Use tours as a marketing tool to reach prospective families and tell your school’s story.
by Melanie Horton, Senior Marketing Manager
You’ve gone through all the hard work of starting a charter school. Your programs are successful and your students are doing well. But you’re still struggling to meet your target enrollment numbers each year. Success on its own will not automatically generate a waiting list; you must arm prospective parents with information about why your school is a strong educational option for their children. Because while school choice provides the opportunity for your school to exist in the first place, it also creates competition.
Tweet: Most charter schools don’t have a large marketing budget, but there’s a lot you can do that doesn’t cost much at all. Start by offering tours of your school. Advertise these tours on social media and at local community events. Get in touch with the local homeowners’ association or chamber of commerce, and ask if you can speak for a few minutes at the next meeting. Talk about your school’s mission and how you serve local families, highlight recent achievements, and invite community members to take a tour of the school and/or pass along the message to those with school-aged children. Reach out to local churches, community centers, and businesses, and ask if you can post flyers on their bulletin boards. Make sure to include the tour schedule along with your school’s website, phone number, and social media information so that those who wish to contact you about tours are able to do so.
It’s important to get the tour logistics right. Aim to schedule tours at times that are convenient for working parents, such as early in the morning or during lunch hours. Make sure to keep the tours under an hour (you can always assign staff to stay later and talk to families who aren’t in a rush). If you’re not sure when to schedule the tours, ask a few parents of current students for their input. Maybe evenings and/or weekends work best for your community. In that case, you might not be able to implement all of the suggestions below, but at least you’ll have a captive audience.
It’s helpful to capture visitors’ contact information so you can stay in touch and monitor interest in your school across time. Create a simple sign-in sheet – the data gathering is easier if this is done on a tablet or computer – that includes the parent’s name and email address, and the prospective student’s current school (if applicable), and ask visitors to sign in when they arrive for the tour. Knowing where prospective students are coming from will help you to target future communications efforts, and having a database of email addresses of interested families makes it easier to keep telling your school’s story after the tour. If your school sends newsletters to current parents, include your new contacts in future newsletters to keep them informed of all the great things happening at your school.
Start a cohort of student ambassadors who, along with school staff, will participate in the tours and talk about their experiences. This is especially valuable at the high school level, as parents tend to bring their children on the tours, and they often have questions that only current students can answer. Inviting parent volunteers to participate in the tours is also beneficial, as they can speak to why your school is a good fit for their families.
It is helpful for the tours to be led by an administrator and a teacher, as both offer valuable perspectives and can answer different questions about the school, its programs, and policies and procedures. If possible, divide the visit into a school overview (complete with a short question and answer session), and a walking tour. During the presentation, remember to highlight what makes your school unique, including interesting programs and classes, innovative learning methods, and awards and achievements. Invite the student ambassadors to give a quick presentation about something they’re involved in at the school, and invite parent volunteers to speak about parental involvement.
Parents like to know what their child’s day-to-day will look like. On the tour, make sure to visit at least one classroom in action; you can create a rotating sign-up schedule in advance so there isn’t any last minute planning on the day of the tour. Guests don’t need to sit down and observe the class, but they will appreciate being able to pop in and note the setup and size. If possible, visit both a core subject classroom (e.g. math or science) as well as a music or arts classroom. Also plan to stop by areas that are unique to your school, such as a school garden or robotics lab. For larger schools, parents might be interested in seeing key facilities such as the gymnasium and theatre.
Make sure to provide visiting families with something they can take with them that will aide in their decision-making process. Create a simple one-pager that includes key statistics about the school, such as enrollment, average class size, special programs and classes available, graduation and college statistics (if applicable), contact information, and enrollment/lottery dates and details (there will likely be a lot of questions about this last one, and you want to make sure everyone has the information they need – after all, this is the point of the tour!). You don’t need to be a graphic design expert to create an effective document, and free online tools like Canva and HubSpot can help with layout and design.
If anyone on the tour has a question you can’t answer, note their contact information so you can follow up with them when you find the answer. And make sure your main office staff is knowledgeable of the school and trained to answer questions, or direct inquires to the appropriate people, when they receive follow-up phone calls.
When guests leave the tour, they should have a clear understanding of what your school is all about. This is a valuable opportunity to connect with prospective families and brag about your school; make the most of it!