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Help Your Students Design a Life

For a parochial school to have a competitive advantage, it must provide a product or service that is unique and significantly better than similar offerings.  The students, parents, donors, and community decide on the definition of unique and significantly better.  The robustness of the advantage depends on how hard it is for competitors to duplicate and what percentage of the students, parents, donors, and community think it is unique and significantly better.

Most mission statements promise a solution to a social problem that will probably take years to solve.  However, most parochial schools focus on providing services designed to address the academic and near-term needs of students.  In addition, the services usually only address a symptom of a larger problem.  Many schools further limit their mission statements to one of the symptoms.  Promising to address the problem is a competitive advantage by itself.  Fulfilling the promise is a significant competitive advantage.

Imagine two schools.  One’s mission statement promises the students will be self-sufficient and honorable members of our society.  The other’s mission statement promises to help the students achieve academic success.  Even though the mission statements are different, the schools both educate students.

The first school promises to change a student’s life.  Successfully changing a person’s life is a significant competitive advantage.

The student has an immediate need: advance to the next grade.  However, parents want students to be independent and respectful of others.  Fulfilling the promise of the first school’s mission statement implies meeting the needs and the wants.  Meeting the needs is critical to starting the process.  Satisfying the wants is critical to fulfilling the mission, creating a competitive advantage, and providing meaningful, measurable, and durable value for the community and the students.

The first step is to anticipate the programing needs of a typical student.  Since each student is different and the world is constantly evolving, the programing will constantly evolve.  Part of the program development is to have intentional programing for each phase of the student’s development.  Each phase must also be measurable.

The second step in the process is helping the parents articulate their wants.  Their wants then become the service delivery goals and your school’s most valuable outcome.  If the parents’ wants are your goals for the students, it will be easy to retain the students.  It will also be easier to sustain contact with the parents and students after graduation.  They will be more likely to become donors, advocates, and referral sources.

The third step is student cultivation.  Without student engagement, the students are less likely to do more than is needed to advance to the next grade.  Cultivating a student includes being able to quantifiably discuss the student’s progress toward satisfying his or her wants and being able to outline what is necessary to reach the next milestone.  Of course, the student’s wants and the parents’ wants must be aligned.

Durably changing a life is a long and involved process.  It is unnecessary for your school to provide every service the student might need.  It is sufficient to focus your services around the strengths of your staff and use other organizations to meet the remaining needs.  Your competitive advantage will be a solution customized for each student.

Since your solution will be customized, rather than one-size-fits-all, you will have a competitive advantage that will be difficult to match.  The priority of most parochial schools is the most efficient and least expensive way to meet students’ educational needs rather than the most effective way to satisfy each student’s wants.

The most durable competitive advantages are the ones that are most effective at meeting students’ needs and wants.  This has been proven to be true by schools, nonprofits, and for-profits of all types.  It is one of the characteristics of organizations with high levels of sustainability.

Next Step:

Commit to providing highly effective solutions that meet both your students’ and parents’ needs and wants

Create programing with goals that are the students’ and parents’ needs and wants and are expressed in ways that resonate with students, parents, and donors

Monitor the engagement of each student

Align your funding strategy with your service delivery model

How well your programing is able to meet your students’ and parents’ needs and wants will contribute to their willingness to become donors, advocates, and referral sources in the future.  In addition, the students’ and parents’ awareness of your school’s role in the students’ development, beyond academic preparation, will also contribute to their willingness to become donors, advocates, and referral sources in the future. While meeting their wants is promised by your mission statement, they seldom think about your mission statement.  Therefore, tracking and reporting each student’s progress, just like academic progress, will remind the parents of your intentionality and commitment.  That will help to remind them of your role in the development of their child beyond academics.

Meeting both the wants and needs of your parents and students will provide your school with a higher level of sustainability than most parochial schools.  It will also provide a meaningful, measurable, and durable demonstration of the value of your mission statement.

Take It Further:

Ask your board to make the long-term promise of your mission statement the first priority of your school

Select collaborators whose mission is complementary to yours and who are willing to take the long view when looking at services and student needs

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