Recruiting Host Families for International Exchange Students


AFS-USA is a student exchange program that empowers people to become globally engaged citizens by delivering meaningful intercultural experiences. They strive to provide the knowledge and skills needed to help create a more just and peaceful world. Among the organization’s primary goals is to engage with new host families throughout the country to provide exceptional experiences for international students coming to the United States. 

AFS-USA worked with Media Cause to create a strong, multi-channel campaign with the principal aim of recruiting a new, diverse cohort of host families for Fall 2021 student placements.


The Outcome

During the Fall 2021 Host Family recruitment cycle, Media Cause helped AFS-USA place a total of 1,125 students with host families, as well as build a strong list of prospective host families for the Spring 2022 recruitment cycle.




Host Family applications submitted


Host Family interest forms submitted

The Challenge

AFS-USA sought to expand its existing network of Fall host families by building a more diverse group of hosts, including single parents and parents across various socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.

A secondary challenge for AFS-USA was to find additional volunteers throughout the country and recruit exchange students from the United States to participate in their study abroad programs.

The Strategy

Recruitment-focused advertising ran between Wednesday, July 7 and Wednesday, September 1, across Facebook, Google Search, Discovery, and YouTube properties, driving potential host families to a custom sign up page. The effort was also supported by organic social and email cross-promotion, as well as a website pop-up asset featured prominently on the AFS-USA website.

The campaign consisted of two phases. Phase 1 focused on host family testimonials, featuring ad creative that demonstrated a diverse cohort of existing family participants. The language utilized a more emotional tone, while Phase 2 consisted of messaging demonstrating the ‘why’ behind becoming a host family.

Compared to Phase 1, Phase 2 of the campaign drove significantly more leads in a more efficient manner—with fewer impressions and an emphasis on quality engagement from potential host parents. Phase 2’s experiential messaging resonated with audiences across all platforms.

Working with Media Cause truly set us up for success. They helped us overcome the unique challenges that faced our organization at the time and were quick to understand our needs. It was a pleasure to work with their team and see what an incredible impact they had in the delivery of this campaign. Thank you Media Cause!

The Implementation

To achieve the primary goal of increasing the number of total host families and subsequent tertiary goals (driving volunteers + exchange students), the campaigns were split up as follows:

  • Fall 2021 Recruitment
    • Focusing on Phase 1 + 2 messaging to recruit additional host families for the Fall 2021 cycle
  • AFS-USA Evergreen
    • Focusing on branded searches, volunteer recruitment efforts, and exchange student applications

Across all campaigns, we used a mixture of Responsive Search Ads and Expanded Text Ads, as well as observational audiences to help enhance overall campaign performance.

The goal of invoking Google Discovery as a channel was to better isolate and capture potential host families mid-funnel in their user journey. 

Our team split the targeting up into two separate ad groups; both with Phase 1+ 2 messaging: host family and homestay agency.

Leveraging Facebook’s unique targeting abilities and custom audience functionality, our team created three ads per phase (Phase 1 + 2) and utilized multiple target groups to capture interest in becoming a host family for the Fall 2021 recruitment cycle, including:

  • Drop-Off Leads
    • For this audience, we focused on re-engaging a list of leads who previously dropped off from the application process for one reason or another
  • Lookalike (LAL) Audience
    • We utilized a list of generated leads to create a lookalike audience 
  • Persona 
    • This audience utilized Facebook’s wide array of targeting options to get in front of families who would be prime host family candidates
  • Warm Leads
    • This group focused on families who signaled initial interest in becoming a host family but hadn’t quite started the application process

For the Facebook creative, we used a mix of testimonials, engaging messaging with unique treatments (like invoking emojis, where appropriate), and urgent calls-to-action across phases. 

While across other platforms, the campaign focused on a two-phase approach, we leveraged YouTube to test multimedia pieces with varying lengths to broadly promote the AFS-USA brand and showcase this important work to potential host families. The two assets tested were: 

For these videos, we utilized a mix of detailed demographic targeting, website remarketing and in-market and affinity segments to reach a wide array of interested audiences. 

The best performing video on YouTube was the “Why We Host” video. This shorter video had the majority of leads, resulting in a lower CPL of $50.24. 

The Pass Peace Forward video had a higher view rate and more impressions; helping increase overall brand awareness of AFS-USA and its programs.