Development Is From Mars, and Admission Is From Venus

Vol. 12 No. 5


Why do people work for private-independent schools? They want to support their schools' missions, of course, which could deal with everything from religion to academic abilities to unique educational experiences, but one thing is certain: We guarantee that no one works at your school merely “for the money.”

At the same time, money is one of those harsh realities facing any private school. While your tuition should cover all operating costs, any enhancements to your program like technological updates or new facilities rely on charitable giving. It may sound mercenary, but you will need money to pay for all your mission-appropriate upgrades, and tuition can’t cover everything.

That’s where you as the Development Director and all your staff come to the rescue, but your office can’t do it alone. You need the cooperation and support of your entire school. We’ve talked about collaborative recruitment as part of your school’s overall advancement plan, coordinating all marketing efforts to ensure consistency of sharing your school’s mission. Sometimes, though, it can feel as though other offices are operating on another planet.

Take the Admission Office. The counselors, tour guides, and advisers in this office serve as the gatekeepers to the institution, essentially “driving the bus” on school composition. Admission is student-centered and low-key, focused on finding mission-appropriate families. The admission staff tend to be exceptional listeners who sincerely care about their applicants, concerned more about whether the students will succeed in the academic community rather than if the family can pay all or more than the “sticker price” of the school.

In fact, Admission Officers rarely feel comfortable discussing money, especially in the last five years since the recession. Some in the Admission Office flatly refuse to do so, claiming that it’s “not their job” to talk about the philanthropic culture of the school. They worry they’ll lose families if they mention expenses at all, and filling seats is tremendously difficult. Instead, they may downplay tuition and fees, reminding families about financial aid programs as ways to sell the school.

But avoiding the school’s financial expectations of families will create a toxic environment for everyone involved. Imagine a time when a family visited and later agreed to attend your school, with not a word spoken about the culture of giving in which they’re expected to participate. Imagine their dismay when the first annual fund donation request arrived in the mailbox, especially if they received financial aid. It’s not the Development Office they called first, though—the Admission Office fielded that conversation. This sort of miscommunication breeds antipathy because the parent feels as though the school was falsely advertised in a bait-and-switch scenario. (How many times have we heard about the "hidden fees" of phone or cable plans? This is exactly the same sentiment.)

In a way, the Admission Office staff in this scenario did misrepresent their school if they failed to make this additional obligation known to their applicants. If the expectation of donating to the school above and beyond their “required” financial commitments is what makes or breaks the decision for the family, this may be one applicant your school can afford to lose to replace with one who would be willing to invest more in their child’s future.

This situation can be avoided if the Admission and Development Offices communicate the goals of their respective duties to each other as part of a collaborative recruitment effort, rather than “someone else’s job.” It’s everyone’s job to make your school’s mission and commitment to education clear to future families by explaining how current objectives and goals are achieved through fund-raising efforts. Here are some ideas you could suggest for integrating development goals into the admission process.

  • When a family visits your school, spend a moment explaining how last year’s campaign improved your school by purchasing new technology or providing professional development for faculty.
  • Arrange for a representative from the Development Office to speak at an Admission event like open house or a new parents’ luncheon.
  • Add an extra page to your Web site detailing educational expenses and how the extra funding partially provided by involved parents bridges the gap between the bills and money raised by tuition.

Don’t take these suggestions as exhaustive. Rather, use this list as a starting point for your conversation with the Admission Office to ensure that everyone is on the same page for new student recruitment. We hold an Advancement Academy every year to facilitate communication between the Admission, Marketing/Communications, and Development Offices to avoid situations just like the ones we described here. Consider attending if you, too, want everyone working as a team next recruitment season.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 7 No. 7 You Want Me to Ask for Money???
ISM Monthly Private School News Vol. 10 No. 6 Keeping Communications Open and Flowing in Your School

Additional ISM Resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 30 No. 4 A Comprehensive Development Model
I&P Vol. 28 No. 15 Interdependence That Brings Financial Independence
I&P Vol. 36 No. 12 Strengthen the Ties Between the Development Director and the School
I&P Vol. 39 No. 2 Full Disclosure of Non-Tuition Expectations During Admission

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