The Case for Advancement

Teacher, administrator, bookkeeper, education leader, secretary, counselor, admissions, PR, Athletic director, VBS, Sunday School, youth director, special ed. It’s quite the job description, that of a Lutheran school principal. For most Lutheran schools, the investment in staff is in the classroom while the administration of the schools is on the shoulder of a leader who hopes to have a strong, talented administrative assistant who can think ahead and work in effective support with the principal.

It’s a taxing job, that of the Lutheran school principal. The roles are listed. Add to the responsibilities of state reporting, church leadership and its many meetings, human resource tasks and financial reporting and planning and the job is not just taxing but probably needs Superman/Wonder Woman to get it done.

Years ago, the LCMS introduced the idea of an admission counselor. As part of the Funding Academy, administrators were challenged with addressing the empty seats in their schools. To do this, principals were faced with the challenges of getting the good word of their school out to the church community and beyond. Marketing efforts, admissions processes and retention strategies were listed. Yet how would one find 20 more hours to deal with this when a 60 hour labor of love was already being performed as a principal? Solution? Invest in an admission counselor (also known as enrollment manager). The rationale was clear- invest in a part-time person to own the enrollment process and by enrolling 4 or 5 additional students, the admission counselor’s part-time salary would be covered.

It’s apparent that this plan has been well received synod-wide and the results have been effective. The wisdom (and desperation) that occurred to bring about this idea has been a healthy addition to many schools. 10 years later, the investment from school to school is realized.

The admission counselor was about marketing as much as it was about funding. With tuition being a the #1 revenue source for many schools and a growing part of traditionally funded schools, the need for strong enrollments means better bottom lines and better programming.

However, funding continues to be a challenge for schools. Expenses have increased due to the needs of the school. Expenses include increases in health benefits (but kudos to Concordia Health Plans for their strong efforts!), support for various student issues, responding to the growing realities of new teacher student debt and the effects of regulations imposed by the state and other regulatory agencies. While expenses have increased, funding sources have changed.  Congregational support has decreased, government support has increased, and tuition has increased. All of these issues contribute to funding issues. For many schools, salaries are in need of improving. Too often, the funding issues of the school land on the staff in a “fourth source” funding model- low pay and understaffed.

So new funding models are sought. Some schools have looked to a higher ed model of funding that includes tuition, endowment, annual fund campaigns and grants to fund the mission. A growing number of Lutheran high schools are utilizing this design. But what is needed for a strong advancement effort? What expertise is needed? What tools are needed?

As an example, consider the administration of receiving gifts. What policies are in place for the acceptance of a gift? How can a donor be encouraged toward the needs of the school? How can the donor be certain that his/her direction for the gift is honored? What happens when a gift is received? Who receives it? Who deposits it? Who says thank you? Who tracks the gift giving? What templates are in place for acknowledgement of the gift? What receipt is needed for the  gift? Is there a difference in terms of acknowledgement and receipt based on the type and size of the gift? How quickly should thanks be given? These are just the issues within the topic of gift reception. What happens when endowments are considered? How does one continue engagement with donors? How are potential donors sought and fostered?

Those knowledgeable and with expertise in the area of fundraising talk about three major areas of administering an ongoing advancement effort. Pull away the marketing portion of the effort and the three major necessities are maintaining a database (including tracking donations), operating an annual fund campaign and growing the endowment. Operating a database is extremely valuable but takes time to manage. Carrying out an annual fund campaign needs planning that includes themes, stories, determining a campaign goal and being sure to follow-up with all donations. Growing endowment takes time as relationships are gained and fostered, opportunities to give are shared and gifts are received.

If these efforts were easy, everyone would have these in place and everyone would invest in the ongoing efforts. However, fundraising takes time, takes expertise and takes an investment of people and money.

There is no simple answer to growing advancement efforts. However, be sure that someone needs to own the effort and it will take time before the benefits occur. As the job of the principal is already diverse and taxing, consider staffing for this need. Advancement staffing may not be understood within our Lutheran schools. Now is the time to make this effort happen. As many are experiencing strong returns in financial investments of the past, it’s time for asking of support of school ministry to occur now. We need to talk and be better informed on this need and do our best to staff for this effort.

Advancement and fundraising is about generosity. It’s about support. It’s about making sure the Gospel continues to be shared. Just as is the case for elements of the school, advancement as well is all about Jesus.