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Designs for the First Schools on Mars!

(and other intentional Marketing Strategies for successful afterschool programs)

This is the fifth of an occasional series about “The Business of Before and After School.” Look for other posts on this topic by selecting Business from the category list below right.

To maintain, strengthen and grow a thriving organization, program directors and administrators must always be focused on marketing. Just like Coke, Ford and Little Caesars Pizza—your organization’s budget each year should contain a healthy marketing line-item. This is one investment that can make a significant difference to your future bottom-line in both the number of students participating and the level of revenue (cash flow) needed to keep your organization moving forward.

Marketing is more than offering free pens and coffee mugs to your parents.  While there is always a place for branded giveaways, there are many other ways for a program to be intentional about its marketing each year.  In the following paragraphs I will outline a few strategies and concepts that have worked in the programs I have administered.  The key message I hope you will take from my thoughts is that program marketing needs to always be occurring- in other words, marketing needs to be constant and ongoing, as it is imperative to always keep your organization present in the minds of those who could enroll in your programs as well as those who can support your mission.

Ask any professional marketing firm to name a business sector with more wonderful, heartwarming success stories with which to use when developing marketing campaigns than afterschool.  My guess is that our business sector, along with schools, pet shelters, and hospitals, will most likely rank very high on the “easy to market” scale.   Let’s face it, we run programs that really make a difference in the lives of children and families, and now, more than ever, in the educational growth of children.  Our programs are safe, positive, and fun.  Another opportunity presented to us is the fact that our programs are not static.  This ever changing group of participants brings exciting new group dynamics, as well as fresh faces and ideas, annually.  Afterschool programs present you with opportunities for successful marketing ideas without the need to create the concepts from scratch.

Case in point:  Our theme last year in Farmington was “Sparking Creativity” with children.  The theme tied in to the Farmington Public Schools strategic objective of innovation as an important part the vision of the graduate in our district.   One of the projects we completed afterschool was entitled “Designs for the First Schools on Mars”.  This project was innovative and engaging.  The children really had fun designing and then showing off all of their building concepts for those first children who will inhabit the planet Mars.   Our program Site Supervisors purposely documented the students’ work on these projects, taking many photos and videos of the children.  The best photos and videos from project were then selected and showcased in our newsletters, on our website, and at various meetings of stakeholders.

A fun (needs to be refreshingly new!) activity that an Afterschool Program runs can present the program administrator with an opportunity to share the activity, thank the participants, and showcase the excitement occurring in the Afterschool program.   This showcasing strengthens your organizations recognition and demonstrates to potential participants (customers) what they can expect to be a part of if they enroll.    The challenge for program administrators is to document and share their program’s successful activities and projects on a regular basis in an attempt to constantly keep a positive story-line about their organization playing out as much as possible. This type of intentional marketing can have a positive effect on your program’s statistical and financial bottom line.

Vince small

Vince LaFontan has worked in the after school field, and as a consultant to youth-serving organizations, for 20 years.  Currently he is the Director of Farmington Extended Care & Learning in Farmington, CT, a Board Member of the Connecticut After School Network, and Vice Chair of the National AfterSchool Association’s Board of Directors in Washington, DC.

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