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Message Meets Mission

By Net Assets posted 07-23-2019 11:21 AM

Message Meets Mission

Enrollment & Financial Aid |

Telling a story that aligns with the school’s mission is key to increasing enrollment and fostering connections across departments.

When faced with the loss of a significant revenue stream and declining enrollment, Saint John’s Preparatory School was forced make major changes to its advancement strategy. Prior to moving to a new tuition model, school leaders asked themselves: How do we provide a unique product to our families, and how can our story reflect that product? Sherry Krebsbach, executive director of finance and facilities, knew that the school needed a long-term communications strategy to help them address and combat marketplace changes. She and Laura Hartog, director of admission, discussed how they re-imagined the role of the advancement office, among other ares, in a recent NBOA webinar, Rebuilding the Independent School Business Model in a Time of Change.

Time for Teamwork

Krebsbach’s team reviewed admissions, advancement and communications processes and personnel to establish how the departments could work better together. Analysis of revenue drivers indicated that development had the most potential to grow, but would require investments in both software and personnel. Saint John’s Prep brought development, communications and admissions together in one advancement team and created the position of vice president of advancement. This broke down some existing silos and enabled the team to tap skills across advancement efforts.

“Establishing the advancement team was a great start to fostering collaboration by working together to find ways to tell our story and benefit all areas, both from the side of admission and that of development,” Hartog explained.

One of the first challenges the advancement team faced was ­­aligning its communications and marketing plan with the school’s mission. Team members understood that when recruiting new families, word-of-mouth reputation had more impact than advertising, and so sought to increase word-of-mouth efforts. Krebsbach shifted the responsibilities of the communications role to increase internal communication with families and outsourced production of most external marketing materials.

Marketing the Mission

The advancement team’s next challenge was developing an integrated marketing plan and refreshing the website. Where to apply and how to give was unclear on the old website. “We know that families are typically 57% through their decision-making process before they even engage with us [in person],” Hartog said. “So, we knew our website desperately needed to be evaluated and changed to be more useful to perspective families.” The team worked with a local advertising agency to ensure the website foregrounded visiting the campus.

When schools consider a website redesign, Hartog advises they first look at the mission statements of other schools in the area, as well as peer and aspirant schools. This can help school leaders determine what makes their school distinctive. “Everyone promises transformational experiences, global learning and lifelong learning. So your school’s difference cannot be discreet — it must be extraordinary.”

Hartog and Krebsbach suggest leaders ask the following questions:

  • What promises do you make, and who is accountable for their delivery?
  • Is your school true to its mission?
  • What data do you have available, and how are you using it to communicate your school’s value?
  • Can we communicate that advantage to prospective families in a way that sets the school apart from its competition?

Hartog and Krebsbach also addressed ways that a strategic communications plan can help schools connect scholarship students with the donors who made the scholarships possible. A speech delivered by one of scholarship recipients at the school’s annual gala provided the advancement team with an opportunity to tell a mission-driven story. “We always remember why we’re here — our students,” Laura added.

For more on the Saint John’s Prep story and how Krebsbach and Hartog work together to address challenges in communication and other areas, such as development and tuition pricing, visit the archived webinar, slides and transcript.

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