Happy Schools Are Unique

If you want your parochial school to be happy, successful, and sustainable, it must find a way to be unique. Your community and your major stakeholders will provide the support you want when you are unique in a way they value.

Almost every struggling Christian school is struggling for the same reason. They are involved in intense competition. They might be competing for resources, donors, students, or talent. They may also be competing with different groups for different resources (corporations for talent, public schools for students, other schools for donors, etc.).

Unless a school is unique, it will be in competition with someone for something. Eventually, everyone loses to a competitor. When there are enough losses, a school becomes unsustainable.

One would like to think that when a school closes the community and students suffer. However, the continuing success of the competitor(s) ensures that neither the community nor the students suffer. It is the fact that others are meeting the community and students’ needs that eventually forces the school to close. The only ones who suffer are the closing school’s employees.

When a school is unique, the competitive landscape is different. Using talent as an example, usually talent goes where the pay is the best. Therefore, typical schools must compete for talent by paying more.

When a school is unique in a way that is meaningful to the community and employees, people recognize the career value of working for the school. Therefore, people have lower salary and benefit demands because they want the school’s name on their resume.

Think about all of the areas where your school competes with at least one other organization (school, nonprofit, government agency, or for-profit). Now think about the intensity of the competition. Each day the intensity of the competition is increasing. Each day the increasing competitiveness of your environment is eroding your school’s sustainability. The effort put into competing reduces the effort available to drive your mission and serve your students.

The only way you can reduce the competitive pressures and increase the sustainability of your school is to add more breadth and depth to your school’s uniqueness. As you broaden your uniqueness, be sure to do it in ways that are seen as valuable by your community and stakeholders.

Next Step:

List the areas where your school competes with others

Determine what you must do in each area or overall to establish your uniqueness in a meaningful way

Use the increase in donor support and student enrollment as measures of your success

Avoid starting new initiatives in any area that might be seen as similar to what others are doing

It is tempting to copy something that someone else is doing. It is easy to want the level of success they have achieved. It is easy to think there are better ways to do what someone else does. However, as soon as you copy them you enter into competition with them. Neither you nor they will benefit from the competition.

We all have to use the same tools (cars, computers, Facebook, advertising, etc.). However, it is always possible to use those tools in a unique way. It takes thought and planning to use the tools in a way that is uniquely valuable to your mission.

Establishing and maintaining the uniqueness of an organization is work. However, it is easier, has a higher probability of being sustainable, and is less time consuming and expensive than competing with others.

Take It Further:

Think about your school’s competitive landscape. If you do nothing to increase your uniqueness, how much longer will your school be able to survive?

As you look for opportunities to grow, focus on the opportunities that provide the greatest potential for making your school unique.

Encourage your board to make uniqueness a priority when making decisions.


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