Lessons Learned During COVID-19 Crisis

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This past week, NCEA (National Catholic Educational Association) released the third book we have written in the Lessons Learned series. The first publication (textbook) – 25 Lessons Learned in 25+ Years in Catholic School Development – was released in March 2016; the second book (workbook) was released in November 2017; and, this last one – 15 More Lessons Learned in 30+ Years in Catholic School Development – was released this month. As you can see, this is a total of 40 lessons, and this was before the COVID-19 Crisis.

What is interesting, as I go back through the 40 lessons, is that so many of them are as applicable today in these times as they were 1-4 years ago. In fact, one of our summer on-line courses is going to take the new book – 15 More Lessons Learned – and go through each chapter and apply those lessons to the times we are living in today.

Last week it was interesting to speak with the president of a Catholic high school and a principal of a Catholic elementary school in a Zoom meeting where they asked me, “What lessons have you learned during these times?” It was a great question, and one that I have thought about a great deal over the past few days. ISPD has been the recipient of a tremendous amount of input, as we have listened to what Catholic school and parish leaders have been challenged by and what their best practices are and have been. This information has come from over 1,500 responses from surveys we have and are conducting, along with being on numerous Zoom sessions, and hosting our Virtual Catholic School and Parish Cohort sessions every Monday at 1:00 PM Central Time. Principals, pastors, presidents, development/advancement officers, admissions directors, enrollment management personnel, board and council members, faculty and staff, ministry leaders, superintendents, and other Catholic leaders have all participated. We have listened, and we have learned a lot – and continue to do so.

So, it is not a stretch now to answer that question, “What lessons have you learned during these times?” I would like to offer the ten most relevant and meaningful ones that have risen to the top of my mind during this COVID-18 crisis.

Lesson 1: The Principles of ISPD Actually Make More Sense Today than Ever Before.

For over 30 years, there are five major principles we have believed in. These are the backbone and foundation of what we do; they are so applicable today.

  • Principle 1: ISPD’s mission statement – We bring people, process, and ministry together to help build the Kingdom of God.
  • Principle 2: Development is the meaningful involvement of people in your mission and vision for the future.
  • Principle 3: Belonging leads to believing.
  • Principle 4: The 7 I’s: Identify – Inform – Invite – Involve – Implement – Invest – Improve
  • Principle 5: Ripples in the Pond (the cover of the 25 Lessons Learned books) The premise here is that most Catholic schools and parishes invite and involve the first two ripples – their present leaders and those who raise their hand and say they want to be involved. However, there are hundreds of people who would love to be involved, but we do not invite them – personally. Now is the time to do that.

We believe that the more a Catholic school/parish can involve people and build their community NOW, the greater the rewards will be over the next 12 months.

Lesson 2: Leadership: When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going.

  • In referencing the teachings of John Maxwell, leadership is needed more at this time than ever before – on all fronts, paid and unpaid. Effective leaders shine in tough times; they are invigorated by the challenges, and they adjust to the present – day by day and hour by hour. Remember: Great coaches make adjustments at halftime; that is when games are won.

Lesson 3: The Investment in Technology Over the Past 5-10 Years has Proven to be Priceless.

  • The technology solutions you have used to get you to where you are today in these times, will not be the same solutions you will need to get you to where you want to be in the future. In a recent survey with over 125 Catholic leaders responding, we asked the question: How prepared were you for this crisis? 15% said very prepared; 40% said they were somewhat prepared; and, 45% said they were unprepared. Further clarifying, the main reasons were lack of leadership and lack of technology – software, hardware, and knowledge.
  • This should be at the top of the list of your “Rebirth and Renewal Plan.”

Lesson 4: Having a Development Core Team in Place Pays Huge Dividends.

  • For over 25 years, ISPD has been promoting the value of having a Development Core Team that can work alongside the people responsible for development, communications, enrollment management, marketing, fund-raising, alumni involvement, total stewardship, etc. Those schools and parishes that had this in place in early March have been able to move forward on my fronts during these times. In fact, these parents, alums, parishioners, past parents, and other leaders have become the backbone of the leadership team that is working alongside the principal, the president, the pastor, the development officer.
  • It is not too late to put your Development Core Team in place.

Lesson 5: Vision, Mission and Values Have Served as the Anchor for Many Catholic School and Parishes.

  • Those Catholic institutions who have stood strong on their vision, mission and values have also been the ones who have stood out the most – in a positive way. Catholic schools and parishes have so much to offer in these challenging times. The very fact that prayer to start the virtual classrooms, gospel messages, mass offerings, novenas, curriculum interwoven with our Catholic identity, prayer services, religious education opportunities – all of these are so meaningful in these times. They give hope; they provide solace; they give direction; they drive away fear. The more we stand strong with our mission, the more we will emerge as leaders.

Lesson 6: Engaging People and Building Networks Provide Your Foundation for the Future.

  • All of our writings and messages, like this one, have been woven with the theme of build your relationships; build your community. In fact, the ISPD Q&A Document # 1 has several parts where we list a dozen or more ways to build your network. As we said earlier, you will reap the benefits in the future.

Lesson 7: A Catholic School and/or Parish Database Is More Important than Ever.

  • Wow! This is the one area about which we have heard the most. Those who have solid data understand the value; those who do not are regretting not getting this area in better shape. To have accurate information – not only name, address, city/state/zip, and home phone but cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses – has proven so valuable during these times.
  • The good news is that many Catholic schools and parishes are taking the time now to clean-up and grow their database. Some have a little extra time on their side now; this is a great move for both now and in the future.

Lesson 8: Having a Vibrant Development/Advancement System in Place Will Lead Your Catholic Institution into the Future.

  • Those Catholic schools and parishes who have concentrated on building a development system are in good shape. Others who have only concentrated on fund-raising, enrollment, communication, and stewardship as single entities are beginning to see the value of a comprehensive, systemic effort.
  • Catholic School Development Components
    • Constituent Records
    • Communication
    • Enrollment Management
    • Fund Development (Annual Fund, Capital Campaign, Major Gifts, Endowment Growth, Memorial Giving, Planned Giving, Grant Writing)
    • Alum Involvement
    • Fund/Friend-Raising Events
  • Catholic Parish Development Components
    • Constituent Records
    • Communication
    • People Engagement
    • Total Stewardship Process-
    • Fund Development (Annual Fund, Capital Campaign, Major Gifts, Endowment Growth, Memorial Giving, Planned Giving, Grant Writing)
    • Fund/Friend-Raising Events

Lesson 9: A Re-birth and Re-newal of Catholic Schools and Parishes Will be Needed.

  • Coming out of this COVID-19 crisis is going to call for the most creativity and ingenuity Catholic schools and parishes have ever had to exhibit. Grounded in their mission, new norms must be created. We cannot be married to old ways. How do we take all these new things we have been doing and use them in the future? It will not be wise to still look through the prism of the norm. We need to look forward. What are our opportunities now? What will be our shining moments? We cannot pour new wine into old wineskins.

Lesson 10: The Value of Communication Has Never Been Stronger.

  • Just think of the lessons we have learned in the communication arena in the past two months. Many Catholic schools and parishes have risen to the occasion and have become quite skilled in hosting virtual classes, virtual meetings, streaming masses, and much more. Even some of the old tried and true methods of picking up the phone and asking people how they are doing is now the norm again

Ten more lessons learned. Thank you for continuing to be part of the ISPD community. Please make sure you take advantage of the many resources on our website and be on the lookout for some new offerings as we move into May and June.

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