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Marketing and Communications

Faith in Tomorrow

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1. By 2013-14, increase conversion rate from pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) to kindergarten (K) by an average of five percent per school, per year.
2. By 2013-14, increase and/or maintain kindergarten enrollment to a minimum of 20 students per classroom, based on a diocesan-defined building capacity.
3. By 2013-14, increase/maintain overall enrollment in grades one through eight to achieve 100 percent net retention.
4. By 2013-14, define and secure an appropriate budget to implement an effective ongoing diocesan-wide advertising campaign which will increase the number of advertising-driven inquiries to schools by a minimum of 10 percent.
5. By 2013-14, increase the percentage of alumni involved in school activities and fundraising by 10 percent.

A comprehensive marketing and communications plan is essential to maintaining viable Catholic schools. In recent decades schools have relied on past traditions and word of mouth. They have been reluctant to pursue a proactive approach in recruiting new students. Enrollment and community awareness is dependent upon quality marketing that uses a variety of resources provided at both the diocesan and local school levels.

Over the past two years the diocese has worked with Cornerstone Research & Marketing, Inc. and Ruth Diamond Market Research Services, Inc., both contractually and on a volunteer basis, to conduct focus groups and market surveys to study and analyze the awareness of, and attitudes toward, Catholic elementary schools. The information gleaned from this research provides essential information for new strategies to engage future families. It also indicates that the marketing and communications plan must include improved communication with clergy, school families, parishioners, alumni and key community leaders.

The role of the clergy is especially significant in directing families to consider Catholic schools for their children. Better communication with the clergy to reinforce the values and benefits of Catholic schools for the Church and community is critical. The clergy must be invited to witness first-hand the vital role of the Catholic school in the faith formation of students and their families.

Strategies developed by the Catholic Alumni Partnership must be enhanced to engage alumni in the Catholic schools. The financial support, expertise and volunteerism of alumni are critical to the future sustainability of our schools.

Strategy 5.1:
Once an adequate budget is secured, design an impactful and effective diocesan-wide multi-media promotion and public relations/communications campaign that continues to build a recognizable brand and provides adequate reach and frequency to all target audiences.
Action Plans:
• Conduct attitudinal research of parents to uncover perceptions, motivations and potential drivers for Catholic school attendance.
• Review updated demographics to inform and evaluate marketing directions to reach new and diverse populations.
• Develop promotion and outreach strategies to tailor the message and media to address the unique needs of diverse communities.
• Analyze research to determine the creative and copy direction for a hard-hitting, results-driven advertising campaign.
• Use research-based data to identify cost-effective media to reach potential new families including a website and utilization of diocesan social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
• Test the new campaign among a select set of principals, pastors and parents to gather input on campaign effectiveness and best presentation strategies.
• Identify and secure a budget to deliver the adequate reach and frequency needed for message retention.
• Assess and refine marketing strategies based on statistics, such as Google Analytics, Facebook referrals, school inquiries and parent responses.
• Use existing and emerging technologies to support implementation of action plans.

Strategy 5.2:
Identify and maintain diocesan-level positions for marketing, public relations, advancement, alumni relations and enrollment.
Action Plans:
• Identify personnel within the diocesan offices, and define roles and responsibilities for all areas stated in Strategy 5.2.
• Monitor enrollment at each school, identify schools where there is a decline of five percent or greater in enrollment, and immediately intervene and implement recommended actions.
• Facilitate and support the existing diocesan-wide Advancement Roundtable where representatives from schools can share marketing, enrollment and funding strategies.
• Support and encourage the schools’ participation in the Catholic Alumni Partnership to access the centralized alumni database and utilize strategies to recognize alumni as a valuable resource.
• Implement professional development opportunities for school leadership related to areas stated in Strategy 5.2.

Strategy 5.3:
Engage all clergy, religious and lay leaders in the active support and promotion of Catholic elementary and secondary schools as a vital instrument for faith formation and evangelization.
Action Plans:
• Utilize the results of the pastor focus groups conducted in March 2011 to help define a new direction for Catholic schools and to build a renewed sense of commitment and enthusiasm among clergy through new programs.
• Establish increased communication with and among clergy, religious and lay leaders on the mission, activities, and benefits of Catholic elementary and secondary schools.
• Communicate annually on the successes of, and state of, Catholic schools in the Diocese of Buffalo.
• Use existing and emerging techno-logies to support implementation of action plans.
• Strengthen the bond between regional schools and the surrounding parishes.

Strategy 5.4:
Develop and implement an advancement and fundraising plan for each elementary school that includes enrollment and retention management, public relations, marketing and alumni relations components in collaboration with the overall diocesan strategies.
Action Plans:
• Provide schools with creative and media advertising concept templates (allowing for a regional slant) which can be used for marketing purposes.
• Present market research results to school communities as a basis for the marketing campaign and educate on how to implement and maximize the campaign.
• Prepare talking points to educate and involve parents and the entire school community in serving as ambassadors for Catholic schools.
• Encourage and recommend consistent communication and interaction with alumni to increase involvement within the school community.
• Present to all the parish communities associated with the school an annual overview of the state of their school.
• Develop promotion and outreach tactics that deliver the message through appropriate media to reach diverse communities.
• Assist schools with development of targeted messaging and professional communication tools highlighting individual school strengths.
• Assist individual schools in defining and tracking benchmark metrics, including current retention rates for pre-kindergarten to kindergarten conversion, external (non pre-kindergarten generated) kindergarten enrollment, current inquiries and sources of inquiries.
• Identify and communicate best practices for marketing, public relations, advancement, alumni relations, enrollment and retention management.
• Use existing and emerging technologies to support implementation of action plans.

Facilities and Transportation
1. By 2013-14, in a collaborative effort, school, parish and diocesan leadership will right-size the number and location of elementary school buildings to address the demographic realities, attain defined optimal enrollment per building and achieve financial stability.
2. By 2013-14, 100 percent of schools will have appropriate classrooms, the technology infrastructure and required equipment needed to provide a quality Catholic elementary school education as measured under New York state and diocesan standards and research-based practices.
3. By 2013-14, all schools will evaluate and update their facilities annually for quality educational programs in buildings that are attractive, safe and well-maintained.
4. By 2013-14, the diocese, in collaboration with schools will develop and articulate a transportation plan to address accessibility and enrollment.
5. By 2013-14, each school will reduce the energy footprint and conserve resources by five percent as measured from a baseline year.

Mindful of declining enrollment and population shifts, Verdi & Company of Buffalo was contracted in 2010 to gather and analyze the overall demographic, social and economic data affecting enrollment in Catholic elementary schools. Several trends continue to work as headwinds in Western New York: demographic (population loss and out migration); social (lower birth rates and fewer women in child-bearing ages) and economic (continued loss of jobs and minimal job generation); religious (declining numbers of parish populations and observant Catholics); and competitive (attractiveness of charter schools). In concert, these trends result in overall lower school enrollment in Catholic elementary schools, which in turn results in many schools operating below capacity.

Several different categories of data were collected and integrated into a structure that summarized the school network and market as a whole, as well as per elementary school and sub-market (enrollment area). Three main categories of data were collected, organized, verified and analyzed. The perspective of data organization was from a macro view (the eight-county region) to micro view (school enrollment and neighborhood area). The three categories of data are:
Economic data, market, demographic and segmentation data;
Neighborhood condition and sub-market data; and
School and school enrollment area data.
All data collected and verified was placed in a large “master matrix” organized at the school and school enrollment area level. The master matrix included economic, enrollment, financial, demographic and other data for each enrollment area. Using this approach, each school and school enrollment area can be compared and contrasted with market conditions, overall school system, individual markets as well as other schools. Areas of diocesan elementary school coverage, enrollment area ‘overlap’ and voids were produced.

The results indicate that the diocesan network is operating inefficiently at just 68 percent of building capacity. School enrollment areas within certain markets indicate overlap in many areas, which results in significant intra-diocese competition among schools for potential students. Future sustainability demands that the number of buildings be right-sized to achieve a capacity of 80 to 85 percent.

Many components of this key result area require additional analysis and research. All data and analysis will be shared with local parish and school leadership teams to inform the restructuring process, which will identify the most advantageous location and school building with available transportation within a region. Schools with larger enrollments will be able to offer stronger educational programs, operate more efficiently and will help to secure financial stability across the network.

All students and faculty deserve to study and work in a safe and well-maintained building conducive to a quality Catholic education. Recognizing the age of buildings and the high cost of deferring maintenance, it is recommended that every school develop an annual facilities plan to address ongoing maintenance and future facility needs with an appropriate budget to cover these expenses.

Strategy 6.1:
Implement a proactive, collaborative process with the local schools and parishes to right-size the number and location of elementary schools to address demographic realities, attain optimal enrollment and achieve financial stability.
Action Plans:
• Utilize The Desired Characteristics of Vibrant Catholic Elementary Schools (Meitler, 2009) as a key element in the restructuring process.
• Review demographic studies and recommendations for locations based on the Meitler and Verdi studies.
• Use building capacities established by the facilities committee to determine optimal enrollment for sustainability.
• Identify regions for consolidation and establish committees at the local level in those regions.
• Evaluate buildings based on facility checklist and accessibility.
• Engage constituents (i.e. parents, faculty and staff, parish members, and community) in dialogue.

Strategy 6.2:
Establish and articulate diocesan policies and guidelines for facilities to provide a quality educational program to support optimal enrollment for financial stability in accordance with state and local guidelines.
Action Plans:
• Establish building capacity based on enrollment of 20 to 25 students per class for each school facility in the Diocese of Buffalo.
• Maintain data and communicate to local school leaders on current population demographics and religious trends (i.e. marriages and baptisms).
• Create a checklist for assessing and monitoring buildings and grounds, including physical condition, educational soundness, technology, exterior areas and signage, transportation, and opportunities for expansion.
• Develop and continuously update a technology plan in each school to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure for integration of technology into the curriculum and teaching to enhance learning.
• Develop and update a five-year plan in each school for maintenance, repairs and improvements with adequate funding in the annual budget.
• Monitor energy usage as measured by invoices and energy audits and develop strategies to reduce consumption.

Strategy 6.3:
Evaluate and address the accessibility of schools to promote enrollment.
Action Plans:
• Evaluate transportation needs as part of the process in consolidating/closing buildings.
• Foster relationships with the local public school districts and monitor public school transportation policies to address student transportation needs in the Catholic elementary and secondary schools.
• Conduct a survey to determine the effect of transportation on potential enrollment.
• Research the potential for diocesan transportation based on documented needs in the elementary and secondary schools and make recommendations to the Department of Finance based on cost/benefit ratios.