Listen to Students and Parents, Hear New Ideas

Families and donors are sources of funds for most nonprofits. Therefore, there are times when the best way to treat one group is also best for the other group. Because there are some differences, there must be some variations in the process. This article and its companion article about donors highlights the differences and similarities.

Technology has made it possible to standardize many things. In addition, technology has made many things less expensive and richer in features. As a result, competition has moved from features and price to services. Even services are becoming standardized. It makes it hard for prospective clients to differentiate one service provider from another.

Christian schools have a choice. Each time a child attends school, it can be a transaction or it can be a relationship-building opportunity with the student and parents. It is easy for service opportunities to become transactional. When a teacher presents the same lesson every year, it can become a routine activity. When there is pressure to add more to the curriculum this year, it is hard to feel that there is time to vary the lesson.

Each student is a unique person. Therefore, each service opportunity can be used to create a unique relationship. That unique relationship has the opportunity to provide the mission and families with several benefits. It will also provide your school with a competitive advantage and increase your school’s sustainability.

Each student has unique needs. Each of those unique needs is an opportunity to strengthen your services and enhance your mission. The only way to know what a family wants is to have a relationship with the family or prospective family that ensures an open and frank exchange of information. Once you know what the family wants, you must be willing to provide it, assuming what they want is mission centric. Sometimes this means creating something new. Whether you will ever use the new feature again is unimportant. By serving the family in a way that is beneficial to their student and your mission, you will capture the family’s business.

It makes responding to just one family’s request appear expensive. However, losing the student to a competitor may be more expensive. If you lose the student, all of the work you put into capturing the student will be lost (that is an expense you can never recapture). Since you lost the student, a competitor now has the student and the tuition associated with that student. If the feature is something future families want, you will be playing catch up while a competitor is collecting income and establishing a reputation for being student driven.

While there is expense and risk associated with catering to a single student’s needs there are benefits beyond the expense mitigation mentioned. Creating something new implies learning a new way to do something. The knowledge gained can often be leveraged even though the new feature is seldom used. Your willingness to create special features will attract families and expose your school to other special opportunities. Some of those opportunity will create competitive advantages. The new features will increase students’ success, which will attract more support, increase enrollment, improve student retention, increase sustainability, and increase the relevance of your mission.

The new features and a student-driven process will provide your school with a distinct value difference when recruiting students, donors, and board members. Most Christian schools claim to be student driven. Having new features that originate from family requests and may only be valuable to a small number of students demonstrates that your school is student driven. In other words, your student strategy can become a significant differentiator when competing for and retaining students. You will have more evidence and anecdotes to support the claim that your school is student driven.

A student-driven strategy encourages your families to play an important role in the ongoing development of your school and mission. Since families are the beneficiaries of your school’s services, it makes sense for them to have significant influence. While this will result in budget variances at times, there should also be an offsetting increase in donor generosity and the willingness of the parents to support an increase in tuition because of the increase in value to their children. This assumption is predicated on the family’s request being mission centric and your fundraising team using the request to cultivate donor support.

Next Step:

Create a personal relationship with each student, parent, and potential family

Convert students’ and prospective students’ needs into new services or features

Use your new features and increasing student success to cultivate new donors, grow donor loyalty, and grow donor generosity

A student with a unique need has the potential to do more for the future of your school than other students. Besides adding to this year’s successes, the student will help you expand the reach and increase the effectiveness of your mission and services, potentially create a competitive advantage, potentially put your school and mission on the leading edge of an emerging need, help your school develop new skills, increase your school’s sustainability, and attract, retain, and increase the generosity of your donors.

Use your commitment to being student driven to drive your innovations.

Take It Further:

Ensure that all new features are mission centric in addition to being student driven (prevent what the students and families might want from diluting or redefining your mission)

Ask you staff to actively seek suggestions which will make your mission more effective for students


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