Remember when they announced that the NCAA Tournament would be cancelled this year due to the coronavirus worldwide pandemic?  It certainly didn’t stop “March Madness” – it just morphed into a different kind of madness!  It’s still a “mad” month – with people upset at politicians to healthcare, from worship services being cancelled with Spring Breakers spend time with their friends as if they’re bulletproof, and, sadly, the tragedies that will occur, with the possibility of not celebrating the life of the individual due to social distancing and limiting physical contact to stem the spread of the viruand it has nothing to do with basketball!  Budget preparation, financial aid applications, enrollment building goals and preparations for the coming school year are upon us, and will continue until the 2020-2021 school year begins.

15 years ago, when a group of us development directors were creating a Yahoo group to communicate with one another and share ideas (the precursor to the eCommunity on the original Web site), I called the group MAD – since we were all involved in Marketing And Development.  We took inspiration from St. John the Baptist, since we all sometimes felt like we were alone in the wilderness and crying out in the desert.

It’s important to remember that Development is all about developing relationships – so when you feel you’re out there alone, you have to realize you’re in relationship – by contacting another development professional, by contacting a donor just to say “Thank you,” by trying to build a new relationship, or just by praying.  Getting together for lunch with a colleague for fellowship may not be appropriate now, but when we’re able to again, it invites another person into the conversation too.  He told us He’d be “where two or three are gathered in His name,” and that’s probably the hardest thing with social distancing; but this is the time to use social media to our advantage rather than spew hatred and abusive commentaries.

So how does that deal with this week’s “Marketing Matters” column?  How will this bring more students to your school, since I’m sure you’re trying to increase enrollment for the coming school year amidst all this uncertainty.

May I be so bold as to suggest that it might be a little late to hope that marketing activities (like your school’s Web site, positive word of mouth, yard signs, door hangers and social media) will increase enrollment for the coming year.  Indeed, some schools have already made the difficult decision that this year will be the final year for their school.  Remember that marketing is at the “origin,” or the center, of the other four elements of the ARMED framework.  You have to market your school’s successes to your donors and to your prospective parents…but your also have to market your school in a different way to your current parents and your supporting parishes or churches.  In that respect, marketing is a medium-term strategy designed to increase inquiries to your school.

This is crunch time.  Follow up with all those families that have expressed an interest in your school this past year – even if they’ve said that they’re not interested.  They may have changed their mind, and unless you invite them in to take a second look, they might be making alternative plans for the coming year – or they might be worried about getting through the next couple of months.  Giving them a call to talk with them and calm their fears will help to further develop the relationship and deepen the engagement with your school.  Think about it – who are they going to remember:  the school that wanted to know how they were doing, or the school that expects them to adhere to deadlines in the midst of uncertainty (which is what a lot of public schools are doing right now).  It’s crunch time for them, too.  Taxes are looming, Easter is just around the corner, and who knows what else is going to happen in the coming months that will be a priority for them.

If your school’s deadline for financial aid has already passed, then consider making an exception and extending that deadline, especially now that the federal government has extended the filing deadline.  Perhaps there’s a family with three children that just moved in to a neighborhood.  Ask your current parents if anyone’s moved in recently.  Coincidentally, friends of ours that moved away eight years ago due to a job transfer moved back into our neighborhood two years ago…and are moving again at the end of this month.  Their house sold within weeks, and new neighbors will be moving in in May.  Easter is just a couple of weekends away, and while you can’t do it this year, plan for next year by PERSONALLY distributing information about your school at every fish fry as well as every worship service and Mass on Easter!  You can also plan for doing that during the Christmas Masses and services later this year, since people are having a reawakening regarding the importance of faith and prayer in these truly disruptive times!

Perhaps you’re saying, “You’ve really lost it!  That’s the time I need to relax!  You must be mad!”  Maybe.  But if you’re involved in marketing and development, you must have some wild ideas sometimes in order to break through the status quo.  And if you’re looking to find where a lot of faith-filled people will be, there’s no better place that where they have gathered to celebrate the joy of Easter and Christ’s resurrection to new life!  For now, let’s pray for one another, keeping our distance by growing closer to our Lord.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2020 (Original Publication Date: 20100322)