Talking Points

True Story: When asked, “Why your school?” a Christian school principal replied, “Our school is safe, the teachers care about the students, our academics are as good as the public schools, and we teach religion.”  When we asked parents why they sent their children to the school, most said exactly what the principal said.

When we asked one family why they sent their son to the school, they gave the standard response.  Our follow-on question was, “If you had a second child, would you send him or her to the school?”  Their response was, “We have a daughter and we send her to the public schools.  She doesn’t need what the Christian school offers.”  When asked how their children’s needs differed they told us their son needed help with self-confidence, courage, poise, and several other attributes.  Help with those attributes justified the tuition.

It is hard to justify the school’s tuition based upon the principal’s answer.  It is easy to justify the tuition based upon the life-long changes made in the boy’s life.

Since what the principal said was true, it was easy for parents to be loyal and say what the principal said, even when their experiences provided them with a much more valuable response.  However, families seldom know what the key talking points are so they say what the staff, board, and others are saying.

Whether you are talking with stakeholders or community members, you, your staff, and your board must use the messages that you want others to repeat.  When talking with students you must ensure that they are aware of what is happening (“Now we are going to do X to help you develop courage and confidence.”).  The students and parents must be aware of the change so they can talk about the change.  Changing a life is often a subtle, gradual process.  Students and parents are often unaware of it while it is happening and may never look back and see the change after they leave your program.  Even if they do notice it, they may be unaware that it is intentional unless you identify your intentionality.  The majority of the time you will only receive credit (word of mouth adverting) for change if they know the change was intentional.

Another way to raise a student’s and family’s awareness of the change process is to measure it before, during, and at the end of the services.  Knowing that you are measuring it makes it important to the student  and family and reinforces your commitment to helping the student succeed.

Your other stakeholders and community members also want to know about your measurement process and how many students experience the change and at what level.

Next Step:

Decide what you want everyone to talk about

Measure what you want everyone to talk about

Talk about what you want people to talk about in the ways you want them to talk about it

You need to train people to be your spokespeople and you want everyone to be your spokespeople.  They need talking points.  This includes engaging anecdotes and the statistics that demonstrate that the anecdote is a common occurrence (“Here is something 7 out of 9 of our students achieve …”).  In addition, the talking points must be mission and student centered and about outcomes rather than processes and features.  Caring teachers are a nice feature but most schools (public, private, and faith-based) have caring teachers.  It is the change in the students that is important.

Word of mouth is the most valuable, inexpensive, and effective marketing tool available to your school for attracting students and donors.  It is a durable tool as long as your quality is constantly improving. That means it is an effective source of sustainability for your school and your mission.

Take It Further:

Take time to train your board to use your talking points in the board meetings so that they will automatically use the talking points outside the meetings


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