University Campus Captains Are Key to Growth at Education Pioneers

In its first year of operations in 2004, Education Pioneers attracted just 32 applicants to its prestigious Fellowship programs that connect top talent to high impact jobs in education. This year, the organization reached a milestone: over 10,000 applicants. What has been a key strategy in their explosive growth? On-the-ground networking by their Campus Captains.

As a national organization dedicated to transforming education into the best led and managed sector in the U.S. economy, Education Pioneers selects top policy, education, business, and law graduate students at over 350 campuses nationwide, including Stanford, Harvard and Columbia, and places them with partner organizations for anywhere between ten weeks to ten months through their Fellowship programs. The program alumni who return back to their campuses to complete their studies become potential Campus Captains. Each year, Education Pioneers deploys between 50 to 60 campus captains to promote the organization and its mission to promote excellence in education.

“Developing a campus captain program was a great way for us to leverage our rapid growth,” says Kadie DeCerbo, Director of Talent Strategy and Placement at Education Pioneers “We had very aggressive goals, and we knew that with our Fellows we had an opportunity to utilize messengers with first hand experience of the program to spread the word.”

Campus Captains go through a kick-off orientation outlining program goals, timelines and available resources.  Education Pioneers also gives participants job descriptions for each Fellowship, a list of ideas for possible recruiting events, and other relevant marketing materials. Through one- on-one conversations, class discussions, and casual events like pizza lunches and happy hours, Education Pioneers Campus Captains are building brand awareness, sharing experiences about the Fellowship program with their peers, and helping prospective applicants through the process.

The outreach program is making a clear difference: Education Pioneers successfully scaled from nine Fellows in 2004 to close to 400 in 2012.

When asked how other nonprofits could leverage this type of innovation in their own work, DeCerbo says, “Utilizing your best advocates and champions to recruit for your program can easily be applied to other areas such as building your internal talent pipeline. Advocates can also help you connect with and build strong relationships with supporters to reach development and fundraising goals.”

Other tips for building brand ambassadors: 

  • Give your champions the tools to connect. Many brand ambassadors arise organically. They are the individuals who, without being asked, are natural champions for your cause, personally invested in your success, and are already sharing their experience in person and through social media.  If this is the case, then simply give your brand ambassadors what they need to continue spreading the word: basic talking points, a formal or informal forum (either in person or online) to connect with others, or sample emails, Facebook posts or even sample “tweets”. Ensuring that they have the right resources will encourage continued support for your cause and promote a consistent message.
  • Appreciate the work of your brand ambassadors. Whenever possible send personalized thank you notes, create events that recognize and reward your champions, and stay connected. Share individual stories of their work and successes through multiple platforms including your website, newsletters, video, and other marketing tools. Recognizing the vital work of your brand ambassadors will build long lasting loyalty and trust.

Simply put: smart organizations get people talking. 


Written by Maria Peralta for Commongood Careers