You Don’t Know What You Have
I often refer to that classic story of the man who spent his life in search of riches only to discover that his own home sat over a diamond mine. The lesson from the story popularized in the late 19th century by Russell Conwell, founder of Temple University, suggests that what we seek, particularly in terms of opportunity, is often right under our feet.
It’s a pertinent story to address the number of times I’ve heard campus leaders, usually the president, express dismay at unnecessary expenditures. In nearly every case, the institution is sitting on acres of diamonds—capacities for growth and sustenance that they have somehow missed or become so familiar that they become “out of sight, out of mind.”
At a time when concerns of sustainability are top of mind, good stewardship seems only natural. As news stories of closures and misappropriations appear with greater frequency, taking stock of the resources you have—and finding ways to make more of them or trimming them—may uncover previously missed opportunities. To help you discover possibilities, here are five “diamonds” you may not know you have:
I’m preaching to myself here. We had an employee in account services at RHB who had a background in television journalism. She was excellent in her work in managing projects with our clients. But because we put her in a box of what her job at RHB entailed, when we were producing a video we sought outside help. We completely overlooked that we had better talent in-house than what we were spending money on externally. I’m sure she wondered what we were thinking. When we came to our senses and were reminded of her professional background, we were able to engage her in areas that brought her breadth of talent to bear on our success. You have dozens of these opportunities on campus that you probably don’t know about. You hire a person to match your job description, but they often come with other skills and abilities that are not used in that position. Consequently, they go unused. You might have an amateur filmmaker who recruits students. Or a crackpot photographer serving in food service. Or a genius coder mowing the lawns.
Conduct a campus-wide staff inventory of undisclosed or underutilized skills. You’ll engage your community in an opportunity to disclose their talents and give them new avenues to contribute to your success. Keep this information in a living database to draw upon as you have need. On a related note, my more recent soapbox includes a cry that greater intentional effort be given to engaging alumni more productively on all fronts. What amazing opportunities are open to institutions that know how to enlist the support and energies of their closest allies!
If you invest in outside providers for student search each year, it’s likely you have spent millions on that service in the past five years. It’s more than likely you have the tools and talent to develop and operate search in-house. If you have customer relationship management (CRM) software, a form of automated marketing and a content management system (CMS) you have the formula stack to generate a search campaign. It’s likely you have content developers on campus as well as someone in admissions who can outline an effective strategy for deployment. Further, if you’re bleeding money on student search, it’s very likely you’re bleeding money in other areas as well. Always ask, “Can we do this ourselves?” You may have good reasons to go outside the campus to achieve an objective but investigate your in-house capabilities first. By teaching our clients to manage in-house student search, we’re helping them save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
In a recent conversation with a university president, I heard about an investment made in the development of a student service app, only to discover that their SIS platform already contained that technology—and it was already paid for! Classic “acres of diamonds” story. Because they hadn’t fully implemented the modules of their SIS, that technology was forgotten and never used. Instead, they invested in building an app they truly didn’t need.
In complex organizations, it’s difficult, nay, impossible, for anyone to know everything that’s happening on campus, but it’s disheartening when important details related to inventory are mismanaged. Train your leadership team to keep eyes open for unnecessary spending.
The most common property that institutions overlook or underutilize is their story. It should not be surprising to hear that by not telling YOUR distinctive story, you lose students or donors to competitors. If you are telling a generic story—or worse, some other institution’s story—you are missing the opportunity to attract revenue to support YOUR story. No other institution exactly duplicates the experience you offer. Find what’s great about your story and tell that story; not what you aspire to, but your real story. A word of caution: you may in fact have a lousy, uninspiring story. If you story is not compelling, consider how you can change it by changing the experiences you offer. Determine to bring something relevant and outstanding to the market.
I am astounded by the vacant and wasted spaces we see across the campuses we visit. Still, we hear how difficult it is to find a meeting space. On the walk to a hidden conference room, we pass dozens of empty rooms. This woeful misuse or abuse of space is probably the result of challenging class scheduling. Or it may be that nobody likes early morning classes. Or Fridays. Still, the resource of space seems to be more abundant on most campuses than the rhetoric would leave us to believe. Granted, we have visited some spaces that should no longer be utilized—they passed their prime ages ago or they no longer are suitable for the purposes they were conceived. Space studies broaden our imaginations to include community partnerships where our facilities solve problems for others beyond the campus and generate new revenues for us. Early mornings, evenings and especially summers may be opportunities to extend our campuses for bigger purposes. In conversations about campus usage studies, I usually hear things like “hmmm, we haven’t really given that much thought.”
A solid rethinking of all facilities makes sense now, particularly if we anticipate an economic downturn.
While you are searching the world for opportunities and new revenue through recruitment of more students and advancement efforts to generate more donors and dollars, add these five opportunities—your existing people, resources, technology, story and facilities to your pursuits. I hope that by reading this, you are inspired to recoup a million dollars or more. Most of all, I hope this leads you to consider the acres of diamonds you are standing on.