Ministry Branding and our Founders Forum Speaker Series

Written by Pat Fitzpatrick

What do Sarah Palin, President George W., Bush, Tim Tebow, Dr. Ben Carson, Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman, Eric Metaxes, Carson Wentz, and Lee Strobel have in common? They have all been keynote speakers at Plumstead Christian School’s annual Founders Forum event.  In the paragraphs that follow, I describe the birth of this event and the intentional branding efforts that are accomplished through this event.

When I was hired to be the headmaster at Plumstead Christian School in the spring of 2010 I inherited a school where the enrollment had plummeted over the previous five years from the 500’s down into the 300’s.  Board members shared with me that the school had “good bones,” but needed help “getting on the map.” According to one board member the school was “the best kept secret of Bucks County, PA.”

Being the “best kept secret” is the death nail for any business or ministry. As a ministry leader I have spent a lot of time and energy looking for ways to effectively brand our school. Effective branding proclaims a consistent, cohesive, and attractive story of the mission, the strengths, and the values of the ministry.  The school’s website, printed literature, logos and signage are part of this story. A more critical part of our story, however, is the stories that customers share in face to face conversations, through social media, and through their level of engagement. Our customers’ experiences with “our product” create the most important narrative in our branding efforts.

With this in mind, I dug into the school’s archives and spent a lot of time talking to current staff and parents. During this time I discovered that the school had established a short-lived speaker series in the early 1990’s where they invited Vice President Dan Quayle, Cal Thomas, Elisabeth Elliott, Jerry Falwell, and Beverly LaHaye in each of five successive years.

Why was this speaker series short-lived? I pitched the idea of creating a new speaker series modeled after the historical success of our first series. Our plan was simple even if it was a bit daunting: Invite nationally recognized speakers whose Christian faith informs the way they live and work. Bringing such speakers to our school would further our school’s mission to educate students to think biblically, serve effectively, and lead Christ-centered lives, and do so in a way that would put our school on the map.

Launching our speaker series is where the real branding beauty took shape. We named the event “Founders Forum,” and we decided that in addition to having a keynote speaker, we would recognize individuals at each annual event who had contributed in meaningful ways to the formation of our school as faculty or staff, volunteers, board members, or financial partners in our kingdom work.  Public recognition of these great men and women allows us to broadcast their stories to the larger community – stories that reinforce the branding efforts time and again.

And we started out with a bang. I gave my development director the time to brainstorm who might be a relevant first speaker, and he came up with the idea of inviting Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska.  She shared her Christian testimony and talked about American exceptionalism. People came from miles around to see her, and for many Christians in our region this was the first time they had ever been on our campus. We gave a few of our high school seniors the opportunity to ask Sarah Palin questions during a moderated question and answer session, and the week after our event a family with two young children called our admissions director to set up a tour.  The mom’s words to our admissions director were, “we saw your seniors asking Sarah Palin questions at the Founders Forum and we were so impressed by them. When our children are high school seniors we want them to be just like your seniors.” These high school seniors made a positive impact on this family. Their part in our unfolding story was a significant piece in our branding efforts.

Each Founders Forum consists of a dinner for sponsors of the event and their guests followed by the main event where the keynote speaker addresses the crowd. At the dinner we introduce a “Featured Alumni” who briefly tells his or her story. We ask them to comment on how Plumstead Christian School prepared them for college and life – how the school’s mission was fulfilled in their lives. We reinforce the school’s brand through story, and these stories are recorded and retold on social media, because it is important for us to be reminded of what is truly important about our ministry to the children.

At our last Founders Forum event I asked one of the current high school seniors if he would produce a video that told a poignant story of that year’s honorary founder.  The story was an illustration of this employee’s commitment and love for students, but it was more than that. The fact that we entrusted such a movie into the hands of a current student also reinforced our school’s brand in a unique way. We tell the community that we raise up leaders, that we foster creativity through our programs, that we celebrate innovation. This student’s creation showed all of these claims to be true.  This video can be viewed here.

Also at our last Founders Forum event we asked our speaker to stay for an additional day.  He agreed, and we held our first multi-school assembly. Students from ten different Christian schools in the area, at no cost to these schools, joined together with Plumstead Christian School students to worship and to hear from apologist and best-selling author Lee Strobel.  Our school’s mission demands that we teach our students to serve effectively. Modeling effective community service instructs our own students and gives us the opportunity to tell and retell our story to current and prospective families.

Founders Forum reinforces our brand and allows us to broadcast our story to a community that might not ordinarily set feet into our buildings.  It also serves as an effective backdrop for layers of branding that tell and retell our school’s story in a consistent, cohesive, and attractive way.

Carson Wentz Sarah Palin George W Bush

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