Revitalizing Teacher Recruitment: A Digital Marketing Success Story

Written by Nicole Evans, director of marketing, Diocese of Des Moines Catholic Schools, [email protected]

Many schools are facing a new crisis in education—national teacher shortage coupled with historic numbers of open positions. The Diocese of Des Moines and its 16 schools grappled with this challenge, facing more than 40 open positions in March 2022. Recognizing the need for an innovative solution, diocesan leadership embarked on a journey to overhaul their approach to teacher recruitment.

For years, the diocese successfully leveraged digital marketing strategies to attract prospective families and bolster enrollment. Led by Donna Bishop, superintendent of schools, the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) team saw the potential to influence the employment decisions of both new and current educators, ensuring a robust pipeline of talented candidates for the future. The CSO team resolved to give this strategy a try. There was just one problem—funding.

While digital advertising promised a potentially high return on investment, the upfront costs posed a significant obstacle. The diocese’s marketing budget was already committed to student enrollment initiatives. Redirecting these funds to teacher recruitment risked impacting enrollment in the upcoming school year. Undeterred, the CSO team knew it would need to explore alternative funding solutions, and that was when an opportunity presented itself in the form of a grant proposal.

The Catholic Foundation of Southwest Iowa (CFSWIA) awards grant funds to parishes and schools to support innovative programs contributing to the long-term vitality of the Church and its mission. To secure startup funding for the teacher recruitment ad campaign, the CSO sought out and received a $10,000 Cornerstone Grant. The Cornerstone Grant is the highest grant awarded by the CFSWIA and funds the startup of a new program or service.

With grant funding secured, the CSO implemented a digital advertising campaign to showcase the value of working within its schools and broaden the pool of potential candidates. The campaign implemented a blend of digital display ads and search engine marketing (SEM), strategically applying the use of geofencing, keywords, candidate qualifications and behavioral targeting to reach potential candidates.

SEM involved paid ads on search engine results pages (SERPs), ensuring visibility when users searched for relevant keywords like “teaching jobs near me” and “teaching jobs Des Moines.” Meanwhile, digital display ads used compelling messages and imagery, directing prospects to a dedicated landing page offering comprehensive information about career opportunities within the diocese. Campaign ads revolved around values-centered employment and promoting Catholic schools as a place for educators to experience mentorship, opportunities and meaning.

The launch of the campaign in January 2023 yielded promising results. Not only was it cost- effective, but it also enabled the diocese to engage with prospective teachers where they spent a significant portion of their time—online. According to Frontline Education, online searches constitute the primary method teachers use to explore job opportunities in education. The interactive nature of the ads facilitated prospective employees in expressing interest by either filling out lead forms or visiting a dedicated landing page.

“The success of our initial digital ad campaign exceeded our expectations,” said Donna Bishop. “Within just a few weeks of launching the campaign, we received over 50 high-quality leads through the completion of the online form. Additionally, numerous other candidates who saw the ads reached out directly to submit their resumes and letters of recommendation.”

Encouraged by the initial campaign outcomes, the diocese proceeded with a second campaign in January 2024. While the budget for 2024 was more modest compared to the initial grant funding, the ads continued to perform well and the pool of prospective candidates continued to grow. Building on the digital campaign’s success, the CSO recognized the potential of technology to improve teacher recruitment further. In response to the demands of both staff members and prospective candidates, the CSO introduced virtual job fairs as a novel solution. This approach aimed to maximize time efficiency and widen the candidate pool, addressing the constraints posed by traditional in-person job fairs.

Upon logging in, candidates received a warm welcome from CSO staff and an introduction to the Diocese of Des Moines. A tailored approach directed candidates to school-specific “rooms” based on their interests and open positions. Feedback on these virtual initiatives has been overwhelmingly positive, underscoring their efficacy in reaching a wider audience with minimal time investment, logistical complexity and financial burden.

Through strategic resourcing and innovative marketing initiatives, the Diocese of Des Moines pioneered a modern approach to the challenge of teacher recruitment. As the education landscape evolves, investing in new strategies remains crucial for ensuring a steady influx of qualified educators into Catholic schools and a quality education for future generations.