Since early 2011, Dr. Harry Bloom at the YU Institute for University-School Partnership has managed a financial benchmarking program funded by AVI CHAI and Federations. The program aims to enable Jewish day schools to achieve a 10% budgetary improvement over three years, generated primarily through expense reduction or increased revenues. Approximately 40 day schools in five communities have participated. In this piece cross-posted on eJewishPhilanthropy, Dr. Bloom shares lessons for student recruitment.
By: Harry Bloom
The world of advertising and marketing has been transformed by the Internet and social media. Never before have advertisers had so much information about who uses their products, who doesn’t, and how best to reach prime prospects. The foundation of this knowledge is hard data about consumer habits and practices. Contrast this data-driven market segmentation and outreach to how most of our schools work to recruit students. Most schools are still relying on open houses, view books, and admission packets to attract families and students. These can be important, but they are basically passive and depend on an already motivated inquirer. What if there aren’t enough inquirers? How can our schools “create” them?
For many of our schools, this is a key question. Fortunately the pathway to a proactive generation of inquirers, and, even better, visitors, is pretty clear and it isn’t expensive. But it does require a disciplined, reflective approach to thinking about our current customers (families and students).
Here are four steps your school should consider to go on the recruitment offensive:
- “Take the roof off your school” and look down at the families and students inside. Think about each one individually, who they are, and why they chose your school and not another. Then step back and group families and students who have common wants, needs, and demographic characteristics. Each of these groupings is a “market segment.” It is the core of your future proactive recruitment strategy. Give each segment a name so it can be discussed, planned for, and measured. Examples might be Russian families with a passion for math and science, pluralistic Jews with a desire for a values-based education, Israeli families with a passion for Hebrew language, et al.
- For each segment, assign a relative priority based on the potential size of the segment and your ability to gain a higher share (percentage) of segment members. Do a bit of research: Is the segment growing or declining? Is your share (percentage) of potential segment members as high as it possibly could be, or could it be grown?
- Interview segment members or conduct informal focus groups among them. Learn more about them: what they like, dislike, how they select schools, who their social circles and friends are, what media they access and trust.
- Appoint segment managers to work with school admission professionals to build target segment member visit numbers. Enroll parent ambassadors from among segment members. Start small: ask each ambassador to build a list of five prospective segment members they will motivate to visit your school for an appropriate school event during the next 30-60 days. Add these segment members to a database and track their visits—and follow up when they aren’t occurring.
Congratulations, you have just graduated from passive to proactive recruitment! Keep working at this as it represents a reliable pathway to growth. Just ask Google or Amazon.
Harry Bloom manages the YU School Partnership’s division of Planning and Performance Improvement, which is tasked with developing and helping schools implement strategic planning, governance strengthening, financial benchmarking and long term financial planning and process improvement efforts. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.