There are only 1,300 Catholic high schools in the U.S., and 8,000+ Catholic grade schools. This defines our market.
Before CSDF can fulfill its mission of serving all Catholic schools, it must establish secure cash flow in the first three years. Therefore, our first priority is identifying clients in need who have the ability to pay.
Because Catholic high schools have more mature development programs and larger budgets than elementary schools, they are the first group of interest to us. Within the high school market, our most immediate group of potential customers are diocesan Catholic high schools, which represent about 1,000 schools located mainly in the Great Lakes states and the Midwest.
Schools owned by religious orders comprise the remaining 300 Catholic high schools. Order schools (operated by the Jesuits, Dominicans, Christian Brothers, etc.) tend to be more advanced--most have staffs of three to seven people in the development office and have completed at least one campaign in the last 10 years. Diocesan schools, less experienced, are now following in their footsteps: Thus they represent a very defined target market and logical starting point.
As noted earlier, the development and extension consulting industry is pulverized, with hundreds of smaller regional consulting organizations and individual consultants for every one of the few well-known companies. One of our challenges will be establishing the foundation as a legitimate consulting entity. Printed materials, video, an Internet presence and high quality phone and voice mail system are needed to project this image.
As noted in the Competitive Comparison section and elsewhere, there are few major national firms relative to regional firms. While some firms have envisioned consolidating the market through mergers and acquisitions, no one has yet succeeded. In short, a dream is not the same as a plan. All current market forces encourage further pulverization rather than centralization.
Consulting is sold and purchased mainly on the basis of references, with relationships and previous experience being, by far, the most important factor. This fact, plus the low cost of entry into the industry, are the driving factors behind the inability to consolidate the market.
While the barriers to entry are low, the unseen danger to the unexperienced lies in the sales cycle. Schools are notorious for debating at length decisions surrounding the procurement of consulting help. The sales cycle usually takes three to six months, and can take as long as 18 months from first inquiry to start date of the contract.
Aware of this, we currently have paying clients in the market supporting our personal needs, and potential clients "in the pipeline." For the purposes of this business plan, the issue is moving from that of an independent consultant with extremely low overhead to an operating foundation with plans for growth and employees.
The main competitors are not the large national firms, but the smaller regional one-man shops. Considering the importance of personal connections and references, this should not be too surprising.
The only way to trump personal connections is to position our foundation as specialists in serving Catholic schools. That fact alone should win us a spot in the traditional three-firm interview lineup. From that point forward we have an opportunity to establish a relationship and sell our services.