Special Edition Newsletter

ISPD Celebrates 35th Anniversary Year

by Frank Donaldson

(Editor’s Note: This Special Edition newsletter is about the early history of ISPD, and the people and the events that made it happen. I will admit from the beginning that not everyone who receives information from ISPD is going to be interested in how this company got started. It is written with two purposes in mind: 1. As celebration of our 35th year anniversary, to share the early (and fragile) moments that allowed ISPD to be born; 2. For those who have just started or are thinking about beginning their own company, the fine lines between success and failure and how important it is to have the support and belief from key people in your life. To those who chose to read further, I hope you enjoy this literary journey).

June 2024 marks the start of ISPD’s 35th anniversary year! It is overwhelming to look back on these past years and realize where this journey has taken us and with whom. The millions of miles on Delta and Southwest airlines, the hundreds of overnight stays at Marriott properties, and the thousands of Hertz car rentals all point to a lot of time away from home to make this ministry work. There are numerous people to thank for making this happen. Five important people or groups of people come to mind.

The first person is my wife Suzy. She has been the backbone and the key to whatever success I and this company have had – especially in the early days. She has encouraged me every step of the way; she has held the fort down when I was on the road; she has been a wonderful mother to our daughter Megan; she has been the one who picked me up when I was down and made sure our Catholic faith was at the heart of our family. For many nights, Suzy was the one who tucked our daughter in while I was out there trying to grow the business in the early years. Thank you!

The second person is Sister Mary Ann Hardcastle, RSM, who passed away on October 27th of 2023. Sister Mary Ann was the principal of Mercy Academy in New Orleans, LA when I arrived there in 1986. My son Dustin had passed away that previous April, and I was still grieving – just trying to make one day fold into the next. 1986-87 was a tough year. I taught English and journalism and tried my best to hide the pain. So many times, Sister Mary Ann would reach out to me and simply ask, “How are you doing? How can I help?” She will never know what those words meant back then. That first year turned into the second year, and I remained at Mercy Academy and was introduced to the world of Catholic School Development. Sister said that the school needed a development director; I had absolutely no idea what that was all about. She asked me to attend a week-long conference in Orlando sponsored by Catholic School Management. That company did an outstanding job of introducing me to a whole new way of looking at Catholic school education. I returned motivated and refreshed. The saying goes when the world closes a door, God will always open a window. This ministry was my window to a new world, and two years later, after having success at Mercy Academy with the new development office, the Institute for School and Parish Development (ISPD) was started.

This all happened because of Sister Mary Ann. In 1988-89, I was approached (at different times) by the Diocese of Baton Rouge, LA; St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie, LA; St. Scholastica Academy in Covington, LA; and Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School in Mandeville, LA and asked if I would consult with them on development and student recruitment. Because I was still a full-time employee at Mercy Academy, I went to Sister and asked what she thought. Should and could I take this on? I will never forget her answer. “Frank, why wouldn’t you do this? I am not worried about you getting your work done here. You have gifts to share that God has given you; you have stories to tell and relationships to build. What a wonderful opportunity for you to professionally develop. This can mean a whole new life for you. God has opened this window. Absolutely! You’ve got to do this if this is what you want.”

Today I often wonder where my journey would have taken me if Sister had said, “No way. That would be a conflict of interest. I don’t want you working for some other Catholic school or parish or diocese while I am paying you.” She did not say that; she did not have that small of a mind; Sister Mary Ann was not a control freak. She was one of the kindest, most genuine and caring Sisters I have ever known.

When the thought of beginning my own company first surfaced, I thought long and hard on what name to use. I didn’t want to call it “Donaldson and Associates,” or some name like that. I wanted the name to reflect what we would do. After hours of discussion with a number of people, the word “institute” came to the forefront. Institute: 1. An organization whose purpose is to advance the study of a particular subject. 2. To establish or advance something. When it comes right down to it, ISPD teaches. Whether it is consulting, coaching, conducting workshops, writing newsletters and books, our main goal is to teach. We bring people, process, and ministry together by educating Catholic leaders. Even today, when I look at the services we offer, at the heart of everything is teaching. Through the years, those clients who have had the most success were/are at a teachable moment. They knew/know what they didn’t/don’t know. They listened, and they were receptive to being taught.

We first called the company Institute of School Development. In the second year we started working with parishes, and we changed the name to Institute of School and Parish Development. In the past five years, we exchanged the word “of” to “for.” Today, we are known as the Institute for School and Parish Development or ISPD.

The third person, quite surprisingly, was a fellow musician I met here in New Orleans. In another life, music was my core. I taught guitar, owned a guitar shop, directed an “Up with People”- like musical group called Celebration! that performed over 200 shows at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans, and lastly, had a band on Bourbon Street for two years. “The Desperado Band” played at the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse streets in the Cabaret Toulouse Lounge. Primarily we were a Jimmy Buffett band with sprinklings of original songs, the Eagles, James Taylor, Jim Croce, America, Gordon Lightfoot, and others in that musical genre. During our first summer we thought we were the most popular band on Bourbon Street, because we were packing them in night after night. With our egos high, we were quickly brought down to earth when the club manager told us one night that our music was good, but the main reason people came into the club was because the Cabaret Toulouse Lounge was the only club on Bourbon Street that was air-conditioned!

One night, a musician from a competing (and more popular band) came into the club, sat down at the bar, and listened to a Jimmy Buffett set. At the break I walked over and introduced myself and thanked him for stopping by. He said that he enjoyed the music, and it was great to get in out of the heat and humidity. During our conversation, I asked him how his band became such a well-known group in this area of the country. I will never forget his answer, “ We made the decision to get out of New Orleans. We took our show on the road, or we would have gotten stale.”

I never forgot those words. Years later, realizing that we wanted to expand the mission of ISPD outside of the New Orleans area,  the words of that musician came to mind, “We had to take our show on the road.” And that is exactly what we did in 1995. Every month for the next two years, ISPD sponsored a 2-day workshop in a different city somewhere in the U.S. We started in the Midwest, then went to the northeast, then went to the southern states, and then out to the west coast. We bought a mailing list from Fisher Publications, and sent out flyers to superintendents, principals, pastors, and Catholic leaders in those areas. We would attract anywhere between 15 – 50 people who would attend. Because development (not advancement back then) and student recruitment (not enrollment management back then) was just becoming popular in Catholic institutions, we were able to take on clients coming out of the workshops, and we began to establish a national client base. Thank goodness we made that move, because when Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area in 2005, we would have been out of business.

The fourth is a group of people who believed in us in the early days. They sought our services in strategic planning, capital campaigns, feasibility studies, setting up development offices, assisting with student recruitment, and bolstering parish stewardship efforts. Here is a partial list of Catholic leaders that ISPD worked with in the beginning years:

  • Marguerite Celestin, former president of St. Scholastica Academy in Covington, LA;
  • Howard Jenkins, former superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans;
  • Joe Miller, former principal of Our Lady of the Lake in Mandeville, LA;
  • Father Denny Hartigan, former principal of St. Joseph High School in Fremont, OH; former president of Lima Central Catholic High School; and former president of Toledo Catholic High School in Toledo, OH;
  • Father Jim Manning, former pastor of St. Albert the Great Parish in Kettering, OH; former president of Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, OH; and former pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Springboro, OH;
  • Sister Mary Michaeline, former superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, LA;
  • Monsignor Gerald Barrett, former pastor at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Metairie, LA.

There were others, but these seven stand out, mainly because they took a chance on a young company. They helped establish the mission and the brand of ISPD.

Lastly, there is a group of three people: Ken Murray, Michael Guillot, and Betty Miceli. Ken Murray was responsible for encouraging me to move the business out of my two-room apartment and take up office space on St. Charles Ave in an office next to him. That was the first of four offices over our 35-year history. Ken, and his wife Genie, ran a telemarketing company next door. He was one of those people with a great mind, an entrepreneurial spirit, and always looking at the glass as half-full. Because of his wisdom in the early days, ISPD was able to grow. Ken passed away a number of years ago; I miss his wit and his wisdom.

One of the books we wrote for NCEA, 25 Lessons Learned in 25 Years in Catholic School Development, is dedicated to Dr. Michael Guillot. Mike helped me start the company. When I met him, he had been a Catholic school teacher, principal, and was serving as the development director at a local Catholic high school. He was ready to start his own business, except the focus was to be with non-profit organizations, and not specifically Catholic institutions. With a handshake of trust, Mike took on 4-5 Catholic institutions in order to help me and to also bring  in revenue to get his own company started. Once he got his company up and running he never sought to compete with me. He was a man of his word.  We lost Mike in 1985. These words are on the inside cover of the book:

This book is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Michael E. Guillot (1953 – 2015), a true Catholic school visionary leader and the contributor to many shared beliefs and core values of Catholic School Development.

Betty Miceli is my wife’s sister. In the first year of ISPD, she was working for an accounting firm and was looking to move. I was looking for an assistant to help me on the back end and to establish a business from scratch. Betty and I shopped for furniture for that first office on St. Charles Ave. She was the bookkeeping, the receptionist, the secretary, and was the person who held the company together while I was on the road. ISPD would not have gotten on its feet if not for Betty. She was creative, witty, and clients loved her. Thank you for helping put legs underneath this company in the early years.

Those are the people and the stories of the early days. Today we stand strong with outstanding people who work for and with the company. What began at a desk in a two-room apartment on City Park Avenue in New Orleans has blossomed into a national company that has served thousands of Catholic schools, parishes, and (arch)dioceses and has hundreds of people to thank for the journey – mainly for believing in us and our mission: ISPD brings people, process, and ministry together to help build the Kingdom of God. The most exciting part of this journey today is the future. ISPD has outstanding people ready to continue building this mission – Dr. Mark Williams, Tony Bonura, Dr. Ashley Lynn Ogden, Jason Crundwell, Ryan Zellner, Tim Clifford, Sara Marshall, Kyle Issac, and Karen Hintz – with others standing in the wings. The future is in great hands.

We will officially celebrate the start of our 35th anniversary year this coming June 18th – 20th at the ISPD Summer Development School at the New Orleans Riverside Hilton. We invite you to join us! https://ispdconsulting.com/summer-development-school/

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