Imagine for for a moment that you could hook an EKG up to your school and measure the heartbeat. What would the graph tell you? How can the board know that the school truly is viable moving forward?
The board, chief administrator, and even donors want to know how healthy the organization is in order to have confidence in the long term viability. Ten characteristics are consistently present in schools that have maintained long-term viability and sustained growth. A sustaining board is able to provide the leadership, organizational structure and financial position so that leaders in the future can avoid the temptation of compromising the mission due to financial or leadership weakness. The legacy of a sustaining board is a secure mission and an institution that is viable for the next 100+ years.
We recently counseled a school that is having to permanently close its doors, so we have the opportunity to guide them through this painful process with as much grace as possible. Unfortunately, school bankruptcies happen every year, and may become a more frequent occurrence as this new educonomy continues to evolve. Schools often reach this point by not making wise decisions on their health indicators, even when the data is available.
These indicators don’t change week to week or month to month - they typically progress year to year driven by decisions of the board first and also the administration. Below are the health indicators you can use to measure your school:
1. Strategic Board
We talked about this in the first session of this webinar series. Sustaining boards are very particular in the selection and training of their trustees. If the school board has a nomination process, the board will have very specific traits and skills for which they are looking in a prospective trustee. Both appointed and elected boards take the responsibility of training trustees very seriously, developing them on a continuous basis. The sustaining board is very deliberate about the on-boarding, training, and accountability process.
2. Strategic Plan
A strategic plan has very specific, meaningful, and measurable goals for the whole institution to achieve in areas across governance, administration, operations, and learning. A supporting financial plan must be included that shows how each initiative will be funded and the anticipated ROI. It doesn’t have to be complicated - many successful entrepreneurial businesses have strategic plans consisting of one or two pages. Consider adapting your school's business model to move from a 12 month cycle to shorter "mesters" that give you the ability to measure, learn, and adapt more rapidly. The importance of a well-structured strategic plan can’t be overestimated, and it needs to be revisited often to track progress and make adjustments.
3. Healthy Head Engagement
The only employee of the school board is the chief administrator. The ultimate goal for the board is to be the best board in the world for which to work. If you are, you’ll not only attract top talent, but retain them as well. Retention is very important for the board to understand, because every time you change the chief administrator, you reset the clock to greatness. Your chief needs to feel supported and know that the board has his or her back, and will be consistent, predictable, and on-message. If you have a head that is enthusiastically engaged, then he or she will be equipped to instill that same culture throughout the faculty and school.
4. Balanced Budget with Revenue
This indicator excludes fundraising and grants as a source of revenue because that money isn't sustainable. Some schools still have to raise money to balance the budget, but they that leaves them vulnerable in terms of long-term success. The stress level that causes on your board and your donors can be difficult, and sometimes there are economic factors beyond your control that can really put you in trouble. Figure out how to grow revenue and re-engineer expenses to balance the budget with hard income, enabling donor and grant dollars to be channeled to program enhancements beyond the basics to create "wow" factors for the program.