The inspiration for this week’s Marketing Matters comes from an article that was available several years ago at titled “10 Ways to Market Your Non-Profit Online.” (The page is no longer available.)  Since your school is a non-profit, I’ve tweaked them a bit so that these items relate directly to your school and what you need to do to market it effectively in today’s technology-rich environment.  In the spirit of keeping these Marketing Matters short, two of the ten will be covered over each of the next 5 weeks (March 1 through April 6 – the day after Easter).  Hopefully these suggestions will help to breathe some new life into your marketing efforts.  If you’re already doing them, fantastic!  If not, or if it’s something on your ever-growing “do” list, this will remind you to move their priority level to the top of your list.

1) Maintain an attractive and dynamic Web site

Rule #1 for a reason.  If you don’t have one, get one.  Budget for it.  If you have a parent that dabbles in Web site design, those days are over.  WordPress sites today are better looking than most sites made five years ago.  More importantly, your Web site must be able to be viewed and be functional from mobile devices – iPhones, Google Phones, Android phones, iPads, Tablets, all of them!  If those words conjure up things you “don’t have time for,” especially today, the time of not paying attention to them is over.  In fact, as our pandemic has taught us, the genie is out of the bottle, and Virtual Academies will become the educational vehicle of the future.  While some schools are embracing and moving forward with this innovative approach to expanding their educational options, here are three compelling reasons why these things are important for your brick and mortar/hybrid school today:

  1. The Millennials are now an elementary school’s target market.  The good news is that they are more aware of the importance of community than Generation X parents are.  The bad news is that the Web is how they communicate.  If you have a Web site because you “have to” but really don’t put a whole lot of work into it, they will not be attracted to your school.
  2. The Kindergarteners entering your school are members of the iGeneration (or Digitals, or Generation Z).  Not only have they not known a time when there was not a computer in the house, but “dial-up” means nothing to them – it’s highspeed broadband or nothing.  Just 10 short years ago, I remember telling my children that you can get your first cellphone (not even a Smartphone) when you turn 16 and you can pay for your portion of the family plan usage.  They wanted it, so they all found jobs they could do part-time to earn the necessary funds.  Today, first-graders have Smartphones.  As you plan for the coming years, know that the computer needs to be an integral part of their learning.  Putting a book in front of them will cause them to look at it and say, “Where’s my iPad?”  Educational publishing companies are now releasing more and more of their textbooks in digital form, and publishers are allowing teachers to “customized” the texts they want to create by using chapters from different texts to create a tool specifically designed for the class they’re taking.   Just 5 years ago, there was talk of “Kindles for Kindergartens.”  My, how fast the technology timeline flies.
  3. The Web site itself.  The days of sending out information packets to parents are OVER! (Did I say that loud enough?)  ALL promotional information and forms for your school that used to be in those Duo-Tang folders should be part of your Web presence.  Today, if a parent wants more information about your school, that’s your cue to get them into the school for a tour or for an interview.  Enrollment is sales.  When you want more information about your new car, you research it on the Internet, but no one calls a dealership and says, “Please send me an owner’s manual, all the paperwork I’d have to sign, and information about your service department.”  Your Web site presents a branded image of your school, its mission, vision and case.  Your other marketing activities should bring users to it.  That said, your Web site needs to be three things:
    • Interactive & Dynamic – Tasteful pictures (of smiling and engaged students – not empty buildings), not a lot of text (since pictures say a thousand words), and interactive (with forms families can complete).  The public presence of your Web site is for marketing.  It needs to have a password-protected area for materials for current parents.  Many schools have teacher pages on the public presence.  Teachers actually need to have two places – one for the public presence where parents can see a sample of what’s going on in the classroom, and the password-protected portion where the day-to-day activities are posted.
    • Easily-updatable – YOU need to be able to update it.  If you have to call your Webmaster to make changes to your site, your Content Management System (CMS) is too complicated.  Many Web creators will want this in order to keep you as a customer, but if they choose to no longer update your site, you may be stuck with a site that no one can edit or update.  Web presences today need to be updated DAILY if you want people to keep coming back to them.
    • Mobile-ready/responsive – Most school leaders think parents access a school’s Web site on a computer.  They don’t.  They use their mobile device.  A number of years ago, I was asked to do a marketing session for a group of 6 schools, and I chose to focus on their Web sites.  One school was very excited because they had just launched a new site.  Unfortunately for them, I showed these sites on mobile devices and not computer screens, and the result from this particular school was only seeing half of the top of the new site.  Conversely, if you still have folks in your school’s community who say, “What about those people who don’t have a computer,” that’s awesome!  More than likely they have a mobile device.  Today’s that’s the equivalent of a hand-held computer.   Right now, check out your school’s Web site on your mobile device.  Like what you see?  For many parents, THIS is the first exposure they have to your school – not the home computer.  If they’re not impressed by what they see on their mobile phone or tablet, you may have lost the battle for their child already.

One last point before moving on.  This is 2021.  Rather than the computer issues, some folks may say, “What about those people who don’t have access to the Internet?”  This is the equivalent of 1976’s comment, “What about those people who don’t have access to an encyclopedia?”  This is equivalent to 1996’s comment, “What about those people who don’t have access to in-depth research material?”  What did you do when you were in school?  Did your parents complain for you so that the school acquiesced into giving them what they wanted, or did you need to take some initiative and visit libraries where you could access this material?  Did schools offer access to some of those resources?  YES!  Did public libraries offer access to those resources?  YES!  Do today’s libraries have Internet access today?  YES!  This year’s pandemic should have driven home the point that children (as well as their parents) need to have access to the Internet.  Truthfully, the phone isn’t the best tool for doing homework and researching materials for a science project.  Also, if your school has a policy against the utilization of technology, or parents refuse to utilize any technology of any type due to the particular belief system they espouse, then you must respect that.  However, since you’re the leader of a faith-based school, there is no reason that you have to accept that child if technology is an integral part of your curriculum, and such policies are outlined in your official policy handbook.  If you do not have a curriculum policy and overview or an official policy handbook, you now know your summer homework assignment.  Remember that if you accept a student, you must provide accommodation.

2) Share what your school is doing offline on the Web site and through social media

Your school changes lives every day!  The projects that your students undertake to help make their community a better place to live, to offer aid to people of a country half-way around the world, or to bring a smile to the faces of the elderly, the sick, the lonely or the hungry are the fruits of your efforts in the classroom.  Faith-based schools need to be schools with excellent academics and activities infused with faith-based values, and need to run like businesses, but everything done in those two systems needs to focus on creating students to be SIGNS for the world.  Just as DREAM stands for the elements of Advancement and FACTS (Faith Identity, Activities, Curriculum, Technology, and Surroundings) stands for the instructional program of your school, SIGNS stands for Serve, Inspire, Grow, Nurture, and Succeed – the purpose of your school.  If your school teaches your students to do those things, prospective parents that see these SIGNS will be emotionally attracted to your school.  Share these projects through your Web site as well as social media like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Pinterest so that parents in your school and alumni can share with friends, family and co-workers.

There are still some schools that use Facebook as their school’s Web site because it’s a free online presence.  Here’s a word of caution: don’t.  Invest in the Web site.  Create a special section where parents can log in.  Remember, Facebook is for sharing and discussion.  It’s NOT for posting messages about decisions that have been made at the school.  And don’t even use a Facebook group for this.  Here’s a great rule of thumb: if you don’t want discussion to follow, don’t put it on Facebook.

For every event that you’re involved with, see if you can partner with a local non-profit that has the same mission.  Doing so increases your exposure, and those other organizations will be more likely to share your work in the future.

Some faith-based schools seem to have difficulty with this concept because they believe that their work should be done as service and not publicized, adhering to the Scriptural reference that good deeds should be done in secret, so that the left-hand doesn’t know what the right-hand is doing.  Three things:

  1. That reference is made in respect to giving alms.  Excellent practice…although I’m sure there a many folks that want their charitable deduction.
  2. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time that demonstrated their charity in public were hypocrites.  Our service needs to be authentic.
  3. In Jesus’ time, movable-type printing and the Internet did not exist.  Word of Mouth was the (and still is the best) way good news spread (which is why next week’s Marketing Matters includes the use of testimonials).  St. Francis of Assisi reminds us to always spread the Good News, and, if necessary, use words.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2011-2021 (Original Publication Date: 20110228)