We've been talking a lot about kindness at Halpin recently. Susie has written about kindness in fundraising and Shaun's latest blog reflects on whether it is better to be kind, or right. So I've been reflecting on the role that kindness plays in student marketing and the extent to which it can still be genuine, even if the main purpose is to recruit students.
To start with, there's no doubt in my mind that university applicants need kindness. Year 13s are coping with school and exam pressure, and it's more than likely they also have a variety of relationship, financial and social pressures all showing themselves at some point too. More mature applicants will be facing all of the same pressures, but quite often with additional commitments to juggle. And everyone is facing some big decisions for which they may not feel prepared.
This means that applicants will be grateful for anything that universities can do to smooth the application process, help them to make better decisions or ease the pressure they feel. This could be reminders on deadlines, helpful hints to find funding, or exam revision tips. Equally it could be personalised responses to enquiries or a warm welcome by a student ambassador at an open day. Little things can make a big difference to applicants who can find the whole application process confusing and overwhelming.
Let’s be honest though; most of these things are ultimately done to increase student recruitment. To get noticed, to get chosen, to hit targets. Inevitably, there is a danger that being kind can tip into being a marketing gimmick if done badly.
So to make sure that being kind is done for kindness’ sake, there are three principles worth remembering:
- Build your kindness on genuine insight and understanding. Take the time to understand your applicants before identifying what you can offer that can make life easier or better for them. Your kindness will misfire if it’s based on assumptions.
- Have no expectation of getting something in return. If a kind act such as introducing an applicant to a current student means that the applicant decides your university isn’t right for them, then be prepared to accept that this is a good outcome for all concerned.
- Be authentic. It’s reasonable to admit that you are being kind because your university will ultimately benefit. Applicants will see through any denial anyway and your relationship will be built on mistrust as a result.
If you have any examples of how kindness is being used in your university’s student recruitment, we’d love to hear it about it. Tweet us at @Halpin_HE and use the hashtag #teamkind.
Rachel Killian is a Senior Consultant at Halpin – the home of experts in fundraising, marketing, strategy and governance.