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Outside In

Everyone wants to give good customer service and have good customer results. However, very few Christian schools are able to live up to their own expectations or the expectations of their donors, families, and students. Donors are customers. Even if they never use your services, they pay for your services. Put another way, donor management is another name for customer service. Superior customer service helps create loyal customers. Loyal donors are the foundation of a sustainable funding stream and necessary for having a high level of sustainability.

The best way to create and maintain great customer service is to look in from the outside. When your team (staff and board) views every activity from the outside observers’ or users’ point of view, important changes take place. It has the potential to change all aspects of your business model.

As an example, think about how creating donor-driven and student-driven reporting would change your school. The donors want the students to receive highly effective, life-changing services, which is the same thing the students and parents want. That places an emphasis on results and outcomes that are meaningful, measurable, and durable through services that are consistent, reproducible, and scalable rather than just on academic achievement. Very few schools measure those six elements and even fewer report them. However, all six are important to increasing community support, student enrollment, and donor generosity, loyalty, and engagement.

Focusing on those six elements also changes how a Christian school thinks about its efficiency, effectiveness, and budgeting. Administrative activities (expenses) then revolve around what it takes to deliver the desired services and produce the desired results rather than what it takes to operate the school inexpensively.

Let students, families, and donors, rather than management or the board, set the standards for how those six elements and performance are measured. It changes how fundraising and budgeting are done. Previously the discussion might have revolved around improving customer service and how it can be done with the existing resources. Now demonstrate that the donors’ expectation will be met. When the donors’ expectations are met, there will be engaged donors willing to provide the resources necessary to deliver the services students and donors expect.

Next Step:

Hold your school accountable for delivering the services students and donors want

Ask your students, families, and donors to set the standards for what is meaningful, measurable, durable, consistent, reproducible, and scalable

Structure your school around meeting the expectations for the six elements

Report the changes, goals, and impact of the six elements

When you look at your school from the outside in, it is easy to see why transparency is important to your stakeholders. Many times a school’s tracking and reporting are hard for outsiders (non-staff and non-board stakeholders) to understand. That makes it hard for outsiders to be enthusiastic supporters even when the school is doing a great job. When the outside drives the success measurement, it is easy for the outsiders to understand that a great job is being done. This happens primarily because the measurement and reporting are exactly what the outsiders asked for. The results may sometimes fall short of expectations but it is easier to be patient with progress or underperformance when you understand what is happening and you understand the evidence that informs the activity.

Students, families, donors, and your community have always been the ones who determined your school’s sustainability. You can ensure your school will have the support it needs to be highly sustainable by letting donors and families have more say when defining success.

Take It Further:

Hold your board, rather than the staff, accountable for student, family, and donor satisfaction (since the board sets the priorities and allocates the resources it makes sense for them to be accountable

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