Mini Case Study: Global Citizen Year’s recruitment quagmire
When Abby Falik started Global Citizen Year (GCY) in 2008, the last challenge she expected to encounter was not attracting enough applicants for the organization’s program. GCY offers intense international apprenticeships to students who take a “bridge year” between high school and college, with the goal of building a new generation of leaders who have an ethic of service and the fluencies needed to communicate across languages and cultures.
But as Falik learned, the decision to defer college for a year is still far from mainstream in the U.S., and can be daunting, especially if it involves participating in a new and unproven program like GCY. They started recruiting in March 2009, setting an initial application deadline just six weeks later.
Despite a multi-pronged outreach approach that relied primarily on high school guidance counselors and posts on social media sites like Facebook and Zinch.com, the initial applicant pool was much smaller than the team anticipated. After two years of incubating, honing and refining the idea for GCY, and an additional six months of fundraising, attracting applicants seemed like it would be the least of Falik’s problems. But now, with the school year so close to ending, how was she going to recruit a group of truly exceptional students to begin the program in the fall?
Falik and her team realized quickly that reaching out to students during the months college acceptance (and rejection) letters come flooding in might not be the best strategy for attracting students to GCY. So, they extended the timeline to add a second priority deadline and upped their outreach efforts on all fronts. By early summer they had received a new batch of students.
Also, instead of recruiting their initial goal of 30 students, GCY condensed the initial group of students to 10. “We opted to make sure that we had exactly the right kids on board rather than to reach an arbitrary goal that in our first year was, quite simply, a bit too ambitious,” said Falik.
Based on its first year’s experience, GCY revised its recruitment plan. The key is relying on students to generate buzz for the program. To this end, GCY encouraged rising high school juniors and seniors to join GCY’s organizing committee, host GCY events for their schools and networks, and spread the word about GCY through social media (GCY has over 45,000 Twitter followers). And because GCY sees its Fellows as its most effective communicators, it created a blog and revamped its website to highlight their stories.
Additionally, GCY shifted its first admissions cycle to the fall (parallel to college applications), and created new partnerships with schools and universities. Through these efforts, GCY has seen its application pool triple in the past year.