While the pandemic held its grasp on the education system throughout 2020, many admission offices experienced an unexpected — but welcomed — spike in enrollment. One report even suggests as many as 70% of independent schools saw their enrollment increase or stay the same during the pandemic. Successfully attracting and enrolling families during the pandemic required one strategy, but as a new admission season begins, maintaining your enrollment numbers might demand a different approach.
One underutilized strategy to help reduce attrition is to create email drip campaigns focused on parent retention. These email drip campaigns contain a series of automated emails over a specified period of time designed to keep parents engaged and focused on the benefits— and the necessity—of staying at your school.
After all, it was Lady Gaga who said it best: “I've got a hundred million reasons to walk away but, baby, I just need one good one to stay...”
OK, while we hope there aren’t a million reasons to leave, let’s take a look at some key strategies and content to include when creating your parent retention email drip campaign. For most schools, there are three types of email campaigns suitable for parent enrollment and retention:
- The "Welcome" Sequence
- The "Engagement" Sequence
- The "Reminder" Sequence
Now, let's take a deeper dive into each of these!
Email Workflow 1: The “Welcome” Sequence
Here’s an opportunity to introduce your school, show your community spirit, and provide new families with a sense of comfort. It’s also a chance to set communication expectations and serve up resources parents will need for the year.
What to Include
This content will vary depending on your school, but make sure to include important information about accessing your community portals, updating email preferences and when to expect your school’s communications. Consider including what a family should anticipate during their few weeks of school, faculty profiles to help get a sense of “who’s-who” on campus and save-the-dates for your biggest events of the year.
Who Should Receive It
Enroll new families who have just joined your community. Being new isn’t easy, so help your parents through the transition and welcome them with enthusiasm.
When to Enroll
Enter new families into this workflow in the week or so before school starts, or as they enter mid-year. Send an email every one-two days for the first couple of weeks at your school.
Email Workflow 2: The “Engagement” Sequence
Your goal should be to celebrate and showcase the value of your programs, while keeping parents engaged with all the amazing things your school is doing.
What to Include
Like all campaigns, this will vary by school — but there are some key content staples to include.
1. Alumni Profiles
Sharing profiles, stories, and testimonials from your alumni is one of the best ways to show the value of your school. By showcasing the outcomes of your school’s education, you can highlight the benefits and investment of staying and actually graduating. Work with your alumni or development office to find former students who are doing extraordinary things, either personally or professionally. Then, create an email that features these alumni profiles and testimonials, while presenting a variety of ages, backgrounds, and professional experience that credit their success to the education they received.
In an email featuring alumni success stories, Delphian School in Sheridan, Oregon presents a nice blend of voices from recent grads and professionals who are well-established in their fields. Their short, yet powerful testimonials focus on the lasting impact of a Delphian School education, and how their learning enabled them to succeed as young professionals and continue their learning long after graduation. Notice the imagery that’s used for each alum—it captures your interest and stands apart from your usual newsletter photography while avoiding the “floating head” profiles often have.
Eastside Catholic in Sammamish, Washington takes a similar approach but features a single, in-depth alumni profile that demonstrates their school’s mission of inspiring leadership and service to others. Their email presents a few fast facts about their expanding alumni family and then summarizes their alumnus’ success after graduation before a call to action to read the entire story. Sometimes a single, more detailed story can help cement the value and impact of the experiences received from your school.
2. Profile of a Graduate
Similar to an alumni profile, showcasing your graduates is a great way to talk about the virtues of your students and what kind of learners and leaders they are. It’s a chance to offer your families a glimpse of who their students will be as graduates, ready to take on the world because of the experiences and education you helped provide.
Woods Academy in Bethesda, Maryland helps families paint a better picture of their graduates with an email showcasing some impressive stats on college acceptance, leadership, test results, and athletic participation. They want families to know their students graduate prepared and ready to overcome any challenge.
3. Remind Families of Your Financial Aid Resources
Rising tuition and finances can become a major factor for families when deciding to re-enroll. Reminding families that your school is ready, willing, and able to work with them to meet their financial needs can be a welcomed relief, and solve a problem before it becomes too big of an issue.
Consider including an invite to an upcoming financial aid webinar in your drip campaign, similar to what Sandy Spring Friends School in Sandy Spring, Maryland did. Offer your financial aid office’s resources well ahead of the re-enrollment deadline to remind families that there are options. After the webinar, switch the link over to the recording and make it available for families to review at their convenience. And if you’d rather just send along some pre-recorded or on-demand resources instead of worrying about another live virtual event, you can do that too!
4. Promote Your Preview Night or Move-up Day
If your school offers a sneak peek of future grade levels during a Preview Night or Move-up Day, now would be a good time to promote those events in an email and remind parents that there’s still a lot to learn at your school! Share recordings and videos of highlights from future grades, a tour of upper campus for younger students, or a greeting from the coaches of the athletic department. Remind them of the excited and engaging academic and social events that aren’t to be missed in the years ahead.
Every spring, Derby Academy in Hingham, Massachusetts hosts a Classroom Preview event, which showcases future grade levels at Derby. Include an email in your drip campaign with a link to those resources (classroom videos, presentations, campus tours of an upper or lower school campus, etc.) and highlight the exciting events and learning on the horizon.
If your school doesn’t offer these kinds of events, consider “teasing” out highlights from the next grade levels to get parents inspired and excited about what’s next.
5. Favorite Traditions
Time-honored traditions and rights-of passage can be some of the most anticipated events at your school. Those experiences can mean even that much more to students and families who have spent their upbringing with your community. Take a moment and remind families of some of the favorite, can’t-miss events they have to look forward to down the road.
The Bear Creek School in Redmond, Washington reminds families that while their Upper School’s annual overnight trip is an awesome experience, it’s also an important chance for the older students to strengthen their relationships across the campus community and grow as individuals. Who would want to miss out on that…?
6. Messages from Teachers and Students in Future Grades
Craft an email introducing families to the faculty and students in older grades—after all, your school is a community that extends beyond your family’s individual grade levels. Sharing their stories and experiences to help put a name to a face can do wonders for your community, especially if you’re a school in remote learning. When a family or student makes the transition to another division or grade level, there won’t be as much mystery and you can help strengthen the bonds between grade levels.
Westridge School helps break down the silos of individual grade levels and introduces families to other students who emphasize the value of the education they’re receiving. By sharing a student’s voice, families can get their take on why they like school—whether it’s their classes, teachers, the school spirit, or opportunities to get involved. It’s a great way to keep families engaged and anticipating later years.
7. Matriculation Fast Facts and Details
Include the top schools your graduates attend, the most frequently attended schools, or a record of last year’s matriculation. It’s never too early to start planning, so include a call to action to connect or learn more about your school’s process for preparing for life after graduation. Think about including a pre-recorded video greeting from your school’s secondary or college counseling office; it’s a nice way to introduce families to a member of your school who will be integral in your students’ matriculation.
Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Virginia sends a welcome message from their college counseling director and includes some impressive matriculation numbers. It reminds families that their college counseling services are there to help, and can support students gaining admittance to their top choices for college. With links to videos about their college counseling program and their 10-year matriculation list, this email helps families think of a future that can only be possible through your school.
Who Should Receive It
There isn’t any harm in sending this type of content to all families — after all, the latest research suggests that the majority of your families are Generation X. These parents are less likely to speak up about their satisfaction, or dissatisfaction. They lay low — so knowing who needs to be given “one good reason to stay” could be difficult.
If you don’t want to email all parents, work with your admission offices to create an attrition list— a confidential list of families who are considered to be at high risk of leaving.
When to Enroll Families
It’s important to be subtle about how often you send content, especially with a group of parents who are deemed at high risk for leaving. Be sensitive about when and how often you trigger the emails. Send too often and it may aggravate parents; send too infrequently and you’ll lose any momentum behind your strategy. Consider spacing your emails between seven-to-ten-day intervals and adjust as you see fit. It can be the difference between feeling like spam and sharing content that’s informative and useful. If you’re using a tool like Finalsite Workflows, you’ll be able to automatically adjust timing and frequency based on engagement.
We all know retention strategies should be a year-long effort, but admission offices should pay particularly close attention to their attrition lists this spring and summer as new families consider their options and could begin shifting their focus elsewhere. You can adopt this strategy whenever you feel it’s appropriate— don’t wait too far into the academic year when it may be too late to sway families who are weighing their options.
Email Workflow 3: The “Reminder” Sequence
This sequence is designed to help build credibility through providing helpful reminders and sharing useful information to your families. By automating these reminders, you’ll be saving yourself time and increasing email engagement.
What to Include
Again, this content will vary by school and by event, but the content should be simple and intended to keep your families in the loop about key events, like graduation or important events throughout the year.
Who Should Receive It
Consider your audience — families with seniors should be getting reminders about your upcoming graduation, whereas other families could get information about “move-up” nights or important college counseling dates.
When to Enroll
Parents can be entered into this workflow as appropriate, but remember to keep an eye on your emails’ suppression or unsubscribe results throughout the year. An unsubscribe can often be a mistake, but families who may be quick to hit that unsubscribe button may be ready to make the jump, so it might not hurt to alert key members of the admission office for a quick check-in.
Using Finalsite Workflows To Save Time and Create Engaging Emails
Bringing any of your lists into an automated email drip campaign software, like Finalsite’s Workflows, will create personalized emails that resonate with your families — while also saving you time.
Once you’ve created your emails, you can easily add them into a drip campaign and trigger them to automatically send at custom intervals after contacts have opened or received them. It’s that easy.
Finalsite’s Workflows software is affordable, easy-to-use, and can integrate with your SIS database to ensure your messages are always getting to the right person. Most importantly, once it’s set up, all the work is being done behind the scenes and can play a major role in your retention strategy.
Learn More About Finalsite Workflows
- Explore the Workflows Tool
- Email Automation Best Practices: 8 Tips For Getting Started
- Email Drip Campaign Ideas for Admissions
Whether you’ve welcomed a surge of new students to your school, or you’re expanding your efforts to keep families in your community, creating a retention drip campaign is an easy tactic to implement and add to your enrollment strategy.
While admission and marketing offices often focus their efforts on presenting the reasons to go to your school, it’s important to remind families of all the amazing reasons to stay.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Web and Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, story-telling, coffee, and creating content that connects.