An Open Letter to SIJ Parents
January 8, 2009
Beginning two years ago, the SIJ Parish Stewardship Commission recognized the need to examine the number, nature, and coordination of fundraising efforts for both the parish and school. A need was also identified to increase the level of financial support for the activities of the parish and school.
In the summer of 2008, we began looking for a Development and Marketing Director for the parish and school. Not long after - in August 2008 - I came on board in a dual capacity as Business Manager and Development/Marketing Director. It wasn't long until a vision began to take shape in consultation with the administration, Stewardship Commission, and School Advisory Committee. The position was renamed "Advancement Director" and we began to travel the long road in a new direction for our parish and school.
Essentially, Advancement is the sales, marketing, and customer service end of parish and school management. When I attended “Business Manager School” we covered finance, building and grounds management, human resources, and to a lesser extent, technology. Even though sales, marketing, and customer service are crucial to any business - especially for us as a church and school that are dependent upon donations - they weren’t part of the curriculum.
So what does Advancement mean for St. Isaac Jogues Parish & School? Our program will be focusing on a number of areas – communications (like our new web site!), public relations, school alumni, marketing (particularly for the school), major fundraising, and planned giving. All of these activities have one purpose and one purpose only: to advance the mission of St. Isaac Jogues Parish & School – “to proclaim the Gospel through joyful, active worship, lifelong education, nurturing fellowship and compassionate Christian Service” and to educate our school children in a “Christ-centered environment.” My long-term job is to help every parishioner, school family, and school alumni to see that our mission is worth their investment, their involvement, and their sacrifice.
Why do we need to change our focus to Advancement? What I've learned from numerous seminars and my experiences at other schools is that the traditional model of Catholic School fundraising (candy sales, magazine sales, car washes, etc.) has failed us. As evidence, I present the 1,200 schools that have closed their doors around the country since 2000. St. Isaac Jogues has no intention of becoming a statistic. Oddly, when a school is threatened with closure, they suddenly embrace advancement. In 2005, Notre Dame High School (my alma mater) had a $5 million commitment from area businessmen to keep the school afloat in addition to thousands of dollars from alumni and parents. When its closure was announced in 2007, Our Lady of Loretto School in Redford raised over $100,000 to keep the school going for another year. But, it was too late for both of those institutions.
Our traditional fundraising efforts have raised a significant amount of money for the school (the most recent peak was $55,000 in 2007-2008). However, our fundraising revenue has been stagnant for several years prior to a steep decline over the past two years as the economy tanked and our enrollment began to decline. In addition, due to the sheer number of individual fundraisers, parent participation has been poor. In most cases, we see participation rates of 25% or lower in any particular fundraiser.
If we are to survive and thrive for the long-term, we need to shift our focus. Right now, we focus on selling - candy, flowers, magazines, gifts, etc. We need to shift our focus to giving - that what we do (our mission) - is worth a gift.
To that end, we are engaged a long-term plan to shift the focus of our fundraising efforts using the following criteria:
- Are they mission-centered? Do the actions we take not only support the mission by raising funds but reflect our mission and allow us to share it with others?
- Do our fundraising activities allow us to segment our approach to different donors?
- Are we building community and relationships? Are we raising friends and not just funds?
- Are our efforts sustainable for the long haul?
- Do we get good value for the time and energy expended?
Without significant financial support, our mission will eventually die like so many others before us. As Fr. Tim has said, we have a responsibility to graduate every student that walks through our doors. And we intend to do so.
The transition to an Advancement philosophy will not be easy. Advancement is hard work and it is not magic. We have to earn the right for support. But - given time - it will work. We are one of only two grade schools that I am aware in the Archdiocese of Detroit that have truly embraced this philosophy. We have a golden opportunity to be on the cutting edge of grade school advancement in this diocese. More importantly, we need to do the best we can to support the educational mission of St. Isaac Jogues School. If we settle for anything less, we are selling short ourselves and our students - present and future.
Thanks for reading,