Spotlight on: Atidenu
Is passion for your school and an unwavering commitment to Jewish education enough to build one’s admissions pipeline? As we all know, these are necessary but not sufficient. An admissions office must be methodical, proactive and creative in its approach to recruitment, enrollment and retention. Luckily, for the admissions team at Vancouver Talmud Torah (VTT), the experts at Prizmah’s Atidenu program provided the guidance, wisdom and experience required to build a robust admissions strategy to serve our school in the years to come. With support from our board of directors, the three of us participated in the 18-month program.
Participating in Atidenu required radically altering the way we do business. First and foremost, we had to become a data-driven organization. While we always used data for basic admissions functions, the team at Atidenu showed us how more detailed data accumulation, particularly on family demographics, can enhance and grow our admissions goals. Tammy eagerly embraced this challenge and received regular support from Elana Alfred and Adele Yermack on how to capture, input and track data. Tammy now meticulously records every detail related to admissions. Various teams in the school (admissions, finance, academic and board) analyze this data to inform planning and decision making. This has been the single greatest shift in our internal operations and has proved tremendously valuable for all involved.
It takes more than numbers, however, to build a successful admissions strategy. Consultant Rebecca Egolf spent two productive days at VTT mentoring both faculty and parents on how to become vocal ambassadors. Even though we intuitively knew the power of word of mouth, under Egolf’s tutelage we formalized an ambassador program with almost immediate results. Most transformative was witnessing our teachers providing leads and referrals. While we would expect this from our (self-selected) parent ambassadors, we were pleased to see our faculty contributing to the collective effort to boost inquiries and enrollment.
Additionally, one unexpected consequence of enlisting parent ambassadors was their proactive involvement online, particularly on Facebook. As we learned from Egolf, millennials rely on social media (and often complete strangers) to help them make important life decisions, such as their children’s schooling. This question frequently makes the rounds on local Facebook groups, and when it does, we can always count on an ambassador to voice their support for, and satisfaction with, VTT. This, too, was a new facet of our improved admissions strategy and our effort to create buy-in from different stakeholder groups.
The final piece to building a sustainable admissions plan involved closely working with marketing guru Chuck English. Until we joined Atidenu, our website alone communicated with prospective families. English convinced us to create a (non-digital) viewbook that clearly communicated our value proposition while being substantial enough for families to take home. (The final product can be viewed at bit.ly/2pcowUE.) English also recommended we produce a monthly newsletter (distinct from our weekly general newsletter) exclusively to highlight academic excellence at VTT. The newsletter concluded with a VOTE NOW button soliciting feedback from parents, which has been resoundingly positive. Selling our school is an ongoing effort, and we continue to rely on English’s expertise to develop and fine-tune marketing initiatives to attract new families and help retain those we have.
Creativity, which the program cultivated and emphasized, is an essential ingredient for an admissions office in its approach to recruitment. Over the last 18 months, we have initiated the following programs and partnerships to bring more people into our school:
- Toddler Tuesdays at Talmud Torah: free monthly storytime and Jewish art program for two- and three-year-olds and their caregivers, facilitated by an established artist and/or PJ Library. This has attracted many new young families.
- A partnership with an influential rabbi from the Vancouver Kollel. This rabbi is often the first point of contact for newcomers to our community. In exchange for his support, VTT co-sponsors several of his outreach programs, all of which are held on our campus free of charge.
- Frequent Facebook advertising campaigns to build brand awareness and recognition.
- Active and regular Facebook engagement on a closed page to build loyalty and enthusiasm with current parents.
- A phone campaign to every family (300+) by a member of the academic leadership team to inquire about their school experience thus far. Parents have been pleasantly surprised and gratified by these calls, offering both praise and constructive feedback.
- “Bringing faculty into the fold.” Every day we email faculty to apprise them of the day’s tours, preparing them to meet, greet and welcome all visitors. We also begin every monthly staff meeting with a summary of our activities and the status of our enrollment, including sharing all relevant data. This transparency motivates our teachers to continue supporting our recruitment efforts.
- Adding post-tour surveys, formal exit interviews and other mechanisms to professionalize the admissions process.
While passion for Jewish education and for one’s school is an essential starting point, the team at Atidenu taught us to incorporate many more established practices and creative ideas to build our admissions pipeline. We are already seeing promising results.