A while back, I published an article which commented on how distraught faith-based school administrators and parents have become since they believe that faith-based schools are now being treated as businesses rather than ministries. They do minister – to the children that are entrusted to them, and to parents because they reinforce the work of the child’s first teachers – namely, the parents of the children in the school. But schools also need to operate as a business because 1) the Sisters that worked in Catholic schools and volunteers in Christian schools who were there for years are no longer present. Today, teachers, whether religious or laity, should be paid a just wage for their service, and 2) it is the school’s obligation to be a responsible steward of the funds entrusted to it.
To continue the business analogy, the parents are the customers, and the children are the product. After all, those of us that have gone through faith-based schools emphatically state that we are the “product” of a Catholic or a Christian school. The children are not the school’s customers, because the parents pay the tuition required to attend. To reach new groups of customers, you must market your school to them.
Of course, the most effective and least expensive form of marketing is Word of Mouth recommendations from those parents who are “raving fans” of your school. But there are ways to harness the power of technology to spread the word about your school via social media. Facebook and Instagram are certainly ways of sharing information, but those are “national” (actually, worldwide) marketing tools. A Facebook presence is the new billboard, which says that “Our school is still here!” What you really want your marketing to do is encourage a “target audience” – in your case, females 25-39 years of age with young children – to visit your school when they’re making decisions about where their children will receive their educational experience.
Email marketing started to ramp up about 5 years ago, and it seems like a new service launches to provide competition to those like Constant Contact, iContact, MyNewsletterBuilder, Vertical Marketing, and MailChimp, just to name a few. Many offer their services at very affordable prices (some less than $10 a month) that it seems foolish to waste paper, printing and postage costs in order to find new parents to invite to experience your school. Email may also be the preferred method of communication of your parents. Therefore, it’s important that you utilize this method of communication.
Also, be aware of the restrictions regarding email marketing. Parents should have the opportunity to opt-in to receive emails from you, or, if you send them an email that they’re not expecting, they need to be able to “opt-out” of receiving further communication from you. Because of this, it’s VERY important today to use an email address that is expressly used for marketing purposes. With some services, if a recipient opts out, they may not be able to receive email from your organization if they change their mind and decides they want to find out more about your school. Therefore, if you school’s Website URL is stpolycarpschool.org, and you’re sending marketing emails from “email@example.com,” an “opt-out” decision could prohibit any mail from your school’s address from reaching them.
Instead, consider using a domain-specific email for marketing. If you purchase www.stpolycarpschoolmarketing.org, and a parent opts out of receiving anything from that address, they’ll still receive communications from stpolycarpschool.org if they enroll their child.
It’s important too to remember your audience. Are you sending newsletters home to your parents in your child’s backpack? Do you have all your parents’ email addresses? Then an online eNewsletter might save paper and printing costs. If, however, parents are engaged (or, at least, involved) in your school, and you’re using this type of communication to further engage them, you might be tempted to put a “forward to a friend” link on your email communications, so that a parent will forward it to a friend to encourage them to investigate your school.
Unfortunately, the email that’s geared toward your parents isn’t the communication vehicle that’s going to attract new parents to your school. Now, you’re creating 2 eNewsletters – one for your parents, reminding them about all the things going on in your school, and one for prospective parents, which spotlight the successes of your students, the exciting goals your students have achieved, and events that prospective parents can participate in to start their engagement in the school’s spirit and culture. Using an eNewsletter service allows you not just contact parents, but track open rates, click-throughs to articles that are of interest to them, and see you has blocked you or has “unsubscribed” from your list.
The eNewsletter to parents of prospective students is the one which should have the “forward to a friend” link, since prospective parents that become excited about your school might want their friends to join them in checking it out. They will then have friends at your school, and their child will at least have one friend as he or she tries to make new ones at your school.
The common thought is, “Well, if they’re just going to block or delete my email, then why should I bother creating one to market my school?” The reason is economy of scale. You can send 500 emails at the touch of a button using one of these services for about $10 a month. Now, let’s say we’re going to send a postcard to your prospective list of 500 families. Color 2-sided printed of 125 pieces of card stock – that’s about $125. Then they must be cut into postcards – that’s about $140. You might have to print address labels – that may cost $10. You’ve now spent $275 on a postcard mailing that has limited space for a message (as compared to the significantly larger capacity of the eNewsletter) and could be thrown away by the recipient. Most importantly, you can track who opened your email, as well as what they clicked on to better determine what really excited them about your school. Remember, you have to get prospective parents emotionally engaged, so anything you put in their eNewsletter should prompt them to come and visit your school for an open house, a personal tour, or a shadow-day experience for their child.
As we advance further into the 21st Century, young parents will be more and more engaged with technology, and their children will be digital natives. Students must be able to interact with technology to succeed in the world they will enter, no matter what they are called to be. If your school isn’t “relevant” technologically now, there’s a good possibility that it will no longer be relevant at all.
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2009-2014 (Original Publication Date: 20091012)