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Articles > Building Your Community > The school that sold itself: an IDPE Live session round-up

The school that sold itself: an IDPE Live session round-up

Caterham School presents on how bringing their whole school community together through events and experiences led to an increase in engagement, including through fundraising and admissions.

This session was presented by Hannah Graydon, Director of External Relations, Caterham School, and captured by a member of the ToucanTech team during the conference. Caterham School is an independent co-educational day and boarding school located in Caterham, Surrey.

“Our competitors are our neighbours! So how can we stand out?”

At Caterham, we put the school community in the centre of everything we do; in all of our marketing and alumni communications. In order to do this harmoniously, it’s so important to consider  how you integrate with the other school departments, and how you work together currently. To get to a place where you’re operating in the optimum way (whether you’re wearing one departmental hat or many) this approach helps you to be more effective. It may be more common in schools for marketing and admissions teams to collaborate closely, but I would encourage you to be optimistic about how development teams fit into this picture too, in creating one truly connected community. 

At the start of my Caterham journey, there wasn’t an existing database to mine for stories about past pupils and the wider Caterham network, so we started by creating content about the best-known members of both our alumni and parent segments - these individuals then featured on a series of front covers of the school magazine ‘OMNIA’ (designed for students, parents, alumni and supporters alike). Being able to share something physical such as a print was important, and is actually in line with how luxury brands demonstrate value to customers alongside a strong digital presence; we believe OMNIA  says something more about the school in terms of the wider community that people look to become a part of.

When it came to facilitating community connections in real life, there was a time when we would have thought there was no way that an alumni would speak to a parent - and now we have examples of alumni actively selling the school to prospective parents! Encouraging in-person engagement in the form of events (as they once were!) is a way of ‘evidencing’ what the school is saying, as it’s inviting prospective students and parents to speak to current community members informally, and find out the information they need to reassure them. 

I would encourage you to organise events and experiences centred around the whole school community, bringing together all factions of the wider network… for example, our parents association hosts various events such as Bonfire Night, designed for current students and parents primarily, as well as alumni. The evening agenda includes time and space for alumni drinks, and a mini-mixer for prospective students and current parents as well, making the most of the setting and the facilities to drive maximum engagement. How people choose to spend their time really matters, and opportunities like this say a lot! 

So what’s the impact of taking this approach? Success breeds success! 

We have seen - 

  • Increased admissions
  • Increased bursary giving 
  • Increased loyalty (measured through bursary giving and alumni engagement)
  • A boost for marketing content and increased followers

We have also seen a rise in - 

  • Business start ups
  • Cross-community collaborations
  • Mentoring programme engagement 
  • Growth in partnerships and outreach

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