at a fairly high level, so their span of responsibility is quite broad. To give meaningful oversight to the apostolic, pedagogical, human and business dimensions of the school, boards must divide up the work among committees.  There they can focus on specific issues and bring back a deeper knowledge to inform board decisions.

Standing committees should be kept to a minimum, five at most, because they require significant time from both the trustees and the administrators who must support them.  These can be augmented by ad hoc committees as other needs arise.  Trustees should serve on no more than two committees, and for many, one will be commitment enough.

That means that committees should also involve non-trustees, who can add greater breadth and depth to deliberations.  The non-trustees are also a pool of potential trustees as they learn about the board’s work and the board learns about how they work.

The main role of a committee is to recommend to the board, when necessary, policies related to their area.  But they don’t set policy themselves.  More often, they serve as a sounding board and a resource to the administrator working in the area they oversee.  They must be clear, however, that they are not supervising that administrator, or it will subvert the relationship of the chief administrator to her administrative team.

In a high functioning board, most of the work is being done by the committees.  Because this is true, it works well to have the board and committees meet in alternating months.

Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning is the process of aligning the significant internal factors within a school’s control to better accomplish the mission, in the face of significant external factors not within the school’s control.

While the Strategic Plan is a crucial tool for the chief administrative officer, and the CAO provides leadership in its creation, the Strategic Plan must be formulated under the board’s authority.  The Strategic Plan allows the board to stay on the governance level, while giving the CAO clarity about its vision for the school.  Board members come and go, so the CAO and his team need the assurance of continuity in the strategic directions they are pursuing.

So ultimately the board “owns” the plan, and the CAO leads the planning process.  But because a faith-based school runs on generosity, its stakeholders need to participate in the process.  Their involvement assures that the experience of people served by the school shapes the plan, and it builds their ownership, so crucial when the time comes for implementation.

Managing for Mission has identified ten characteristics of effective plans.  Of these, the four most important are that they be:

    Truly Strategic

    Broadly owned

    Implementation oriented

    Compelling

To accomplish this generally requires a year from start to finish.  Managing for Mission has a separate tutorial on Strategic Planning and additional materials on our website.

Chief Administrator Evaluation

The board has only one employee who reports to it directly.  It is therefore imperative that the board give direction and feedback to its employee.  When things are going well, it may seem like a formal evaluation of the Chief Administrative Officer is unnecessary.  But there are at least three important reasons to maintain this practice.

First, if problems do develop, they will be easier to deal with if there has been a consistent discipline of evaluation.

Second, the evaluation isn’t just to identify problems with the CAO’s performance.  It’s a time for her to hear from the board that her job is important and she has their appreciation when she does it well and their support where she needs to get better.

Third, it sets a good example.  The CAO should be evaluating her administrative team, who should in turn be evaluating the faculty and staff who report to them.  The board must model the importance of evaluations to the CAO, giving her leverage when asking employees to participate in a process that applies to her as well.

The CAO should receive formative feedback on a regular basis.  This can be in an informal setting, like a monthly meeting with the Board Chair, but it should be planned and regular.

Managing for Mission also recommends that the board administer an annual summative evaluation which identifies and documents officially both achievements to be recognized and deficiencies to be remedied.

The summative evaluation should include data on the progress toward Strategic Plan goals, review of professional goals, a self-evaluation and confidential survey sampling 360o input from direct reports, various sectors of the school community, and every trustee.

The annual review should also include setting goals for the coming year.  Goal setting, and evaluation based on the goals, should be done yearly because good performance trends can’t wait for two or three years to be acknowledged and adverse performance trends can’t wait to be corrected.

Nothing the board does will impact the well-being of the school more that doing a thoughtful and consistent job of giving formative and summative feedback to the CAO.

Board Philanthropy

For some, providing philanthropic support is the most important job of the board.  I don’t think that‘s true, but it is pretty important.  Faith-based schools depend for their very existence on the generosity of benefactors.  To give such generous support, a donor needs to understand what the school is about and feel a personal connection.  Who is more knowledgeable and connected than the trustees?  If they are not willing benefactors, how could we expect anyone else to be?

Conversely, who can make a better board member than one who has done his due diligence and made a major investment in the school?   He will want to follow his investment and will have extra motivation and insight in carrying out his duties.

Trustees set an example for others to follow, in this as in other matters.   While it’s great to have people of wealth on the board who can give leadership gifts, it’s more important that all board members support both the annual fund and any campaign to an extent proportionate to their means.  In this way they can support the five keys to development success.

We’ve talked about committees, strategic planning, evaluation of the chief administrator and board philanthropy.  In the previous tutorial we talked about recruiting new members, formation, self- evaluation, and board manuals.   There are other best practices, but if trustees make a concerted effort in these, they can become a great board.

This topic of Four Best Practices for Doing the Board’s Work can also be viewed as an eight minute video by clicking here. I encourage you to learn more about governance and school management by viewing the other tutorials on this website and our YouTube Channel.

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Faith-based School Boards 2

4 Best Practices for Becoming a Great Board
May, 2016

Your board is contributing in important ways to the success of your school.  But if you’ve already read the first blog post in this series, The Role of the Board, it means you want, not just a good board, but a great one.  

In this tutorial, we’ll focus on best practices for becoming a great board: new member recruitment, formation, self-evaluation and the board’s Policy Manual.

Recruitment

Being on a board is a little like coming down off a mountain.  If you get started in the wrong direction it’s harder and harder to get back to the right one.  If new board members aren’t properly identified, recruited and oriented, the board will deal with the resulting mismatch of expectations and skills for years.  Here are some important ways to avoid that.

First, Identify needs and potential candidates. The board should maintain a profile in spread sheet form that identifies current Board members’ term expiration, committee assignments, association with the school, gender, ethnicity, profession, and skills.  Using this profile, a nominating committee can identify any coming gaps that will need to be filled and compile a pool of potential candidates to fill them.

Second, carefully Recruit new Board members.   Think of recruitment as the beginning of the orientation process.  Involving the chair, the chief administrator and one other board member in the ask will alert the prospective trustee that he or she will be joining a high-functioning team.

Having prepared materials that answer the nominee’s questions will demonstrate the Board’s commitment to the new member and its own processes.  The common questions nominees have are:

What is the school’s Mission Statement?

What are the expectations of board members?

How much of a time commitment is it?  When does the board meet?

Who else is on the Board?

What are the school’s strategic goals for the next few years?

But the most important thing they want to know is “Why are you asking me?  What do you expect me to bring to the Board?”  Don’t be afraid that being honest about expectations will scare them off.  The right person will be attracted by your enthusiasm and the serious way the Board approaches prospective members.

Formation

The recruitment process is a good start, but a formal orientation process will help bring the new trustee up to speed quickly.  In this orientation he or she is introduced to school leadership and key processes and documents, like the Mission Statement, the Strategic Plan, expectations of the sponsoring religious body, school history and current issues the Board has been grappling with.

This orientation can begin during a dinner meeting at the start of the school year, but on-boarding should also include opportunities over the course of their first year.  Some schools assign a mentor as a resource person for the neophyte trustee.

The process just described is applicable to any board of any organization.  Faith-based schools need to take this a step further with what we call Formation.  Their mission, which the board is in place to support, is to foster not just the intellectual growth of its students, but their spiritual growth as well. Trustees must not only understand what that means, but be committed to their own spiritual growth.  There’s a difference between information and formation.  Formation needs to be experiential, regular and geared to the needs of trustees as they grow on the board.

For our students, we think through a curriculum to guide them during their years in our school rather than just present unconnected lessons and courses.  Similarly, we need to think through how a trustee will grow over their 3 or 6 years on the board, and design a formation program to foster that growth.  Maybe, for instance, the second year trustees have already been trained on group discernment.  So you don’t want to repeat it for them.  But the first year folks still need it. An effective formation program has some common elements for all trustees, like the board retreat, and some elements geared to the needs of each cohort.

Self-evaluation

An important element of any growth process is evaluation. We learn from experience, but only if we reflect honestly on that experience.  An individual might be able to do this for herself in an informal way, because there is only one self doing the evaluating.  But that won’t work for a board because each trustee would know only his own feelings about how the board is functioning.  A regular, formal process in which everyone participates is needed for the board as a whole to learn from its own experience how things are going and how they can be improved.

The questions should ask trustees to rate the quality of their meetings, decision-making processes, agendas, the presentations and information they receive, committee effectiveness, their relationship with the administration and whether the board has the kinds of members it needs.  It should also ask trustees to rate their own participation and effectiveness, as well as how the experience has gone for them and how it could be better.  The results of the evaluation should be discussed in a meeting where the board can prioritize the improvements it wants to make and set goals for the coming year.

Board Policy Manual

The by-laws provide general rules within which the board and the school must operate.  But over time, the board will develop its own policies to govern itself and the school.  As trustees join and leave the board, it’s important to have one place they can find all board policies currently in force.

These might include the processes for electing officers, approving new members, approving the budget, conducting a self-evaluation or evaluating the chief administrative officer.  Having a Policy Manual spares the Board from reinventing processes once it has developed them, but it doesn’t prevent the Board from modifying them as its needs change.

Board Policy Manuals can be kept in hard-copy form, but schools are finding it more helpful to maintain them on line, often on a trustee webpage linked to the school’s website.  This allows access to them from anywhere and assures that the manual trustees are looking at is up to date. The Board Policy Manual comes under the purview of the board secretary but is usually maintained by a school staff member.

These best practices around recruitment, formation, self-evaluation and the board policy manual– will strengthen your board’s effectiveness if you’re not already doing them.  If you are, be sure to review them periodically to make sure your board is receiving their full benefit.

More information on how boards can best carry out their crucial role is available several places on this website, www.managingformission.com, by clicking on our SERVICES and RESOURCES tabs.  Or go to our MfM YouTube Channel, where you’ll find tutorials on best practices particularly appropriate for faith-based schools.  You can also find a video version of this blog post.

In the third blog post in this series, Doing the Board’s Work, we’ll look at four other areas where best practices can strengthen your board’s effectiveness: committees, strategic planning, evaluation of the Chief Administrative Officer and Board philanthropy.   

I encourage you to keep learning more about effective boards and working to make sure your school’s board is one of them.

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The Board’s Unique Role

Jack Peterson, Managing for Mission
February 15, 2016

Boards are funny creatures.  We give ultimate authority for an institution dearly important to us to a group of people who have little expertise in the core work of education, who spend only a precious few hours working together, and who must guide the school from within the cumbersome framework of group decision-making.  Why would we do this?

As unwieldy as school governance can feel at times, it’s critical to accomplishing the school’s mission over the long run.  

For school administrators, governing boards can sometimes feel like a necessary evil, something that just complicates their job and their ability to manage the school.  Unfortunately, this can be a self-fulfilling assumption.  The more we ignore the board and try to minimize the board and its impact, the more problematic it becomes.  Administrators will be able to do their jobs better if they invest time in supporting the board, in its proper role, and helping it become more effective.

So what is the board’s role?

We’ve all heard the word “fiduciary” to describe the role of trustees, as in “boards have a fiduciary responsibility.”  I used to think this word meant “financial,” that the board’s responsibility is relegated to the financial solvency of the school.  But fiduciary simply means trust.  It means that the board holds the school in trust for the community it serves and for the mission that comes to it from the greater church.

While administrators know their professions and their school’s mission well, they need this group of trustees to connect their work and the mission to the community they serve.  When boards are working well they bring three indispensable benefits to the school, often characterized as wisdom, wealth and work.

Wisdom

Trustees are a rich source of wisdom for shaping governance level policies and for assisting administrators in shaping administrative level policies because they’re drawn from a range of professions and backgrounds.

Wealth

When we say they bring “wealth,” we don’t mean simply that the trustees themselves are wealthy.  We mean that, because they connect well with the community, they help the school access resources it never could without them.  Yes, they themselves need to be benefactors, in proportion to their means, but they also attract other benefactors, and they help the schools tap into opportunities they might not otherwise.

Work

“Work” refers to the volunteering trustees do, not only in formulating sound policy for the schools, but by rolling up their sleeves to assist in areas of the school’s operations where their talents can be enlisted.

The Board forms an important link in what we call the “Chain of Care” that extends from Jesus to the church to the board, to the administration and faculty and ultimately to the student.  By doing its job well, the board strengthens this Chain of Care so that the students experience in a palpable and sustainable way the loving, creative presence of God in their lives.  If you want to learn more about this, Managing for Mission has a tutorial explaining the Chain of Care in greater depth.

As I said earlier, boards are funny creatures, and it isn’t always easy for trustees or administrators to understand the nuances of their role.  The line between governance and administration can be fuzzy, and board members can feel pulled inside that line and begin micromanaging and interfering with the administration.  Or they can feel pushed so far outside it that they can’t provide that life-giving connection that holds the school accountable to the community and the community accountable to supporting the school.

I’d like to borrow a way of explaining this from my colleague, David Coleman, author of Board Essentials, who talks about the different hats trustees wear.  There are three of them, and it is critical that Board members understand at any given point which hat they’re wearing.

Policy

The first hat is the policy hat.  It’s the most important, because governance level policy can only be formulated by the board.  If the board doesn’t set these overall policies no one else can.  No one else has that authority.  But as important as the policy function is, it’s the thing boards actually do the least.  Schools just don’t need that many governance level policies and once they’re in place, they usually stay in place for a while.

An example of a governance level policy might be the school’s commitment to diversity, or to employee benefits.  Budget is one of those grey areas, with the board setting the bigger parameters, like tuition or the faculty base, but not deliberating line item expenditures.

As seldom as trustees make big policy decisions, they still have to keep this hat close at hand because when it’s needed, they’re the only ones who can wear it.

Sounding Board

The second hat I call “Sounding Board.”  As pointed out earlier, there is a wealth of collective wisdom on the board, and administrators would do well to access that wisdom as they make decisions and formulate their administrative policies.

There are times when an administrator may want advice from the board for a decision which is hers to make, for instance a change to the dress code.  If the board thinks it’s wearing its Policy hat, it may end up tying the hands of the administrator by directing her rather than advising her.  When this happens, it can lead the administrator to become overly cautious about what she shares with the board.  The board is then pushed further away from the school and the wisdom it could offer is lost.

Volunteer

Finally there is the “Volunteer” hat.  The board is a great source of volunteers because they’re usually skilled and passionate about the school and its interests.  But again the trustees take off their Policy hats when they volunteer in the school.  

If a trustee is asked to serve on the campaign committee, he doesn’t overrule the development director by virtue of his status as a trustee.  In fact he has to be careful even when he isn’t intending to speak authoritatively because school personnel may assume they’d better do what he says.

I sometimes wish board members would actually wear these hats so that it’s clear to themselves and others what role they’re filling at any given point.  Short of requiring that, trustees should be constantly asking which hat they are wearing and make sure that is communicated to those they work with.

More information on how boards can best carry out their crucial role is available several places on this website, www.managingformission.com, by clicking on our SERVICES and RESOURCES tabs.  Or go to our MfM YouTube Channel, where you’ll find tutorials on best practices and an approach to discernment particularly appropriate for faith-based schools.  You can also find a video version of this blog post.

Thanks for your willingness to strengthen the mission of your school by serving on or supporting its board.  I pray that God will bless you in your work and bless the school and its students as a result.

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The Strategic Planning Process

Jack Peterson, Managing for Mission
November 15, 2015

For faith-based schools, good Strategic Planning is critical to survival and growth.  We all know we need to do it, and if we can better understand what makes it so important, we’ll also understand how to do it effectively.

Strategic planning is the process of aligning all the internal factors within a school’s control in order to accomplish its mission in the face of external factors that are not within its control.  This definition sounds a little like an institutional version of the Serenity Prayer.  There are some things, like the economy, trends in culture and technology that we can’t change.  But by being aware of them, we can use the factors within our control, like our curriculum, tuition, the condition of our campus, to harness the opportunities and manage the threats.

Resources in our Faith-based schools seem scarce, but when we focus our people, our traditions and our assets on what is strategically most important to us, most schools have more than enough to accomplish their mission.  Strategic Planning is a discipline that creates and sustains that focused use of resources.  For the board, the Strategic Plan is a tool to provide governance level direction, without being drawn into the operations of the school.  For administrative leadership, it assures that they can follow through on sustained, multi-year initiatives.  They know they have the backing of the board, even as its membership changes from year to year.

For parents, employees and donors, it shows them how their efforts and generosity will translate into the outcomes the school promises.

From my work during three decades in Catholic School administration and my work with Managing for Mission’s clients, I’ve learned that there are some key characteristics, 10 in all, to a successful plan.  Right now, I’d like to talk about 3 of these:  The plan needs to be Strategic, Broadly owned and Implementation oriented.  

First, to be effective, the Strategic Plan must be truly STRATEGIC.  It can’t just be a grab bag of nice things to do, or pet projects of particular individuals.  It must focus on the game changers, those few directions that will make all the difference in the long-run.

Second, the Plan must be BROADLY-OWNED.  After all, who owns the school?  Not a small group of shareholders, but a broad group of stakeholders: teachers, students, parents, donors and supporters.  Their generosity in one form or another, must be sustained day in and day out, year in and year out, for the school to accomplish its mission.  To move the plan from theory to reality, these stakeholders must come to embrace it as their own.

Which brings us to the third characteristic:  it must be IMPLEMENTATION-ORIENTED.  The Strategic Plan itself will be a visionary document, providing the general direction for the next 5 to 10 years.  But it must flow into an implementation plan which is formulated by the administration each year.  This annual implementation plan must identify the specific steps, targets and responsibilities that will keep everyone on track to accomplishing the plan’s goals.

So how do we do all that?  We recommend a process that generally takes 9-12 months in all.  Can a Strategic Plan be done in less time?  Sure.  A school can produce a plan in a weekend.  But it won’t have those three characteristics.  We recommend a process that begins with the Board, casts a broad, participative net, and then draws all the input back in to a concise, coherent and compelling document.

The Board begins with a retreat to reflect on strategic issues and set parameters.  Then it commissions a Steering Committee to guide the process.  The steering committee reaches out to a few dozen leaders in various sectors of the school community to analyze the Opportunities and Threats facing the school, as well as its Strengths and Weaknesses in responding to them.

Using this SWOT analysis, the school prepares a survey to be sent to all its stakeholders: parents, alumni and friends.  Using their input the school then invites its stakeholders to a town-hall type Stakeholders Meeting with 3 sessions in which participants can chose from several planning areas to discuss and give input.  From these, the Steering Committee selects 4-6 strategic areas for which special Topic Teams will be impaneled to drill into and make goal recommendations.  The Steering Committee receives these goal recommendations and distills them into the strategic few that will form the Strategic Plan.  While this last step is happening, the Administration begins working with the school team to develop the Annual Implementation Plan for the first year.  The Strategic Plan is then presented to the Board for its approval.  At the same time, the administration presents the Annual Implementation Plan to demonstrate to the Board how it will be working toward those goals.

As important as the Strategic Plan is, even more important is the planning process.  Done right, it will engender a discipline of thoughtfulness and collaboration which are themselves the biggest dividends.

If you’d like to learn more about the Strategic Planning process, additional resources are available under the Resources tab of this website (www.managingformission.com).  More is also available in earlier Blog posts in our Archives.  Also a 6.5 minute video tutorial is available on our YouTube Channel.

Thank you for not letting your school drift in the crosswinds of external forces and instead using a strategic plan to navigate to the future God wants to provide.

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