This past summer, I gave a presentation at a school leadership conference on creating a culture of retention at the organizations we work. In determining where I wanted to go in the conversation I found a number of great quotes on the value of retention. Amy Gallo, in the Harvard Business Review (Oct. 2014) said, “depending on which study you believe, and what industry you’re in, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.” Jim Rohn said, “One customer well taken care of could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising.”
Thankfully, the industry I was presenting to was Christian school leaders. Of all organizations that should see retention as a top priority it should be Christian schools. We can all do the math of what financial impact it has when a family leaves our school and how it negatively affects our tuition revenue. We can also understand the impact it has in our community when families choose to leave our school. With word of mouth being such an important tool for the growth of Christian schools, this can have a huge impact on our community. Depending on how tuition dependent our schools are, we can also understand if we can improve our retention rate by 5 or 10% we will see a significant increase in tuition revenue. In fact, part of the presentation was a model of this impact on net tuition revenue.
While it is so important, for financial viability of schools, to have strong retention, there is something much more important at stake which should drive all of our efforts to retain students and families. The real consequence and real danger is our loss of opportunity to serve these children and their families. If we believe in the mission statements of our schools, we must recognize that when we lose families we lose the opportunity to have this mission impact them in a real and powerful way. We miss out on our true purpose and the reason for our existence.
It is easy to find the mission statements on most Christian school websites. My children have attended two great Christian schools with wonderful mission statements. At Delaware County Christian School (in suburban Philadelphia) the mission is, “to educate students who will serve God and impact the world through biblical thought and action.” At Charlotte Christian School, “the school equips and develops students to effectively integrate Biblical truth and learning into their daily lives and to impact the culture for Christ.” When utilizing this mission and the school performs well, it will impact students, families, our communities and our world for generations to come. But how can we fulfill this mission if students and families are leaving our school?
The real reason we should intentionally seek to strengthen our school and improve retention is because we actually believe our mission. We believe that if students and families come to Delaware County Christian School, they will be trained to serve God and impact the world through biblical thought and action. We believe that students who attend Charlotte Christian School will learn to effectively integrate Biblical truth and learning into their daily lives and impact the culture for Christ. To not believe these things, to not take it seriously makes us look like more of a social club than a Christian school and negates the purpose for why our schools exist. To believe our mission is also to believe that when students don’t attend our school they miss out on what we seek to provide.
I appreciate this quote from Kevin DeYoung and I think it is equally true for Christian schools, “Yes, I know, ‘customer service’ is not the right phrase. The church doesn’t serve customers. The church is the body of Christ. So what this post is really about is “loving people well by being organized and responsive…. No doubt, these “customer service” type items (website, ushers, answering the phone, clean buildings, consistent follow up, system to respond promptly) do not embody the core commitments of gospel ministry. But as an expression of kindness, love, and hospitality, they are not insignificant.” (The Gospel Coalition Blog-Sept, 2013)
I will be following up this introduction, on the reason why retention is bigger than just dollars with some practical posts on specific activities related to retention. These will include customer service, exit interviews, data mining and marketing to your own school families. These strategies are effective and make a difference. But they aren’t just about saving money and growing enrollment.
When we think about our mission and remember we don’t exist to keep people happy, but have a calling, which is of much greater importance, our desire to serve families well will result from our desire to do all things as unto Christ. Families will recognize that we are not seeking to serve them for the tuition revenue, we are here to fulfill the mission. To truly believe our mission should lead us to serve and hurt us when we lose them.