“One Size Fits All”

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By: Jerry Henry,

“One Size Fits All.” That’s the clothing tag on the collar of my bathrobe. However, I must disagree with the designer. You see, I’m 5′ 7″ tall (or short, as the case may be) and the sleeves of the bathrobe are entirely too long for me. The length is fine-mid-calf, if you must know-but the sleeves extend nearly to my fingertips. This means I’m constantly rolling them up to form a bulky cuff around my wrists. To design clothing that fits a 5’7″ person as well as a 6’2″ person-to design something that is “average” in size-is challenging at best.

This highlights an important axiom for working in our nonprofit sector: one size DOES NOT fit all.

Intuitively, those of us who lead schools know this is true, yet we hope there are some short cuts to helping us manage our organizations. Somehow we want an “off the rack” template that will save us time and, hopefully, glean more funding. But, the lesson we always learn is the same: one size does not fit all.

Here are three thoughts to ponder:

  1. You can’t base your development efforts always on the “average.” 
    How many of us hear our board members say, “If we ask 1,000 people to give us $100 each, we’ll achieve our goal of raising $100,000!” Why not? Not all 1,000 people will be passionate about your school, your needs or your case for support. Not all will give you $100, and some can give much more than $100 if you just ask them appropriately. You know this is true!
  2. Your shape is different. 
    The mission of your school is distinctive from another institution. Just because a certain development approach works for higher education doesn’t mean it will work for independent secondary schools. Your mission is different. Your constituent base is different.
  3. Schools (just like human beings) go through growth stages-infancy, adolescence, maturity-and we need to acknowledge that.
    Fairly young institutions may need to spend more resources on administration than more mature schools that have built capacity and have a larger staff. Where is your school in its growth? How does that impact how you approach development, recruiting board members, determining your programs?

Each of these thoughts demands greater discussion, but we need to stop reading for now and get back to work.

Remember, one size does not fit all. So, join me. Roll up your sleeves!