ISPD Celebrates 34th Anniversary

In June of 1989, the Institute for School and Parish Development opened for business. This month, as we begin our 34th year of working with Catholic schools, parishes, and (arch) dioceses throughout the country, we are hosting our annual ISPD Development School right here in New Orleans from June 26th thru June 28th. The conference will be a celebration of many years of service, as ISPD associates crisscrossed the country consulting with thousands of Catholic leaders in strategic planning, enrollment management, feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual funds, new parishioner welcome, total stewardship, development–advancement office set-up, and so much more. It has been quite a journey with over 2,000,000 domestic miles on Delta and enough Southwest, Marriott, and Hertz points and perks to tour the world several times. Starting with four clients in 1989, today – by design — ISPD’s client load stays steady with 20-25 Catholic institutions at a time.

After all these years, there are themes and memorable experiences that bubble up to the top. We would like to use this newsletter announcing our 34-year anniversary to highlight two of those themes that have made such a difference in our work with Catholic leaders.

We’ve learned a lot throughout these years. We have seen the good, the not-so-good,  the great, and sometimes the ugly. We have worked with Catholic leaders who were second to none, where you always knew why their parish or school or (arch) diocese was top quality. We have also worked with those Catholic leaders who never understood what it meant to develop a team and build collaborative approaches to the many processes that make up the Operational Vitality component of Catholic institutions. We have worked with pastors who saw the parish as the people’s parish and themselves as the shepherd, and we have worked with other pastors who saw the parish as their sole domain over which they ruled. We have seen Catholic school leaders who built such a strong culture of belonging that no one wanted to leave, and we have seen other Catholic school leaders who never took the time to build that culture because they wanted to control everything. Then, they wondered why they lost excellent faculty and staff members at the end of the school year.

We have always said that when it comes to understanding and learning this ministry of Catholic Development—Advancement—Stewardship—Marketing—Enrollment Management, there is the art and there is the science. We believe we can teach Catholic leaders the science (the how-to), but the art only comes with experience.

Through the years we are often asked in our on-site consults, workshops, and classes we teach via the University of Dayton, “What makes an outstanding Catholic school and/or parish?” We believe it is two words – LEADERSHIP and ATTITUDE. Starting with the latter, attitude is all about approach – do we position ourselves and our school and/or parish in a proactive stance, or are we always dodging bullets? Do we approach each day with the attitude of becoming better and listening to others, or do we always believe we have THE answer? Do we seek to build a culture of belonging where the prevailing theme and attitude is inclusion, or do we see no value in a culture of that nature? Do we build our parish or our school with collaborative decision making or are we all about unilateral decision making? It all starts with attitude.

Framed in 1989, the quote by Charles Swindoll still hangs on the wall in the ISPD office:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company . . . a church . . . a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past . . . we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you; we are in charge of our attitudes.

Leadership. Millions of books and articles have been written about this word. Yet, I can always remember my father’s words when I told him I was going to be a Catholic school administrator back in the ‘80’s. He said, “You know son, leadership can be a wonderful thing if you do it right. But being a leader doesn’t make you better than anyone; it just gives you greater responsibility. Leadership is about empowering others and making them feel like they belong. It is all about building up and not tearing down. You will make a great leader if you realize that it is your job to make everyone around you better.” Those were such words of wisdom.

It has been a joy and a pleasure over these 34 years to have worked with and continue to be working with Catholic leaders who understand the above statement. I can think of the hundreds of capital campaigns, strategic planning processes, enrollment management consults, feasibility studies, development/advancement plans and hires, annual funds, and other processes that are and were so successful because the leadership “got it.” They are there for every meeting; they lead by example; they are welcoming and appreciative; they respect input and best wisdom from others; they are affirming, positive, and proactive. And, in those cases where the road gets rocky, those Catholic leaders are all about collaboration – sitting down with their leadership team and figuring out how a process or an event can get better. What a joy it is to work with leaders like this with that kind of attitude!

So, here’s to another 34 years of continuing to fulfill our mission: Through consulting, coaching, and educating, we bring people, process, and ministry together to help build the Kingdom of God.

Thank you to so many who continue to make this ministry such a meaningful journey.

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