This is a guest post by Daniel Weede, Senior Account Executive at Blackbaud. Daniel has spent the past nine years at Blackbaud working exclusively with K-12 clients and their constituents.

                

When the economy crashed in 2008, we all felt the negative impact, including K-12 private schools. Admissions offices were hit hard and enrollment numbers showed. Families no longer had an abundance of expendable cash and sending kids to private schools became difficult.

According to NAIS, K-12 school enrollment numbers fell by 3% in 2009 and another 7% in 2010.

Schools had to find new ways to ensure they made up for the revenue decline. Attending conferences, tradeshows, international trips, and open houses were no longer the golden ticket to getting new families in the door. They needed to enhance their approach. Having talked to numerous schools during these down times, I’ve seen many make adjustments and succeed.

Here are a 3 popular tactics schools leveraged to combat declining enrollment numbers:

1. Build a Strong Online Presence

Schools that took their online presence from stale and outdated to fresh, dynamic and emotional were the ones that experienced the biggest return.

They realized they needed to find new ways to connect with prospective families and the internet is the most popular channel. Many underwent website redesigns, putting more emphasis on admissions content, creating 2-way communication portals for families and schools to connect online, and sharing school brand through photos and personal stories. Things like processing applications that once used to be a manual, hard-to-do process became effortless for families.Schools reaped the benefits because prospective families could log back into the school website after submitting an application to understand next steps.

This strengthened their bond with the school early in the process and resulted in higher conversion rates, and eventually higher retention rates. Numbers don’t lie – if you can get a constituent to return to your website, good things happen.  Development Offices had already figured this out and Admission Offices were now enjoying the benefits.

2. Personalize Marketing Efforts

When a prospective family walked through the front doors of a school, it was necessary for the Admissions employees to already know enough about the family so that they could put their best foot forward while selling the school. 

With the increasing popularity of the internet, it became even more necessary for schools to court prospective families electronically.

This instigated a shift  from generic marketing efforts to personalized, targeted communication. Schools evolved from sending vanilla email blasts to leveraging personalized e-Marketing tools that demonstrated a true understanding of the wants and needs of their audience.  They could then gauge success of these efforts by retrieving “click-through” and “view” statistics.  

The sophistication of eMarketing tools changed  the theme from “50% of your marketing dollars go to waste, and you don’t know which half” to “if it’s not working, CHANGE!”.

3. Use True Admission Office Databases

In 2010, we noticed a shift from how schools managed their admissions processes on the back-end.

They were moving away from the world of Excel and Access and bringing in software partners who offered admission-centric databases.  These tools included functionality around checklists, reporting, and demographic segmentation.

Schools now had the power to easily conduct year over year trend analysis:

  • How many families were in a certain stage compared to three years ago?
  • How many applications were received from a certain zip code compared to last year?

These were questions schools could finally answer, and answer quickly.  This allowed for sound, data-driven strategic decisions.  They were working smarter in their cultivation efforts to fill seats.

While overall enrollment numbers have not completely returned to pre-2008 levels, the journey back is well underway. Schools have moved forward and fought to maintain enrollment levels while weathering a fluctuating economy, the same one that pushed them down five years ago. They are not just facing adversity, they are controlling it.

What ways has your school fought against the fluctuating economy?

Share in the comments below!

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