Last Updated on July 10, 2022
When is the last time your university updated its non-profit marketing campaigns?
College and university staff might know more about change than people at any other institutions. Every year you see a new cohort enter the community, while another group moves on. You watch as graduate students go on to focus on their careers, or move on to other universities. You’ve seen student records go from papers jammed into overstuffed filing cabinets to tidy digital files.
But not everything is new and neat. Many of the decades-old non-profit marketing campaigns haven’t changed at all. You’re still sending out promotional material via mail, and you may even have a group of work-study students posting on social media platforms for interested high schoolers.
That’s not a bad thing. If it works, and you’re making a decent return on the expenses, there’s no reason to quit doing that. But if you really want to capture the attention of prospective students, you have to stand out.
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The 5 things you need to create non-profit marketing campaigns that work
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s slow down and look at what makes non-profit marketing campaigns—or any marketing campaigns—successful. And just to be clear, whether your university labels itself as a non-profit or not, these will all apply to you—you have budgets and more you need to keep in check after all. And if you’re with a non-profit that’s not in the educational sector, they’ll also still apply.
With all that said, here we go:
1. Know your market
Who are you marketing to? Who are your students? What appeals to them? For a commuter school, maybe your students want easy access to public transit. For a large university, your students might want the different experiences that are part of a large student body. Take this into consideration as you plan your marketing strategy.
2. Set a goal
You won’t know if you’re successful if you don’t know what you want to achieve. Higher enrollment? More applications? More applications for a specific degree or department? Or even something as simple as attaining more name recognition?
3. Create a schedule and assign tasks
What will it take to get this campaign going? You need time to draft the campaign from end to end. Figure out who will work on the narrative, the graphics, the distribution, and so on. Set dates for when you want the campaign to run, or make it evergreen.
4. Set deadlines
Look at your schedule and determine when the tasks need to be completed. Non-profit marketing campaigns take time to create, so remain especially aware of the order in which you’re working. That way, each person in the process has plenty of time to turn in high-quality content.
5. Don’t skip the CTA
Your CTA (call-to-action) is arguably the most essential part of your campaign. What do you want people to do? Sign up for your email list? Schedule a campus tour? You have to be clear with this and tell people.
Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to figure you how to make your campaign unique. Every school is different, so the details are up to you, but these three universities should offer good examples to get you thinking.
3 examples of non-profit marketing campaigns to inspire you
1. Be real
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is a dedicated art school, and their Instagram page takes you directly into life at the school. Rather than a “fine art” showcase, their page is, well, pretty messy. Nestled among the images of graphic design, sculpture, and painting are plenty of “action” shots of students at work. You’ll find pictures of messy desks, paint-splattered floors, and piles of materials that may soon be an installation. In other words, they showcase the real life of students, even using the hashtag #lifeatrisd in many of the posts.
2. Be adventurous
The University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, in 2019 unveiled a new logo. With more than 29,000 enrolled students and 140,000 alumni living all over the world, that’s no small undertaking. The new logo is the first step in an overall brand redesign. The announcement across their social media channels leads readers to a blog post that includes a three-minute video about the story the university shares with students, staff, faculty, and the community.
3. Be informative
Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., has an incredibly prolific social media presence, but with a twist. While some universities go for a particular theme on social, Georgetown’s Instagram page is a cornucopia of ideas. (Though they do all work cohesively to promote the university.) Specifically, there are three different threads on their page: the expected student life images, pictures and videos of Jack the Bulldog (the school mascot), and videos made by students. The student videos are especially compelling, as they are stories directed toward incoming and prospective students. You can find anything from an acceptance story (with more than 15,000 views) to reflections from graduating seniors (more than 10,000 views) to how to make S’mores by the student center fireplace (9,800 views).
Of these three non-profit marketing campaigns, only the complete rebranding carries much of a price tag. You really only need a smartphone camera, some creativity, and a sense of adventure to make an engaging, student-centered marketing push.
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