Build Trust, Support Through Great School Bond Project Communication

Today, I’m so excited to launch a couple of awesome outreach efforts for one of my school district clients: one is a bond measure project communication campaign and the other is developing the district’s business partnership program.

I’m thrilled that each of these outreach activities will produce incredible outcomes for this client:

  • Increase transparency
  • Share the district’s story with the greater community
  • Exhibit the positive outcomes of the community’s investment in student learning
  • Engage local businesses in supporting and investing in student success
  • Showcase the value of public schools
  • Increase community trust and support for their community schools

I want your district or school to experience the same outcomes.  As much as I’d love to cover both of these topics in one post, they’re different enough to warrant their own attention.  So, in this blog post, I will provide you some key approaches to consider with school bond project communications—in a later post, I’ll outline the components of successful business partnership programs.

Elements of Great School Bond Project Communications

The first assumption that many school districts make is that if people are curious about school bond projects, they’ll just visit the school district website.  After all, there must be some reason for all of the dirt and construction trucks, right?

Keeping the community appraised about school district bond projects is more than posting pictures of construction updates—the community needs to know the story about what is happening in those upgraded facilities, what outcomes are being achieved, and how students are benefitting from safer, modernized schools.

Here are some key elements that should be included in effective school bond project communications:

Plan Ahead: Effective Communications Takes Planning

  • What big story do you want to tell about your bond measure projects?  Develop story content that supports your broad story, and then map out what stories you want to communicate about your bond projects over the next year and throughout the life of the bond.
  • Take a look at your opportunities to get in front of your audiences—do you have any upcoming events (either district-planned or ones that you are attending) where you can share an update about your bond measure? Map out all of your audiences and potential touchpoints. Be sure to incorporate these opportunities into your overall communication plan.

Take an Integrated Communication Approach:  Don’t Put All of Your Communications Into One Basket

  • Diversify your approach to maximize opportunities for your audience to see your stories.
  • Printed mailers, video, website content, and social media together are key to ensuring that these stories are reaching and being shared by your various audiences. Engage your email communications through providing bond updates in your employee, district and school newsletters.
  • Make sure you’re planning your content topics so that they all weave into a cohesive story about your bond measure’s successful outcomes.

Be transparent: Communicating Key Pieces of Information Builds Trust

  • Communicate the dates when certain major construction activities will be occurring, especially if those activities will impact road or sidewalk traffic, if delays might impact students access on campus, and if noisy portions of the project might affect the community.
  • Post the projects’ timelines on your website and in longer mailing pieces.
  • Make sure that key communicators in your district office and the school sites have talking points and information about the projects so that they can answer questions in person or over the telephone.

Remember, people are wary gaps in information (which they will seek to fulfill with whatever trusted individual will provide information, whether the information is correct or not) and they are appreciative of transparency.  People are also less likely to complain–when they receive a fair warning of adverse aspects of your projects, or if project delays occur.

Communicate Outcomes—Not Just Processes

Beyond the brick and mortar walls and fancy new equipment, what will the community’s investment in your schools achieve?

  • Capture stories and testimonials about positive student outcomes, safer schools, how modernized classrooms are helping teachers to improve the quality of education, how upgraded technology is leading to improved student outcomes—these are the reasons why your community supported the bond measure, so be sure to let them know the return on their investment.
  • Of course, the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies are a couple of obvious stories, but after the projects are completed, don’t assume that the story is over.  Showcase how the new science labs are being used by your students—and obtain some great testimonials to go along with it.
  • Be current and engaging: before and after pictures are a dated approach—time lapse videos are exciting and will engage your audience.

Remember, communication is about advancing your district’s relationships. Maintaining a strong, positive, and transparent relationship with your community regarding the millions of dollars that they are investing in your schools will pay off in dividends in terms of trust, reputation management, and even helping to secure taxpayer approval on future bonds for your district.

Does your district need assistance communicating your bond measure outcomes?  Contact us to discuss how Sounding Board can help your district share its compelling stories about how your community’s investment is generating positive student outcomes.

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Keys to Inspiring Confidence During “The Critical Hour” Category: Crisis Communication

Little did I know, the second entry in this blog series, “Inspiring Confidence Through Communication” would come just three days after one of the nation’s worst school crises — the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

As we slowly learn more about this tragedy, much is focused on the gunman, school safety and the like. However, early in the crisis, the news coverage featured — in addition to the press conferences with the police department — interviews with parents. One thing I noticed about the interviews with the parents was their initial confusion about where they could find more information during the first hour following the crisis, including where to locate their children. As more information and misinformation came out during the early hours following this crisis — including the fact that a key communicator, the school principal, died in the incident — there are several explanations for this confusion.

In the aftermath of this crisis, decision-makers, community members and parents are asking whether more can be done to prevent this from ever happening again. In addition, parents are also inquiring how they will be contacted should a crisis of any magnitude occur at their school. Because they are entrusting the school with their child’s (or children’s) safety, they want to receive the information from the school, first — NOT the media, and not the police.

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