Catholic leaders welcome expert on school marketing, advancement

by KIMBERLEE SABSHIN
Fri, Jan 6th 2017 11:00 am
Staff Reporter
Diocesan education leaders attended a December lecture about marketing Catholic schools to the community. (WNYC File Photo)
Diocesan education leaders attended a December lecture about marketing Catholic schools to the community. (WNYC File Photo)

In December, principals, board members, pastors and administrators of Catholic schools in the diocese met at the Buffalo Club for a presentation by Frank Donaldson, an expert on advancement and marketing of Catholic schools. Donaldson, a New Orleans resident and president of the Institute for School and Parish Development, spoke on "Philosophy, Fundamentals and Processes of Catholic School Development and Advancement."

Representatives of elementary and middle schools and the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools were in attendance, along with Bishop Richard J. Malone.

"Everywhere we have Catholic schools, we know the challenge of not only keeping the schools healthy, but helping them to flourish. That's my mantra - we want the schools to flourish. We don't want people to think about Catholic schools in the context of survival, right? But there are so many examples of that already in the Diocese of Buffalo, throughout Western New York," the bishop said. "Thank you for your leadership, day after day, whatever may be your particular role in the schools you represent."

"You're in for a treat today as you learn the ABCs of some marketing with Frank Donaldson," said Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ, superintendent of Catholic schools. "Bishop Malone has been a stalwart supporter of our efforts in the Office of Catholic Schools."

Donaldson noted that marketing, development and advancement for Catholic schools is not fundraising, but rather a way to involve people in these schools. "Our goal is to be able to sense the spiritual bonding of community, friendship and commitment. One of those results could be financial support," he said. "Catholic school development is not a win-lose situation. It really is a process of bringing Christ to people, and people to Christ."

Donaldson touched on a variety of topics from his book, "25 Lessons Learned in 25+ Years in Catholic School Development," to address the long-term stability of Catholic schools. As a former Catholic schoolteacher, principal and development director, he began the Institute for School and Parish Development in 1989.

"We want to talk about the importance of establishing and engaging culture, and we want to talk about the different roles of leadership - pastor, principal - and we want to talk about the importance of your 'wow' and how that ties into enrollment management," Donaldson said, using the word "wow" to refer to something that is unique to, and thus a strong marketing point for, a particular diocesan parish or school.

According to Donaldson, a thriving school depends on updating marketing and fundraising to meet the needs of the 21st century, rather than relying on the same fundraisers a parish or school has already used for many years. Since in his more than 25 years of working in advancement of Catholic schools, enrollment and church participation have gone down, methods must change.

"We call it the seven 'I' approach," he remarked, asking school leaders to identify a vision and gifts of individual people, look at how a school informs others about itself, invite community members, encourage parishioners to invest in the school and involve themselves, implement plans and work with others to improve the school. Donaldson ended his lecture with a workshop asking attendees to brainstorm ideas, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Virginia Wallace, community relations coordinator for the Catholic Schools office, called the workshop an "extraordinary opportunity" for the leadership in attendance. Wallace is participating in a 12-month series of webinars based on Donaldson's book.

"He's very methodical and very specific, and he speaks in language that's easy to understand. He's been in so many different circumstances, and he's helped people get through so many different circumstances that there's probably no question somebody could ask him that he hasn't already had an experience with," Wallace commented of Donaldson.  

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