What is Our Real Value?
By Brandon Allen
Executive Director / Fortify Foundation
Isn’t it amazing to see how much our priorities shift as we grow older? When we’re in high school, the weighing priority is figuring out what college God wants us to attend, and which major we should pursue. In college, the focus pivots to discovering a proper career path and perhaps even someone that we might share life with. Once those elements are satisfied, the next stage that tends to follow is what I have found to be one of the biggest changes and challenges, that life affords… kids! A moment when our whole life is flipped upside down and never remains the same. All the focus we once had on ourselves tends to shift completely. For many parents, they start to live their dreams vicariously through their children. We want to give them the best options that we can!
One of those options is the provision of Christian education. As a kid that always attended a Christian school, I will have to admit that it is something I always took for granted (or have come to realize that this was the case). Sometimes we never truly understand the importance of something until we move well beyond it. My perceived value was fairly low if not neutral altogether. It was a priority for my parents, and I was just along for the ride. Now that I have my own kids, I’ve come to realize more and more the importance of Christian education and the incredible value it brings. This has especially manifested itself in the last couple of years.
God clearly directed me to get an accounting degree and had me work four years in business until He redirected me to a couple of pastoral roles for a period of about 10 years. It was during this latter period that God blessed us with the addition of kids. We were fortunate enough to be a part of ministries that provided a full ride for both childcare and education. As in most cases, this was just part of the overall compensation package. Still, there is something to be said about not receiving that school bill each month.
Fast forward to today, those 3 kids have come with a bill that is mind-blowing. With the addition of my wife’s master’s degree, I recently shared with someone that it’s almost become an ungodly amount that we are paying each month just for educational expenses. And this is where that perceived value really comes into play.
Your school’s value proposition is the reason you have a student body. As you consider the current enrollment God has blessed you with, each family has entrusted their child to your care because they perceive the cost to be worth the service that you provide. Whether you are in a school choice state or not, this dynamic is consistent across the board. The reasons might differ from family to family, however.
Most schools have seen an increase in their enrollment post-pandemic. The reason for this increase encompasses a full spectrum of ideals. For some families, it is just due to additional safety/security that private schools often provide. Other families might want to lessen the exposure of modern teachings that they understand to be completely immoral regardless of their religious position. Perhaps, it’s the level of academic excellence that we have been able to capitalize on. Ideally, we hope most of our parents have their kids at our schools because they genuinely want their children to be taught from the basis of a Scriptural worldview.
The perceived value in each of these cases is drastically different. This is why our value proposition is so important. It’s what keeps families committed to private Christian education regardless of the added expense. However, we still grapple with the question of how high we can raise tuition to cover an increase in expenses and yet maintain, or even grow, our student body. This is what we fight for in our annual budget meetings. This is the stressful part of offering some of the best facilities, teachers, and educational resources and still providing an accessible school to as many families as possible. Sure, there are some that just bite the bullet and raise their tuition regardless. Others really focus on this affordability aspect and are willing to sacrifice further to keep their current students. Regardless of which side of the fence your school falls on, it’s ultimately our perceived value that keeps us going.
The reality is there are all sorts of things that are vying for our money even if it’s just providing for the bare essentials. For others, it may be that weighing the options of other things they can accomplish with the same money. Earlier this year, my wife and I attended a local boat show. I’ve always loved anything to do with water and absolutely love seeing all the latest improvements and technology in this industry. While I’ve never bought a new boat, I pointed out to my wife that the nicest wakeboard boat that the show had to offer was still less than what we are paying for our children’s education monthly (excluding childcare and her added expense for an advanced degree). In no way, shape, or form was it a real consideration on our end but this is sometimes what we are up against.
I will never forget a family that was struggling to pay their school bill and opting to pull their kids from our school. The school helped subsidize some of the cost and, behind the scenes, we even had additional donors that chipped in to make sure that their kids could continue. It was just a matter of weeks after our meeting in providing for this need that we discovered the family decided to take a trip to Disney World. How did we discover this anomaly? Well, they decided to post it all over social media. For us as a staff, it was mind-blowing that someone would do such a thing. At the same time, this revealed where their true values lie. Their willingness to sacrifice had a certain threshold.
If a family is only a part of our school due to some of these subsidiary reasons, then we know that perceived value is a lot lower than someone who truly values Christian education. Even for those who are willing to sacrifice more than a boat or a Disney vacation, there is still a point in which the costs outweigh the value that they place on the education we provide. We can’t continue to increase our costs year over year and expect to maintain a strong financial future. Eventually, we will end up pricing ourselves out of the market altogether. If that’s just through nominal fees in a school choice state, or inflationary increases in other states, every family has their limit.
So, what can we do about it?
The key is to find alternative revenue streams that will help offset the increased expenses to accommodate a feasible tuition rate. Whether you perceive your tuition as a point of accessibility or affordability for your families, our desire should be to have as many be a part of our school as possible. This is where we might have to get a bit creative. Many schools have refocused their annual fund to help offset the marginal difference in tuition. Others are opening alternative solutions through childcare or online education to help in this area.
I know of one organization that hasn’t increased its rate in 11 years because of the additional revenue streams they’ve been able to create. Do you think those responsible for paying those fees can appreciate that? Absolutely! That is truly value on value! This may not be a feasible approach for all organizations BUT Fortify Foundation wants to help Christian educational organizations get to a point where they no longer must dread the operational budget meetings. We want that to be a thing of the past because of the sustainability we’ve been able to create. The worry of crossing that threshold in the value we bring is hopefully something that will never be crossed regardless of where that proposition lies for these individual families.
I for one am going to sacrifice to ensure my kids receive a Christian education. Through God’s provision, hopefully, we always can afford to keep that vision alive.
Brandon is committed to helping our partners achieve funding by providing support for their long-term investment funds, fundraising, and donor cultivation needs. Through personalized coaching and strategic guidance, Brandon and the Fortify team help partners leverage data-driven insights to optimize fundraising strategies, ensuring sustained financial stability.