I’ll be honest, it still stings a bit. I had an idea for a big school choice fair. We got a local partner to donate a nice space, centrally located, with plenty of free parking. We spent thousands promoting it through mailings, radio ads, and a radio remote broadcast. We even gave away tickets to an upcoming Drake show. And in the end, I was begging the handful of people who showed up to take the hundreds of hot dogs I’d ordered for the hundreds of people who didn’t.
While I’d like to blame Drake (Canadian hip-hop seems like an oxymoron), I’ve learned that these types of events just don’t draw a crowd unless you have a lot of partners and a big budget (even then, I’ve seen them flop). Putting on an event takes at least six weeks of planning and promotion, but when you do it right, it can be a big boost to building awareness, enrollment, and connections with your current families. Most successful recruitment events have a few things in common:
1. They’re Local
Who doesn’t love a block party? Focusing on a single school and promoting it within a neighborhood or group of neighborhoods makes it a lot easier to cut through the marketing clutter. Promoting your event as free family fun day (that just happens to have recruiters) makes it much more likely that people will want to come.
2. They’re Promoted from the Inside Out
You don’t have to spend a ton of money to promote your event, provided you:
Start with Your Current Families: Invite them through multiple methods - email, text, flyers, and phone calls -- and tell them to bring friends and family!
Don’t Forget New Families: An event is a great way to make new families feel welcome, reduce no-shows, and get them to invite their friends and family, too. Asking a few current parents to be a welcome team will go a long way to building bonds. Also, t-shirts or welcome stickers are a great way to make your new students feel special.
Invite Your Prospects: Anyone whose filled out an application or inquiry should get multiple invitations, starting with a mailing, then follow-up emails, phone calls, and a text message reminder
Invite Your Target List: If you’ve built a mailing list, it goes without saying that those folks should get an invitation, too. Canvassing the 50-100 closest houses the morning of the event is a great way to build a last-minute rush.
3. They’re Fun!
Fun looks effortless, but it takes a ton of planning and an army of staff and volunteers. Of course, your event should be a blast, but you don’t have to spend a ton of money.
Music is a Must: Your phone, some speakers, and the right Pandora station work well if you can’t afford a DJ.
Don’t Forget the Games: Bounce houses and video game trailers are awesome, but most kids will geek out over 4 - 6 organized game stations with prizes and face painting. A balloon artist is a nice add-on too, but except a big line.
Don’t Skimp on the Food: here’s the one area where splurging makes sense. The last thing you want to do is go on an emergency pizza run halfway through your event (trust me!). Be sure to grab plenty of Fla-Vor-Ice for a cheap treat.
4. They’re Focused on Recruitment
You’ve spent a ton of time and money getting people there, so be sure you make the most of it:
Sign-In Table: Capture the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of everyone who comes, especially families who haven’t enrolled yet.
Tours or Info Sessions: Every half-hour or hour, give families an opportunity to meet your leaders, see your building, and hear your pitch.
On-Site Enrollment: Make sure you have a way for folks to sign up on the spot, even if they don’t have their documents with them. Make a big deal (ring a bell, make an announcement, give a big cheer) every time a new family enrolls.
Follow-Up, Follow-Up, Follow-Up: Any new family who comes should go on your prospect list, and they should hear from you at least once a week until they’ve signed up or told you to leave them alone!
While these events are a big lift, the pay-off can be just as big. Like my man said, “you know life is what we make it, and a chance is like a picture, it’d be nice if you just take it.”