“Steven Virgadamo” suggests that marketing simply stated is the right message, delivered to the right person at the right place and the right time.
catholic-instituitionFor more than 25 years, I have been involved in leading, managing, and governing Catholic Institutions. (Consider joining “Steven Virgadamo” hosts Leading, Managing and Governing Catholic Education Group at LinkedIn)  I have worked for schools, dioceses, religious congregations and various other Catholic apostolates.   I have helped to prepare pastors, principals and diocesan leaders for their respective leadership roles. Last week I was invited to work with a school in the Deep South. During the time assisting the School Board members and the school administrators, I discovered that they had already solicited the parents who would be new to the school with the 2012-2013 school year.  This fundraising strategy seemed so uncivilized and certainly did not correlate with what I have learned about southern hospitality from years of working in many of the (Arch) dioceses located in the southern portion of our country. I became even more concerned when I met one of the parents who had just enrolled their first child a preschooler in the school and she had already been solicited for a six figure gift. The mother of (definitely a Generation X Mom) told me she agreed to make a “token gift” but was now concerned about the financial situation at the school that the administrator would feel compelled to ask a new family – one which had not yet experienced the promises of the administrator regarding the curricular and co-curricular programs for such a large gift. That experience gave birth to today’s posting.

Please don’t ever just assume that all of the students registered in the spring will be in their respective seat with the new fall semester. The point here is that the recruitment cycle does not end when a child is registered in the spring. To be successful, efforts need to focus between May and August to help each new family “justify the purchase decisions.”

For years, I have said that marketing simply stated is the right message, delivered to the right person at the right place and the right time.

Right Message

To help parents justify the purchase decision we must understand why a young mother chooses Catholic School. The research on why a parent chooses a Catholic School suggests that the decision is based on a perception of a rigorous academic program, an environment of safety, structure and discipline, religious values infused in the curriculum and added value benefit such as a before school, after school program, location of school, and multiple co curricular offerings. So then the right message to help them justify their purchase decision would focus on these aspects of your school. Certainly, you will want to avoid the pitfall of one school in the Midwest which the first communication with new parents after spring registration process was a tuition bill distributed by the business manager in June. I often recommend that all parents, but certainly those new to the school receive several communications between May and August that address how the school is expecting to best serve each student in the areas presented above. An example of such a strategy would be to hold a parent teacher conference the week before school begins to provide the parent the opportunity to educate the teacher about their child and his/her related needs.

Right Person

The research is clear that the mother is the primary decision maker with regard to where a child attends elementary school. So clearly, the key to effective marketing is communicating with mothers and between now and the fall the focus must be on helping the mothers of all students, but particularly those of new students to rationalize their purchase decision. Keep in mind that most of the mothers of preschool age children today are products of what sociologists have  labeled ”Generation X.”  In general Generation X Moms are between the ages of 25 and 40. Generation X’ers are characterized by a propensity for technology, skepticism to advertising claims and attraction to personal style rather than designer labels. Many Generation X mothers grew up as a latchkey child and in a divorced family. Therefore we find that time for their family and family values are very important to them and their approach to parenting is one of hovering, pragmatism, and traditionalism.Generation X mothers are better educated than any other women of previous generations. You can expect them to have an understanding of school achievement data and to utilize that data to evaluate the effectiveness of schools. Generation X mothers surpass their predecessors when it comes to technological advances; they are also embracing traditional values that might have been rejected by their parents. You can expect them to have a deeper commitment to spirituality and heightened concerns about the impact of the media on their children’s formation. Generation X mothers are more fiscally savvy than their predecessors. You can expect them to more closely analyze the “price-value” of any educational investment for their children.

Right Time

While the marketing efforts must be ongoing, particularly if one recognizes the research that the child is under the age of 2.5 when mom makes the elementary school choice. This article is attempting to call your attention to continuing to market the school to the parents who have already enrolled their child for the upcoming fall semester – help each mother “justify their purchase decision” with specific marketing/communication strategies and or events between May and August. Typically, I recommend at least three touches with the parents and one touch to the student by the respective teacher before the traditional “Back to School information is distributed.
Lastly, please keep in mind that the justification of the purchase decision must not end when the new school year commences. Our Catholic elementary schools are experiencing a student retention problem. It is interesting to note that many of the Generation X mothers are choosing to enroll their child but then withdrawing that student within two years. In many cases, this is not exclusively for financial reasons. In many cases they do not believe the school administration and or teachers understand them, their needs and expectations for the education of their children and perceive the value of the educational or religious experience does not justify their financial investment.

Who is “Steven Virgadamo”?

He is a gifted speaker and workshop leader with more than twenty five years of experience as a consultant, providing workshops, seminars and direct consulting services to Catholic Educational Institutions, parishes, religious communities, dioceses and boards of education. He has provided direct consultative guidance to hundreds of Catholic schools in almost half of the Dioceses of the United States in the areas of ownership/governance, administration, strategic planning, marketing, finances, and institutional advancement. Follow him on Twitter @svirgadamo.

Thank you for reading!

Steve Virgadamo