How One School Launched a Parent Ambassador’s Program

Lane Rice, Director of Admission, Covenant Classical School

Lane Rice, Director of Admission, Covenant Classical School

I began working with Lane Rice, Director of Admission, and Eric Cook, Headmaster, at Covenant Classical School in Fort Worth, TX, last July. In our discussions, I recommended that they launch a Parent Ambassador’s Program to expand their reach and to increase word of mouth. The following blog post is a recent interview with Lane about how she launched this program as part of her school’s marketing and enrollment strategy.

Why did you decide to launch a Parent Ambassador’s Program?

“The Parent Ambassador program at Covenant is one of many enrollment strategies recommended to us by Dr. Rick Newberry. When Dr. Newberry visited Covenant in the summer of 2012, our enrollment was plateauing. While we continued to matriculate new students each year, our attrition numbers made us uncomfortable and hindered our potential for growth. In an area where the market is flooded with private schools – and indeed good schools – Covenant needed to implement enrollment strategies to help us communicate our mission, vision, and distinctiveness to our area.”

What criteria did you use to select your Parent Ambassadors?

“In selecting our ambassadors, we looked first for parents who were already doing much of the work of an ambassador. These parents were already sharing Covenant with their friends, volunteering at our admissions events, and hosting coffees in their homes for prospective parents. We wanted to take these efforts and organize them, providing clear strategies and goals for them and enabling them to see success through their efforts. Secondly, we looked for parents in strategic grades. At Covenant, our attrition issues were almost entirely isolated to grades 4-8. We looked specifically for parents in those grades who were active in the Covenant community and who had good rapport with other parents in these classes. Thirdly, we looked for parents who represented a variety of churches and communities within Fort Worth, thus increasing our reach to prospective parents.”

How did you ask parents to become ambassadors?

“Eric Cook invited each of these parents to an initial meeting, where we explained the parent ambassador program. This meeting was held in a parent’s home and dessert and coffee was provided.”

How did you launch the program?

“We launched the program with a planning and brainstorming session. At the first meeting, we outlined the goals for the program. We then allowed the ambassadors to brainstorm categories and strategies for increasing retention and promoting the school throughout the Fort Worth community. We developed several teams representing different strategies and allowed the ambassadors to choose their own teams. Each team designated a leader/point person for communication and scheduling.”

What roles and responsibilities have you given your parent ambassadors?

“Our ambassadors formed the following teams: Media, Church Relations, Coffees, Realtor Relations, and a broad Retention/Recruitment team with a primary focus on grades 4-8.

The Media Team is responsible for sending in photos and videos from different events across campus. We have encouraged each member of this team to grab snapshots and videos from all the activities in which their children are involved. In doing so, they are able to collectively capture many images of what goes on at Covenant on a daily basis.

The Church Relations Team is responsible for networking with local churches and pastors. They are responsible for creating the initial contact with each of these churches, inviting the pastors to visit the school, helping to tour pastors on campus, and organizing a pastor appreciation breakfast in the spring semester.

The Coffee’s Team is responsible for coffees for prospective parents and they also aid the Retention/Recruitment team in the organization of class socials for as a retention strategy.

The Realtor Relations Team is responsible for networking with Fort Worth real estate agents. They visit the offices of these realtors to drop off information packets and have invited several local agents to visit our campus. They are also responsible for thinking critically about new neighborhoods in our area. Immediately to our west, there are plans to develop a large neighborhood that will potentially bring thousands of people right next door to us. Our realtor team is tasked with thinking specifically about recruiting families from this new development.

Our Retention/Recruitment team is responsible for a variety of tasks. They accompany me to school fairs, help tour during admissions events, and think critically about keeping our attrition numbers low. This includes everything from holding grade-level socials to acting as mentors for new families to encouraging families that are struggling or that are undecided about returning to Covenant for the next academic year.”

What has been their response?

“The response has been tremendous. Although we started out with a large group of invitees, we have arrived at a core group of ambassadors that are passionate about their work and about seeing growth at Covenant. These parents have worked tirelessly not only in their area of responsibility, but also in creating a robust word-of-mouth campaign that has seen results even this early in the enrollment season.”

What have you learned in the first six months of your program?

“The testimony of a parent (or a student!) is one of the most powerful tools in marketing your school. Further, because the ambassadors represent a good cross-section of Covenant, I have been able to learn more about the dynamics of each age group. As this is my first year at Covenant, I found this particularly helpful.”

How has your parent ambassadors helped expand your marketing and enrollment effort?

“The Parent Ambassador program has increased our reach significantly. We were able to accomplish much more together than I would have been able to do alone. The Church Relations Team was able to contact every pastor and many youth and children’s pastors across our area. The same is true for the Realtor Team. Simply adding manpower to the admissions office enabled us to reach further than we’ve been able to reach in the past. Further, a parent perspective lends credence to a word-of-mouth campaign. Our parents are not paid for talking about Covenant–they just love the school and want to share!”

What advice would you offer another school considering a Parent Ambassador’s Program?

“Do it! You won’t regret it. The reach of the admissions office dramatically increases when parents are involved in your marketing, recruitment, and retention efforts.

Two quick stories regarding the power of the ambassador program:

A family new to our area visited our Prospective Parent Night in the fall. I corresponded with them using the follow up sequence that we developed, but after a while, the family grew quiet, probably a natural side-effect of the fact that this admissions event was in October and the application was not due until February. Two weeks ago, I received an email from an ambassador that said that she met this family while walking in her neighborhood. As it turns out, the family had recently purchased a house right between two Covenant ambassadors, both of whom made contact with the family, and two weeks later, they called to tell me of their intent to apply. I don’t know if they were intending to apply all along, but I do know that having two Covenant parents talk to them about the benefits of the school certainly helped make their decision more solid!

I invited one of our ambassadors to speak at Prospective Parent Night. At this particular event, I also invited one of our classes to present some memory work from their studies. Little did I know that at that event, there was a current family considering whether or not Covenant was still a good fit for their family. After hearing the ambassador speak to our prospective parents, the current family left convinced that Covenant indeed was still the best choice for their family.

Parent Ambassadors are important! I am sure there are more stories like this one, but had I not had the ambassadors, we may have missed out on a kindergarten applicant, and we may have seen a family move their child(ren) to another school. There’s no real way to measure the impact of the program, but stories like these convince me that it’s an absolutely vital part of our enrollment management strategy.”

Lane, thanks for sharing how you launched a parent ambassador’s program at Covenant Classical School. This effort is obviously making a difference and the impact is exponential!

If you have any questions for Lane, please post them in the comment section.

Have you launched a Parent Ambassador’s Program at your school?

In what ways have your Parent Ambassador’s helped you in your enrollment and marketing effort?