The more than 80 school leadership personnel attending enrollment management workshops at the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg this spring are returning to their schools with concrete suggestions for bolstering enrollment, retention and image.
And they couldn’t be more excited about putting these examples into action.
“Putting ideas into very specific terms is fantastic,” said Timothy Hamer, President of Lancaster Catholic High School.
“For example, in one session we discussed how to thank faculty members, with an added dimension for marketing value,” he said. “One suggestion is to invite students and graduates to express what they like best about their teacher, and get it on video for social media. You’re delivering authentic praise for the teacher, which inspires the teacher, and you have a testimonial that becomes a marketing tool.”
Other ideas for advancing Catholic schools? Staff a booth at a community event, create social media posts that call people to respond or act, and invite prospective families to participate in school events.
“These are small but concrete and effective ways to create interest and drive enrollment,” said Deb Kase, who is attending the workshops to gain insight as the Development Director at Corpus Christi School in Chambersburg.
“We’re being given so many best practices to implement at our schools that I can’t write it all down fast enough!” she said.
Partners in Mission
The trio of workshops hosted by the Diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development are presented by Partners in Mission, a consulting firm focused on developing excellence in Catholic school advancement and leadership. The organization offers proven strategies and practices to advance the mission of growth and excellence in Catholic schools. Many of its presenters are accomplished professionals in Catholic school advancement.
Catholic school principals, presidents, board members, faculty, staff and volunteers with enrollment responsibilities are attending the sessions at the Diocesan Center.
“The impetus behind this effort is to strengthen the pipeline of families for our schools and strengthen and stabilize our schools,” said Kim Roche, Director of the Diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development. “We want them to take away simple, strategic initiatives that have proven successful in other Catholic schools throughout the country and implement them at their schools.”
“Enrollment doesn’t just mean signing families up, but how are we marketing to potential families and what is their initial experience with the school, to getting them to come for a tour, signing up and enrolling, and then retention activities to keep kids in the school,” Roche explained.
The first workshop session, on March 26, examined the “enrollment management funnel” – a graph that begins wide with branding and general marketing, narrows to recruitment and enrollment, and ends in retention and graduation.
The first session also addressed effective and ineffective ways to reach millennials.
“We were asked to consider who our customers are. To hear business terminology affirms that we need to be looking at this as a business to run successfully,” Kase said. “Our customers right now are millennials, and they have a very different perspective on how they receive and act on information. You no longer use the telephone to draw their interest, or tell them to call for information. Instead, you give them effective and purposeful information right off the bat.”
During the second session, on April 29, attendees were offered best practices for effective print and social media, and ideas for various recruitment-driven events. The third and final workshop, on May 14, will examine retention activities to keep students enrolled in Catholic schools.
“The great thing about the people from Partners in Mission is that they are practitioners, and they’re giving concrete and proven practices. They’re not giving us ivory-tower theories,” said Hamer. “These are tried and true techniques, and there’s nothing better than that. We’re not talking theory; they drill down to ‘this is how you do it.’ They are practical and very specific, and they’re focused on action-oriented techniques.”
Investment for Today
“What I’ve found affirming is that the Diocese recognizes that we’re out here, we’re fighting the fight, we’re struggling the struggles for advancement and enrollment,” Kase said of her colleagues in marketing, enrollment and advancement. “For the Diocese to pull us all together for these sessions and in camaraderie is beneficial to our efforts.”
“In order for Catholic schools to survive, we have a lot of hard work to do. These conferences are helping us to effectively accomplish that work,” she said.
Kase remarked that Catholic school educators and administrators have a passion for their work.
“We’re all here because we care; it’s who we are,” she said. “Through these workshops, we’re benefitting from the contacts we’re making with other people at schools throughout the Diocese. I’ve already called colleagues at four other schools, and we’re sharing ideas.”
Hamer pointed out that Lancaster Catholic hosts a deanery-wide meeting of Catholic schools several times a year, and said workshops and idea-sharing on enrollment and advancement are critically needed.
“There are best practices out there being applied in Catholic schools throughout the country for how to more effectively market schools and how to increase enrollment. As we can see from the turnout at these sessions at the Diocese, there is a great hunger for it,” he said.
“There is a lot of information and resources for school marketing, but the fact that we maintain a Catholic identity is very important,” he said. “You can’t sacrifice your Catholic identity in the service of being a more effective marketer.”
(See what Catholic schools in the Diocese of Harrisburg offer. Visit www.gocatholicschools.org or connect with your local Catholic school.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness