HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Community Outreach: Mission Driven Marketing

by Rebecca Egolf Issue: Marketing Across the Spectrum
TOPICS : Technology

You know that old saying: "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always got." Admission directors participating in PEJE's Admission Community of Practice recently learned how to positively impact their recruitment efforts by changing their programming philosophy in a conference call featuring Audrey Jacobs, Director of School Advancement at Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School.

"Current Jewish day school recruitment efforts consist primarily of open houses, group and individual tours of the school, parlor meetings, and mailing letters and brochures," Jacobs noted. "There's no need to eliminate these strategies, but these are typically only effective on those families that are already considering Jewish day school for their children. How do you reach the consumer who doesn't even have you on their radar screen?" Her answer has been to implement community outreach programming, featuring parenting education and topics of general interest to all parents who want to raise and educate good kids.

And in just one year at Soille San Diego, she has increased the number of new students enrolling in the school from 15 in fall 2005 to 74 for the current school year.

In addition to traditional recruitment events, in the past year Soille San Diego has featured author lectures and book signings, a six-week parenting series, Jewish holiday events including cooking classes, and a variety of expert speakers on such topics as bullying, Internet safety for children, raising self-reliant children, drugs and alcohol, and kids and money. Instead of a traditional kindergarten open house, they sponsored a program entitled "Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten?" featuring a panel of child development experts. This type of event is more likely to be attended by members of the general Jewish and secular community who are interested in the subject, but not necessarily interested in hearing a sales pitch for Jewish day school education. They come to the day school campus, meet members of the school community, and learn something about an important topic, but most importantly, they leave with a new opinion of Jewish day schools. By capturing the family's contact information, the admissions director can follow up with them to promote the school, with dramatically different results.

At Soille San Diego, outreach events such as these also increase the sense of community within the school, generating a feeling of school pride. Families are encouraged to bring their friends and neighbors to these events, which helps the admission office identify potential families who might become interested in the school. The school even offered a $500 tuition discount to families who referred a prospective student if that student later enrolled in the school, which brought in a flood of new prospective families about which the admission office would never have known. Many events are co-sponsored with other local day schools and Jewish community organizations, which increase the school's profile in the community and helps raise awareness about the excellence of Jewish day school education.

The admission director doesn't do all this programming alone, however. At Soille San Diego, a chevra (friends) group has been created by parents interested in helping with recruitment efforts. This group does most of the work, under the direction of the admissions office, with outstanding results. Getting parents involved in planning programming results in more parents attending events, with the additional benefit that student retention rates are increased as well.

Many of those participating in the conference call indicated that they are doing this type of programming on a limited basis. Jacobs is the first to admit that these aren't new ideas, just good ones. The difference is in philosophy, she notes.

Most schools plan outreach events as programs in a busy calendar of recruitment activities. Jacobs has a different approach. "If Jewish day schools embrace the greater mission that we are obligated to be a Light Unto The Nations (Isaiah 42:6), by providing the entire community with family education programs based on Jewish values, day schools can become the first choice for Jewish families of all affiliations who want to raise and educate mentsches." Jacobs is using community outreach programming as mission-driven marketing for her school, rather than just as discrete events.

PEJE's Admission Community of Practice works to identify noteworthy practices being implemented in the field with outstanding results, and to share this knowledge in such a manner that schools can adapt and replicate the practice with the desired result in their own environment. Jacobs' presentation on community outreach (available as a PowerPoint on www.peje.org) left the participants renewed with many fresh ideas, program topics, and strategies to enhance their recruitment efforts.

For more information or to join the Admission Community of Practice, contact Rebecca Egolf at rebecca@peje.org.

Rebecca Egolf is Coordinator of PEJE's Admission Community of Practice. Rebecca can be reached at: Rebecca@peje.org. Audrey Jacobs is Director of School Advancement for Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School. Audrey can be reached at: ajacobs@hebrewday.org.

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