Running a Private School

Get help and guidance on running a private school. Find guidance and resources related to administration, fundraising and marketing. Explore strategic plan development, creative fundraising ideas and the latest technology uses in marketing.
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Signs That Your School Might Be Failing
Signs that your school might be failing don't suddenly appear all at once like a flashing neon sign. Instead, they appear gradually over weeks, months, and years. We explore the warning signs and offer some suggestions to mitigate them.

Signs that your school might be failing don't suddenly appear all at once like a flashing neon sign. Instead, they appear gradually over weeks, months, and years. I am targeting small private schools with these remarks and suggestions with the hope that you will see telltale signs of concern long before they become major troubles.

As you and your board of trustees review the list which I have set out below,  I would suggest scoring each item on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the low end, and 10 the top. So, for example, as you look at your enrolment data for the past 5 years, if the trend shows a deterioration in enrolment, you would score that item 5 or less. And so on. Then tackle the items on the list which need the most attention. The following video discusses signs that a business is in trouble. Many of these will apply to a private school which is, after all, a business.

Low enrollment

Let's start with enrollment. Filling your school's seats is essential for balancing your budget. If you are having trouble doing that, then you need to find out why you are not able to fill all your seats. If you are a seasoned enrolment professional or have one on your board, then seek his advice and follow it. Enrollment professionals will look at a host of things which impact filling your seats. Among them will be determining what market your

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Running Your School: Managing Enrollment
Not filling all the seats is a challenge many schools. Jason How offers some answers to common enrollment questions.
Jason How

Editor's note: I asked Jason How, a professional enrollment strategist and Managing Director of Agency J, to answer some of my questions about achieving enrollment targets and other related matters. ~Rob

1. My school's enrollment is declining. I can't afford a marketing professional. What should I do?

It’s important to understand what a school means when it says that it can’t afford a marketing professional. Here are some guiding questions:

  • Does it mean that they don’t have an in-house marketing person?
  • Does it mean that they can’t afford to hire an extra pair of hands?
  • If it can’t afford to hire outside help, is it because the administration made certain assumptions about the cost of hiring a marketing professional?

Once we understand what the school means, the next thing is to get clarity on the main reason why their school’s enrollment is declining. Each reason has its own solution. Reasons include:

  • Declining student age population within the geographical region.
  • Growing competition due to:
    • New schools popping up in the area.
    • Existing schools expanding aggressively.
    • Deteriorating ratings and feedback about the school’s programs, leading to a rise in negative reviews and word-of-mouth, which discourage others from attending the school (true story).
  • Over-reliance on a single marketing and enrollment source.

It’s important to get clarity on the main reason for the decline because marketing is not a magic pill that can make every issue go away.

If a school has a good reputation but happens to be located in an area where there are fewer student-age population, there is not much marketing can

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Marketing Your School: How Visible Is Your School?
Your school's website and your social media sites are essential tools in your marketing program.

I am assuming that your school is well-known within your local community. But what about beyond that community? Are you visible to families looking for a school like yours? How will they know that your school fits their specific requirements? Well, there are several things you can do to reach that critical pool of families and potential students.

The Invisible Stuff

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a mystery to the uninitiated. It is one of those arcane sciences that webmasters everywhere have to be aware of. Unfortunately, the mention of SEO for the rest of us prompts most of us to start reading email and texting friends. It's all so technical. The truth is that good SEO can enhance your marketing efforts. It can make your school more visible to the audience which you are trying to reach. Weak or non-existent SEO will bury your site so that it is practically invisible. So, ignore SEO at your peril. At the least get your arms around the basics so that you can supervise your web management and design team authoritatively.

This video explains what SEO is.

Some background

What is Search Engine Optimization? In its simplest terms, SEO is making sure that your site's meta tags and content are optimized so that parents and students can find your site easily when they type specific words into a search engine. For example, if you ask Google to show results for the words "private schools," it will oblige with

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5 Changes In The Tax Act Of 2017 To Review
We identify changes in The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 which impact not-for-profit private schools.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 made many changes which impact charities and not-for-profit organizations such as private schools. Large private schools have expert tax advice at their disposal, as well they should.  However, small private schools may not have a fulltime accountant on their staff. The point of this article is to encourage the administrators and trustees of small schools to discuss The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 with tax and legal professionals at their earliest opportunity. These small schools need to understand what impact the new tax code has on their operations.

Here then are five items which I offer as talking points for your discussions.

1. The Impact On Charitable Giving

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – What Nonprofits Need to Know by Sandra Cyr in Philanthropy Journal News offers some insight into how the Tax Act might impact charitable giving. I use the verb "might" advisedly, because it is too soon as of this writing in July 2018 to know what the real impact on charitable giving will be. We will have a better idea about that in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, I suggest that you discuss giving with your board and try to develop a realistic plan. Don't assume that giving will stay the way it has been. Assume that it will change and be prepared for that change. 

2. Doubling Of The Standard Deduction

The major change which impacts not-for-profits is

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How Exposed Is Your School?
There's much more to running a small private school than offering great academics and teaching. Be sure to check under the hood regularly to make sure everything keeps running smoothly.

Years ago I ran a small private school with 110 students in grades 9-11. I know how many demands consume a busy administrator's attention and time. I also know firsthand how difficult it is to get the owner of a private school to spend money on even the most critical items. With that in mind, I offer the following talking points for the small private school owner and her board of trustees.

How exposed is your school?

When I asked the question which is the title of this article, I had in mind your exposure on three fronts:

  • Legal
  • IT infrastructure
  • Public relations

IT infrastructure

I am not going to scare you off with a lot of tech-speak as far as your IT infrastructure is concerned. But I will highly recommend that you hire an IT expert to review your school's IT infrastructure and make recommendations. By recommending this approach, I am being a practical business person. Let's say your IT backend crashes, and you lose all your student and business data. And you have no resumption of business plan or data backups in place. You will have a tough time making an insurance claim as well as getting your school back up and running.

An impartial IT consultant will confirm that your technology infrastructure has kept up with the times. Sadly, many organizations are still running Windows XP for which support ended in 2014. Those Windows XP computers are easy targets for hackers.

You cannot treat technology like a whiteboard.

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Running a Private School

Administrative

Here you'll find information on the administrative side of running a private school. We'll cover strategic plan development, state regulations, human resources and school safety. Learn more about the obstacles of taking over a struggling school, get tips on hiring a headmaster, and receive expert advice on dealing with bad press.

Fund-raising

Private schools often need to be creative when it comes to funding. This section provides tools, tips and resources on fundraising. Learn more about supporting your school, how to handle major gifts, and why keeping in touch with graduates can benefit your budget.

Marketing and Technology

Advances in technology have changed the way businesses market themselves. This section provides tips on social media marketing, information on the latest technology being used and SEO basics for private schools.