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The Marsh Foundation case study

AAI’s work with The Marsh Foundation, a child and family services agency in Van Wert, OH, may be understood best as a three-step process. The original contract called for AAI to conduct an organizational audit with surveillance of internal processes and relationships, the internal communication system, institutional morale, external communication, public relations and marketing.

AAI Principal Becky Drumm became acquainted with Kim Mullins, an executive director at The Marsh Foundation, through her work with the nationally regarded Teaching-Family Association (TFA). This association has provided a widely used model for the care and treatment of emotionally disturbed adolescents.

Becky collaborated with Associate Dan Hess; the pair first conducted the audit through questionnaires, interviews, study of all publications and website, and first-hand observation.

Communication audits are one of Dan’s specialties. He says, “The audit provides a most useful management tool for the executive who depends not only on her own eyes and ears, but also on outside, objective perspectives.”

While AAI found extremely high regard for The Marsh Foundation and noted the effectiveness of its program, it made two major suggestions — to create a new staff position in public relations and marketing and to update the organization’s website and literature.

Step two began, then, when Marsh’s trustees and executives accepted both recommendations. Becky began to guide the agency in setting up an office in public relations and marketing. Because the Foundation was established by an estate fund in 1922, it does not engage in systematic fundraising. Further, because it was a local agency, communication with the public has been largely personal. However, the systems for child and family services today reach county and statewide, requiring a variety of means for keeping in contact.

Becky helped the agency as it prepared a job description for a public relations and marketing specialist, released the call for applications, reviewed about 50 applications, and interviewed applicants. Eventually The Marsh Foundation hired Dawn Berryman whose personality, training and previous experience in public communication commended her.

Meanwhile, step three was taken by Dan. His task was to help Marsh update its print and electronic materials. He called together the executives and key staff members and showed them the complete package of communication products that an agency such as Marsh could reasonably use in its external communication. The group determined which items from that larger package suited Marsh’s mission, strategies and budget.

Their response:

a. create a new logo

b. review the foundation’s slogan

c. update the stationery

d. update the business cards

e. create a 12-page viewbook

f. create a brochure template

g. create a reports template

h. update the portable exhibit

i. create notecards

j. update the website

k. write a manual of usage

Dan then gathered a team of independent contractors with proven success in their specialties. Justin Wiard, an Indiana photographer, spent a day on the Marsh campus taking individual, group, activities and campus shots, all of which became an immediate resource in the making of the new products. Alison Sties (Sties Design) was brought in for graphic design. Dawn selected Matthew Sawmiller (MS Design) for web design. Dan and Dawn collaborated in the writing.

Alison, upon asking many questions about the foundation’s mission, history, program, culture, strategies and sense of itself, created three tentative logo styles. After learning which of the three the Marsh executives and staff preferred, she made versions of that selected design which Marsh again studied. By the fourth exchange, the shape and colors were finalized. A similar process of creation / response led to the selection of a slogan: “Serving children and families since 1922.”

AAI created and Marsh responded until each final product pleased Marsh. All of the print projects were completed in about nine months. The finished website can be viewed at

Kim Mullins later wrote to Dan, “The Marsh Foundation has learned so much about the field of communications from you, Becky and Dawn. It was a neglected area at Marsh until we got involved with you and Becky. We are very pleased with outcome our work together. Thanks so much.”

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Wichita Friends School case study

A few years have passed since AAI Principal Rich Gerig last visited Wichita (KS) Friends School (WFS), having concluded a contract that included creating an enrollment plan, reviewing communications materials and more.

Originally interested in development, school officials soon became aware of the enrollment services that AAI offered. The fact that Gerig had extensive knowledge of Mennonites and some experience with Quakers (he was working with another Friends school at the time) made him a natural fit for the Kansas institution.

Gerig made his first visit during the 2005-06 school year. WFS Principal Shelli Kadel describes the situation in which the school found itself at the time: “Despite a very strong program and teachers that were doing a great job, we were seeing enrollment decline. Our school was located in a kind of rural area west of Wichita; even people across the street didn’t know we were here and certainly didn’t know what we did.”

Kadel’s primary concern was learning how to more effectively market WFS. “We were pretty experienced with Quaker education but found it easier to describe who we were not than who we were.” With no one on staff with marketing expertise WFS wanted to develop some useful, positive language it could use to better market.

Gerig set to work on an enrollment plan for the 2006-07 school year, one of the activities specified in the original proposal, and one that integrated the marketing emphasis Kadel was seeking.

Extremely limited resources—by fall of 2007 WFS had only 20 students—have prevented WFS from fully implementing some of AAI’s suggestions, but even today school officials continue to apply principles learned from Gerig. Below is a list of other elements from AAI’s proposal (in bold) along with updates on the progress WFS has made since then:

1. Gather ideas and perceptions among stakeholders.
Update: In March 2007 Gerig met with a group of representative parents of current students to discuss their respective experiences with WFS. Several themes emerged: strong affirmation for the quality of education WFS offered; positive impressions left by staff at campus visits; confusion about available financial aid; impressions of how the school accommodated both students who learn differently and gifted students; and the potential role parents could play in promoting the school. Each of these represented challenges or opportunities that informed WFS’ marketing strategy.

2. Train and mentor enrollment staff.
Update: As of January 2010, WFS has not hired an enrollment staff person and has no immediate plans to do so.

3. Form an enrollment steering committee.
Update: Despite trying various models Kadel has not been able to form an enrollment steering committee per se. Instead she meets regularly with a small group of stakeholders that serve as a think tank for marketing, using several principles learned from AAI.

4. Expand and update the enrollment database.
Update: The enrollment process can be described as a “funnel.” At the top of the funnel is a large pool of prospective students and at the bottom are the select students who actually enroll. Along the way, each student’s ultimate enrollment outcome is influenced by a number of factors including previous connections to existing staff or students, family circumstances and personal experiences of getting to know the school. Kadel says that WFS targets its marketing strategies toward each segment of that funnel. For instance, when new inquiries don’t come, they increase what she calls “blanket” marketing–newspaper ads, flyers posted in stores, etc. As more names enter the database, personal approaches become the focus—hosting teas or other social events where prospective families can interact with current students/parents, setting appointments for personal tours, etc. The school has also purchased a software program that helps staff enter information and track prospective parent contacts so that efforts can be targeted at successfully moving students down the enrollment funnel.

5. Identify prospective students with most interest.
Update: Kadel explains how WFS goes about this process: “As we receive inquiries, those names are placed in our database. We send appropriate information to them. About a week later, we place a follow-up call to see if they have received our info. At that time, we try to invite them to a tour or to visit our classrooms. Often they have more questions and the appropriate teacher will contact them. The more interest they show, the stronger our response. All of this is tracked in our database. Once they have toured/talked with a teacher, we schedule them for testing and enroll them.”

WFS has also become extremely intentional about gaining referrals. As incentive, it instituted a policy of awarding one a free morning or afternoon of Latchkey services to any family that refers a prospective student; if that family ends up enrolling, the referring party receives a $100 tuition discount at the end of the school year. WFS is making use of Facebook, asking parents to use the tool to invite friends to school events. And plans are to incorporate a referral piece into the school website.

6. Review communication materials, including website.
Update: The school website has become a “show-and-tell” tool for students’ relatives and friends, featuring pictures of events, newsletters and more. Several forms and enrollment information are available online and more improvements are planned.

7. Review financial aid program.
Update: According to Kadel the financial aid program has not changed much since 2006. What has changed is her approach to sharing this information with prospective parents. “We’re repackaging how we talk about our classrooms. For example, instead of saying ‘Preschool is $5,000 per year,’ we tell families ‘The cost to you is $125 per week,’ which is comparable to other area preschools. We emphasize that, because financial aid is available, our education is affordable.”

8. Review campus visitation programs.
Update: WFS has worked hard to enhance campus visits by offering “a warm personal touch.” Current students and parents typically give tours during school open houses. In addition, the school tries to host a tea or similar event where prospective parents hear positive experiences from current parents. Whenever possible, WFS utilizes personal endorsements of its program instead of, for example, sending out a flyer.

Here Kadel cites a specific activity that the school has found successful as a follow-up to an open house. On “Freaky Friday” children visit the next grade level classroom for about an hour, to see what they’ll have a chance to do and learn the following year. The hour always includes a hands-on activity so students have a product to take home. “The parents meet the teacher [at open house] and then one or two weeks later their child has a positive experience in that teacher’s classroom,” Kadel explains. “Once we get them in the door our chances are pretty high for getting them enrolled. We just want to get more in the door.”

9. Analyze retention patterns.
Update: “Rich helped me really focus on ways to retain,” says Kadel. WFS has typically seen the most growth at the Pre-K level and Kadel recognizes the importance of retaining those students to improve the outlook for the upper grades. “In our weekly newsletters we try to include something that each grade is achieving or doing. We try to do the same on our website. There are usually two or three audiences we’re trying to reach with each [marketing] piece.” The result? Retention has increased from 58% to 88% over the last three years, a development Financial Manager Sabrina Duckett credits AAI with, at least in part.

While WFS has made great strides in marketing itself, Kadel expresses appreciation for Gerig’s holistic approach to addressing its challenges. “Rich addressed the whole school in general. Besides getting the word out [about ourselves], there was an internal [personnel] issue that was also affecting enrollment. Addressing that helped turn our enrollment around. This year we started with 42 students and now have 45. Truly outstanding teachers are the ticket for our future success. The growth of the community has also caught up with us and people are becoming more aware of quality we offer.”

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Congregational fundraising

When working with a congregation, AAI first provides an overview of the capital campaign and introduces key campaign principles in the context of fundraising as ministry. Next, we assess the congregation’s readiness for such a highly organized fundraising effort. Based on this assessment, AAI can enter the process at one of several points, described below.

Visioning. Often, AAI’s first official role is to engage leaders of the congregation in visioning. This kind of exercise typically takes place during a weekend retreat and asks participants to reflect on the following questions:

  1. In light of our mission, what are the opportunities and challenges presented by our surrounding environment?
  2. In light of our mission, opportunities and challenges
    • What program priorities should we establish and pursue at this time?
    • What priorities should we establish for our facilities?
    • What financial resources are required to meet our priorities for program and facilities?

Campaign feasibility study. A feasibility study helps determine the level of support for the goals identified during the visioning process and, therefore, the probability of success for a proposed capital campaign and building program. The feasibility study includes a series of both personal and mail interviews conducted by AAI staff; interviewees are shown a case summary of the project at hand and a gift table. AAI compiles results into a report and makes a recommendation regarding the campaign goal to congregational leaders and/or the congregation as a whole. A feasibility study takes approximately two months to complete.

Campaign. Congregations can also enlist AAI’s help with the campaign itself. Campaigns are typically completed within four months, during which campaign leaders receive regular consultation and unlimited access to the consultant(s). Depending on the needs and desires of the congregation, AAI’s involvement can also include:

  • creating an action plan that lists specific responsibilities for the various persons involved in campaign leadership; outlines how these persons report to and interact with one another; and sets a timeline for implementation of various campaign steps
  • developing any necessary communications materials
  • training of key personnel
  • attendance and leadership at campaign meetings

While many professional firms offer campaign services similar to the four just mentioned, AAI encourages five additional practices that distinguish our approach from others’:

  1. Our philosophy of “fundraising as ministry” seeks to incorporate the capital campaign into the life and worship of congregation.
  2. We provide actual templates of the communication materials the congregation will use during the campaign.
  3. We emphasize personal solicitation and direct requests for campaign commitments.
  4. We utilize mail and telephone solicitation for distant members and friends.
  5. Three-year pledge commitments give donors the flexibility they may need to make the most faithful gift possible.