Making a List and Checking It Twice

“Making a List and Checking It Twice”

In August 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, ISPD released a newsletter titled, “Can I Check These Ten Boxes as Being Complete or In-Progress?” Many Catholic schools and parishes responded by saying that this list was helpful in assessing where they were after six months of living with COVID-19 (March 2020 – August 2020). Now, in August 2021, we still are living under the cloud of a pandemic with the Delta variant. So, let’s take this time to go back through this list (which has been updated) and see how we are doing – one year later.

BOX 1: The leaders (pastor, president, principal, boards, councils, faculty, staff, etc.) in my Catholic school and/or parish understand we will not return to normal.


  • There is a new norm operating today, and that new norm is changing day to day and week to week.
  • The solutions we used in 2020-21 to get us to where we are today will not be the same solutions we will be able to use to get us to where we need to go in 2021-22 and beyond.
  • Innovation, creativity, imagination, ingenuity, and resourcefulness are the keys to our success in these challenging (and educational) times.
  • Our Catholic leaders must embrace change.

BOX 2: Our leaders (listed in BOX 1) understand that resources follow mission.


  • While we need resources (financial, people, community), what we will be able to attract in these times will be in direct relationship to how powerful and compelling our mission/vision is.
  • “Mission/vision gives us the courage to tell our story when we might have otherwise remained silent.” (Henri Nouwen)
  • Or, as Father Jim Manning says, “Money always follows mission. It is not the other way around.”

 BOX 3: Our leaders understand that a vibrant, powerful, and effective Catholic school and/or parish development/advancement/stewardship effort is the most important area (Operational Vitality) for Catholic leaders to embrace and fully implement in these times.


  • Development/advancement/stewardship must be understood today and not just dismissed as fund-raising or offertory collections or “go get the money.”
  • The newest makers’ lab, an athletic complex, performing arts center, distance learning center, new fine arts wing, turfed football field or adoration chapel, will mean nothing if students are not enrolled and parish families are not engaged.
  • Development/advancement/stewardship must be taught and integrated.

BOX 4: Our leaders understand that our WOW is more important in 2021-22 than ever before.


  • With extreme competition for attention and resources in these times, what will distinguish our Catholic school and/or parish from everyone else?
  • What is our WOW?
  • How will we stand out – in a positive way? What makes us distinctive and unique? What do/will/can we offer that no one else can?

BOX 5: Our leaders make sure we are “pipelining to our people” on a monthly basis.


  • Now is the time to keep our finger on the pulse of what our constituents are thinking – our faculty/staff, parents, students, alums, parents of alums, parishioners, ministry leaders, and the larger community.
  • The Ultimate Question Survey is a wonderful instrument to use in September 2021 and again in January 2022.
  • Hosting Zoom calls, making phone calls, holding conference calls – all seeking input on key questions/challenges we are facing week to week is important during these times. This builds community and allows us to develop and advance as a Catholic institution.

BOX 6: Our 2021-22 Annual Giving Drive is being created, organized, and will be implemented throughout this fiscal year with an excellent combination of the following:

  • Volunteer organizational leadership
  • Strong case points that reflect the challenges of COVID-19
  • Personal outreach to financial leaders
  • Gift Catalog
  • Virtual events
  • Challenging/matching gifts


  • The Annual Giving Drive continues to be the single most important Development $$$ effort a Catholic institution can implement.
  • During this pandemic, donors do not want to give to the “black hole” or to operational budget or debt reduction. They want to actually see where their dollars are going; hence, strong case points that point to specific areas will go far in making the 2021-22 Annual Giving Drive a success.
  • In these times, it will be important to offer monthly installment plans. Whereas a $250 gift may seem daunting for some, a $25 gift over 10 months could be appealing.

BOX 7: In our development efforts, our Catholic institution will continue to be ready for VIRTUAL/IN-PERSON/HYBRID activities, events, and processes with the proper hardware, software, training, and professional development.


  • It will be essential to discuss the Gala/Auction in 2021-22. Virtual? In-Person? Hybrid?
  • Catholic schools and parishes need to provide the resources necessary to have the best quality Tours and Open Houses available. Virtual? In-Person? Hybrid?
  • Catholic institutions will need to devote the time and personnel to research what virtual activities and events will work best for their school and/or parish. Having a compelling and functional website along with an on-line donation platform will be essential to success. Here are some samples to research:
    • Virtual bingo
    • Virtual concert
    • Virtual workshop or class
    • Virtual movie night
    • Virtual cooking contest
    • Virtual talent show
    • Virtual race (walk, run, bike)
    • Virtual Trivial Pursuit
    • On-line Pub Quiz
    • Virtual gift reception
    • Text-to-Tithe
    • Crowdfunding

BOX 8: One of the main focuses of our development/advancement efforts in 2021-22 is to generate major revenue so we can invest substantial dollars in communication technology.


  • The new norm will continue to center around a Catholic parish/school’s ability to communicate with technology. It is a hard pill for some leaders to swallow that do not want to move off of “home base” unless they can do it face-to-face like all the time. Planning processes; gift receptions; major donor invitations; school tours; celebration of liturgy; ministry meetings; council and board meetings; parent nights; alumni reunions; total stewardship invitations of prayer, service, and finance; athletic events; and much more – all need to be planned in the future for BOTH in-person AND virtual delivery. This will not become the new norm; this is the new norm.
  • Opportunities to engage more people than ever before are now limitless!
  • Let’s imagine live-streaming the entire basketball season, inviting financial leaders to hear the case and participate, holding a class reunion – both in-person and virtual at the same time, hosting monthly parent meetings, planning for the future with in-person and small Zoom groups, and the list goes on and on.

BOX 9: As we move further into the 2021-22 fiscal year and realize the growing importance of innovative development—advancement—stewardship—enrollment management—communication efforts, we realize we need to take inventory of where we are. (Please refer to BOX 3). We need to assess and “audit” now; we need to check all of our plans and processes and measure them against the new norm that is changing all the time.


  • “It is not business as usual.”
  • “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” It is important to know what seeds to plant – especially in these times.
  • “Sometimes we can’t quite put our finger on something important because we’ve got all of our fingers wrapped around a bunch of other things that are not important.” An honest assessment helps us put our finger on what is important.

 BOX 10: Our leaders are planning to create our Vision 2021+ Strategic Growth Plan (for schools) or Vision 2021+ Pastoral Plan (for parishes).


  • The immediate and mid-range future of our Catholic schools/parishes needs to be addressed now. We have eighteen months (March 2020 – August 2021) of data– both qualitative as well as quantitative. If we have checked the above nine boxes and have either completed or are working on them, we should have those bases covered:
    • Box 1: Change process – shift in thinking
    • Box 2: Mission/Vision
    • Box 3: Operational Vitality
    • Box 4: WOW
    • Box 5: Pipelining to our people
    • Box 6: Annual Giving Drive
    • Box 7: Virtual/In-Person/Hybrid activities, events, and processes
  • Box 8: Communication technology
  • Box 9: Assessment
  • Catholic schools need to view the National Standards and Benchmarks for Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools and the four domains of Mission and Catholic Identity, Governance and Leadership, Academic Excellence, and Operational Vitality. The Catholic School Vision 2021+ Strategic Growth Plan should explore these important areas in light of the changing new norm and engage hundreds of people in creating a dynamic plan for the future – both short term and mid-range. Really understanding and checking the progress of the above nine boxes will go far in making sure the Catholic School Vision 2021+ Strategic Growth Plan is not going to be a lesson in futility.
  • Catholic parishes need to shift gears and focus on the above nine boxes and then move into creating the Parish Vision 2021+ Pastoral Plan. Planning Areas to consider are:
    • Liturgy and Worship
    • Religious Education
    • Communication
    • Administration and Finance
    • Sacramental Preparation
    • Total Stewardship Process
    • Fund Development
    • Evangelization and Outreach
    • People Engagement
    • Youth and Family Life
    • Technology

So, how is your Catholic school and/or parish doing one year later? Were you able to check off all ten boxes as COMPLETE or IN-PROGRESS?

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