Communications and Community Outreach Tips For School Developers
You've done it - you have successfully written your petition. Now comes the next step - making sure you get approved and fully up and running. Effective communications and community outreach are critical for building support for your school and sustaining your programs, which in turn are critical for raising public awareness and support of all charter schools.
This tip sheet and checklist are tools to make sure you have the key pieces in place for getting out the good word about your school, and, to inspire you to take your communications and marketing efforts to the next level. Print it to see recommended actions to take for effective communications and community outreach at each stage of the development cycle.
You can find many more resources and examples of high-quality communications from other schools in our Charter School Resource Library.
Top Communications Tips for Developers
Set yourself apart
Your petition explains in depth your school's vision and approach and what you hope to offer to the community, but few prospective parents or community members will ever read it. That's why you need to distill the essence of your school down to just a few key phrases or messages that will resonate with your target audience.
Present yourself and your school professionally
What impression do you get from a company that doesn't have a website? Or someone who claims to be a CEO of a major company, but presents a business card with an ugly logo and the email address "firstname.lastname@example.org"? As a developer, it is important to present yourself professionally.
Get a professional logo designed and pin down your key messages, then use both of these consistently across all documents, handouts, your website, Facebook page, etc. Launch your website so that you can set up a professional email account. Update your personal Linked In page and add a link to your school's website, get business cards printed and if you're using a personal cell phone number as the primary contact number for inquiries, update your voice message to reference the school.
Make yourself easy to find
- Step 1: Put up a sign at your school site!
- Step 2: Make sure all flyers, brochures and handouts include full contact information so people can get in touch.
- Step 3: Make sure people can find you online which leads us to...
Launch your website ASAP!
Especially for new schools, it is critical to put up a website as soon as possible. The modern era equivalent of Descartes' "I think, therefore I am," is "I have a web site, therefore I am." A professional website shows that your school is viable and makes it easy to provide detailed information and updates. By registering your domain name (www.exampleschool.org), you can then set up professional email addresses (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org...).
You should also go ahead and put up an official Facebook page at the same time; this is an easy way for people to show their interest and to receive updates on the school. This isn't a personal individual page, but rather a "company page." Even if you don't have a lot of updates at first, it's good to register your school's page on Facebook and Twitter so that no one else can take the name. Set your school's logo as the profile photo on both so that people know that these are the official school accounts.
Make it easy for others to spread the word
You don't have time to knock on every door or present at every community meeting yourself. So pull together a volunteer communications and community outreach team and give them the tools they need to get out the word. It's important to be consistent so that your key messages about the school come across in every flyer or brochure or conversation. You want to stand out and be memorable. People have to hear the same message several times for it to stick; also, it is confusing to prospective parents if one flyer presents your school's unique arts focus, then another makes it sound like you are offering primarily a math and science curriculum.
Your basic Communications Tool Kit should include:
- 1-2 key messages about your school (for example: "We offer a rigorous college-prep program." or "We prepare our students to be 21st century citizens of the world by focusing on foreign languages, technology and cultural understanding.")
- A logo if you have one or the school colors to make everything consistent
- A standard "About us" paragraph that describes what your school offers, your mission or philosophy and what makes your program unique. See this Executive Summary from Oxford Day Academy for an example of a one-pager used to reach out to media, funders, and other community members.
- A simple 1-page handout or brochure that you can provide to potential parents, community members and media. Check out this example brochure from Oxford Day Academy for inspiration!
- A school recruitment flyer to put up on community bulletin boards that has contact info - the school website, professional email address and a phone line with a voicemail set up for this purpose, as well as how to enroll. Make sure the flyer has a specific next step like "Sign the petition," Visit our website," or "Attend this orientation session."
Why are key messages SO important?
Your messages are the heart of your communications and outreach. Every communication you put out, whether a handout, flyer, email or video, should convey your key messages, which also serve as talking points for community presentations or media interviews.
This consistency and repetition builds up your school's brand and helps to set you apart. Some of the keys to having an effective message:
CLEAR: 3 or 4 message points
CONNECT: Who should care and why
COMPELLING: Make it interesting
CONCISE: Sound bites
CONTINUAL: Repeat the message (it takes 7-12 repetitions to create awareness)
This checklist has recommended communications and community outreach activities for every phase of development, from building your team, writing your petition, getting approved and opening your school. Don't forget to stay on track! Organize all of your outreach activities into a cohesive workplan that can be accessed and updated by team members.
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