Running a Private School
Raising money to benefit your private school is something as omnipresent as the four walls of your office. It's always there. It never goes away. Even schools which have large endowments seem to be constantly raising money. They can usually afford to hire Development Directors and can count on a couple of generous alumni to prime the pump for their multi-million dollars capital campaign. But what about small schools which desperately need money over and above what they can raise through tuition and fees? This article is for those schools. Hopefully, it will encourage you to see fundraising the way large schools do.
I have based these tips, suggestions, and strategies on over thirty-five years as a church musician. I was always raising money for one project or another. Finding the money to purchase a new pipe organ ($100,000) or raising money for a choir trip to England ($50,000) were major challenges for me back in the 80s. Now that I am semi-retired, I am the social media director and digital content creator for a small classical music radio station. The station's entire operating budget is listener-supported and raised through 2 major fund drives and constant messaging. We have been doing that for over 40 years. You've heard your local NPR station hold on-air fund drives, haven't you? That's what we do too. My point is that I understand the challenges which you are facing raising money for your small school.
This video from SalesForce offers strategies for fundraising
I was an early adopter of social media so I can tell you that the growth of the genre which I have witnessed has been remarkable. The instant communications and universal accessibility of social media have powered revolutions around the world as you and I both know. Sadly, social media has been manipulated and abused by governments and political movements who seek to undermine and destroy institutions.
For the purposes of this article, we shall set aside those negative aspects of social media and look at ways in which your small to medium-sized private school can use social media to make families past, present, and future aware of your school. If your school has the budget for professional social media curators and a fully-integrated marketing program, you are all set. However, if you have limited resources for marketing your school and are not certain how to proceed, I have written this article with your school in mind.
Before we look at some suggestions for using social media, I want you to set aside any misconceptions which you might have about social media. I run into people all the time who say "I don't use Facebook." "I can't be bothered with Twitter." "YouTube is a waste of time." Interestingly enough, they never seem to mention Instagram or LinkedIn which are popular with millennials and the business community respectively. Social media is essentially an electronic form of socializing. Years ago we sent postcards to our friends and family when we traveled. We even
Signs that your school might be failing don't suddenly appear all at once like a flashing neon sign. Instead, they appear gradually over weeks, months, and years. I am targeting small private schools with these remarks and suggestions with the hope that you will see telltale signs of concern long before they become major troubles.
As you and your board of trustees review the list which I have set out below, I would suggest scoring each item on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the low end, and 10 the top. So, for example, as you look at your enrolment data for the past 5 years, if the trend shows a deterioration in enrolment, you would score that item 5 or less. And so on. Then tackle the items on the list which need the most attention. The following video discusses signs that a business is in trouble. Many of these will apply to a private school which is, after all, a business.
Let's start with enrollment. Filling your school's seats is essential for balancing your budget. If you are having trouble doing that, then you need to find out why you are not able to fill all your seats. If you are a seasoned enrolment professional or have one on your board, then seek his advice and follow it. Enrollment professionals will look at a host of things which impact filling your seats. Among them will be determining what market your
Editor's note: I asked Jason How, a professional enrollment strategist and Managing Director of Agency J, to answer some of my questions about achieving enrollment targets and other related matters. ~Rob
1. My school's enrollment is declining. I can't afford a marketing professional. What should I do?
It’s important to understand what a school means when it says that it can’t afford a marketing professional. Here are some guiding questions:
- Does it mean that they don’t have an in-house marketing person?
- Does it mean that they can’t afford to hire an extra pair of hands?
- If it can’t afford to hire outside help, is it because the administration made certain assumptions about the cost of hiring a marketing professional?
Once we understand what the school means, the next thing is to get clarity on the main reason why their school’s enrollment is declining. Each reason has its own solution. Reasons include:
- Declining student age population within the geographical region.
- Growing competition due to:
- New schools popping up in the area.
- Existing schools expanding aggressively.
- Deteriorating ratings and feedback about the school’s programs, leading to a rise in negative reviews and word-of-mouth, which discourage others from attending the school (true story).
- Over-reliance on a single marketing and enrollment source.
It’s important to get clarity on the main reason for the decline because marketing is not a magic pill that can make every issue go away.
If a school has a good reputation but happens to be located in an area where there are fewer student-age population, there is not much marketing can
I am assuming that your school is well-known within your local community. But what about beyond that community? Are you visible to families looking for a school like yours? How will they know that your school fits their specific requirements? Well, there are several things you can do to reach that critical pool of families and potential students.
The Invisible Stuff
SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a mystery to the uninitiated. It is one of those arcane sciences that webmasters everywhere have to be aware of. Unfortunately, the mention of SEO for the rest of us prompts most of us to start reading email and texting friends. It's all so technical. The truth is that good SEO can enhance your marketing efforts. It can make your school more visible to the audience which you are trying to reach. Weak or non-existent SEO will bury your site so that it is practically invisible. So, ignore SEO at your peril. At the least get your arms around the basics so that you can supervise your web management and design team authoritatively.
This video explains what SEO is.
What is Search Engine Optimization? In its simplest terms, SEO is making sure that your site's meta tags and content are optimized so that parents and students can find your site easily when they type specific words into a search engine. For example, if you ask Google to show results for the words "private schools," it will oblige with