Derby Academy


Desktop and mobile versions of the Derby Academy website

“Enrollment was down and, as a result of what we could do through our Blackbaud integration and Finalsite, we did about 6 months of admissions work in 6 weeks and we were able to drive enrollment up 15 percent. We started the year fully enrolled with a waitlist, during a pandemic. We’re really excited about that and continuing the momentum through this year."



Even before he began his role at Derby Academy, Connor Gleason knew that he wanted to transform their website into a new communications platform. As the oldest, co-educational independent day school in New England, Derby Academy offers a unique experience, and that story needed to be better told online.

Working with Finalsite's designers and Blackbaud's data integration, Derby achieved a beautiful, easy-to-use communications tool while keeping student data intact.

Hear the Redesign Details from Connor in This Video 👇

Partnering with Finalsite and Blackbaud

Derby Academy had worked with Blackbaud for a number of years before partnering with Finalsite. But all websites eventually need an overhaul, and after some exploration and honing in what we were looking to do with a new site, Connor discovered Finalsite’s communications platform and partnership with Blackbaud ON, the later of particular interest as a school with an extensive past of working with Blackbaud. 

More than just another CMS provider in the marketplace, Finalsite's marketing and communications platform represented a way to breathe new life into Derby Academy, which had just gone through a transition period, even before the start of the COVID crisis, and had recently went through a rebranding process after being stuck in "but that's the way we've always done it" phase that is all too familiar for many school marketing and communications professionals.

"We were excited about when we were introduced to Finalsite’s Communication’s Platform for best web practices; how their platform really hones in on attracting, converting, and retaining new families and students; and how they could help showcase our campus," Connor said.

But with every transition to a new website provider, there's always the big question of "if we make the change, what are we asking for from our current families, faculty, and students?"

Before the website redesign process began, Connor outlined a few questions that may seem similar to anyone who's gone through the same process before, either with Finalsite or any other CMS provider:

  • How will this affect our current community?
  • How / will we have to retrain our faculty and staff to use the website?
  • How do we reintroduce portals and logins?
  • How does our Athletic Director re-learn to enter scores and schedules, rosters, and calendars?
  • How will we work with Admissions to rethink how they handle the enrollment process?

After learning more about the redesign and launch process, Connor said he was excited to learn that Finalsite and Blackbaud partnered to create a solution that is a win/win for schools that use both platforms. Blackbaud’s integration with Finalsite allowed Derby to retain the processes and data through Blackbaud and keep those systems in place, but the school was now able to use Composer, Finalsite’s CMS, for best web practices for conversion, drive engagement, and streamline many of the enrollment and marketing efforts. 

An infographic showing how Blackbaud data can integrate with the Finalsite platform.


"For us, this made a lot of sense because it would help us retain our Blackbaud data, keep our processes in place and not disrupt how faculty and staff engaged with our backend databases, but still have access to Finalsite’s resources to drive our enrollment goals," Connor said.

Launching Strong and Forging Through a Pandemic

Derby Academy's redesign and launch process kicked off in Summer 2019 by integrating the school's Blackbaud data with Finalsite ahead of the redesign, a process that took five months from start to finish. The complete redesigned website was launched mid-January 2020, and by April (spoiler alert!) Derby Academy was awarded a 2020 Gold Muse Creative Award for outstanding website design. 

“One of the great things that Finalsite does is that they have this product, but they know marketing, and they know the environment. So they have these three things that are really designed to help schools succeed — and succeed in their messaging," said Connor.

It was a strong start to the year before the COVID crisis changed the way schools around the world thought about their website and communications entirely. 

"Having launched in January, we had about 60 days of being live before our campus community went remote for COVID, and when we did nearly every single event, school tradition, program was re-imagined virtually," Connor said. "And so, it seemed like, all at once, everyone's head slowly turned to our office for the solutions on how to reinvent our campus digitally."

Technology plays a crucial role in supporting the relationship between cultures on a school campus, and Derby's recent website launch placed them in the strong position of being amply prepared for the new world every school marketer and communicator suddenly found themself in.

Within just a couple of months, Connor and the Derby Academy team completely overhauled the website for this new digital-first future and pushed out an incredible amount of content to keep the school community connected and engaged during the COVID quarantine, including: a distance Learning microsite, COVID resource page, Counselor’s Corner page for social-emotional resources, school spirit and giving campaign, virtual open house an tour, and reimagining areas of the website such as summer programming and the graduation pages. 

While the school was creating tons of new content specifically in response to COVID, every bit of it ultimately had to answer the same question for the new families discovering Derby Academy for the first time: “Why Derby?”

Even with the challenges of COVID, through leveraging the data and the content on the website,  Derby Academy was able to expand its reach and attract and convert new families.

"Enrollment was down and, as a result of what we could do through our Blackbaud integration and Finalsite, we did about 6 months of admissions work in 6 weeks and we were able to drive enrollment up 15 percent," Connor said. "We started the year fully enrolled with a waitlist, during a pandemic. We’re really excited about that and continuing the momentum through this year."

Finalsite's Most Valuable Resources for Engagement

To create all of this content during the COVID crisis, Connor and the Derby Academy team made use of the full suite of Composer modules accessible to them. However, Connor said there were a few in particular that were the most instrumental.


"Composer is a really powerful tool that allows you to really leverage your content and resources and display them in a way that is attractive and easy to use. Creating landing pages with responsive designs, pulling dynamic content from your data is really streamlined and makes building out pages and content really easy."


"Posts are really dynamic, so if you’re creating campus news, or blogs, or collections of content, or you want to highlight areas on campus, or even pull out feature profiles, Posts is a highly flexible tool that can help you highlight your content through your site. We’ve found that it really elevates the level of how our content is being presented. It’s a time saver for repurposing content."


"We love forms! Forms manager is an easy to use form creation tool that has helped us remove a lot of barriers between collecting information from perspectives and parents - so creating an attractive, simple, easy to use form that can have conditional elements, that’s styled, that responsive - can be used in a lot of ways for inquiries, giving forms, RSVPs, event registration- that’s elevated our site and has increased points of engagement across the site."

Watch Connor Build a Page in Composer in 5 Minutes 👇

Finalsite's Most Valuable Points of Integration

Just like the Composer modules Derby Academy used for engagement, Connor found a select few of Composer's modules were particularly useful in establishing and building upon the connection between the Finalsite and Blackbaud platforms to create a better user experience for the school community.


"When we researched this we looked at the data and found that our faculty/staff directory was in the top 3 most visited pages, so we wanted to really elevate that page. So this was a big step up for us in terms of how the data was being integrated and how that data was being presented through Finalsite, to be able to have that directory presented in an inviting way that presents value to your families - especially now when everyone’s in masks. "

"To be able to put a name to a face, to have it be easily navigated, it helps transform what could be just a dull, dry directory into a page that helps create that sense of community on campus. If you browse through it, you get a sense of who these people are, their backgrounds, and why they love teaching."

Athletics Manager

"This is great because once the athletic information has been integrated, there’s a lot of flexibility within Finalsite of how you want that information presented. If you want to display coaches for a team page with a team photo, or maybe you want to only display your teams one season at a time, or all at once, or maybe the next three games, or the entire team’s schedule, there’s the flexibility to do that."

Messages - Email Marketing

"Messages is great because you can leverage your Blackbaud constituent data to create dynamic lists within Finalsite, so as the system refreshes, that information stays accurate. So we’re able to create parent lists, and department lists and faculty/staff lists right within Finalsite’s Messages."

"With Messages, it’s a really easy drag-and-drop interface where you can insert dynamic content like your recent new posts, or blog content or the athletic calendar, so you’re not constantly rebuilding that content every time you’re sending the weekly newsletter. Again- that’s a win/win because you’re saving time by leveraging that content, the system is an easy- what you see is what you get- interface, and you can integrate your system data."

Biggest Takeaways and Looking Ahead

A web redesign can seem overwhelming and daunting when taking the first steps. But, the more Connor looked at what Finalsite offered as a website and marketing platform, the more the conversations shifted to how a new Finalsite website could work, fit the culture of Derby Academy, and connects with the school's admissions and marketing goals. 

"Those in MarComm understand: we are the Swiss army knives of the school," Connor said. "We manage the website, publications, press releases, social media manager, photography, and videography. Our office produces videos, we write, we edit, we email - every day we’re juggling."

Connor said the new website and Composer modules "makes everything else I do now easier."

"Pulling the data to create dynamic emailing lists, showcasing custom groups of faculty, giving your families a better, more streamlined experience that reflects what the school truly is is an admirable goal that I think everyone shares," Connor said. "And with this setup, having your data and the best of web features housed under one roof, it’ll happen." 

2020 has been anything but ordinary, and the year alone has already drastically changed the way school marketing professionals think about the way they connect with their community and reach new audiences.

What started as a year pushing out new content on a new platform has transitioned into recreating your campus digitally, getting everything under one roof, eliminating redundancies and manual data errors, and saving time while investing efforts into new projects while also addressing the changes brought about by the COVID landscape.

"Your website and your data is the most valuable marketing tool you have, so it will really come down to, how can leverage those resources and adapt," Connor said. "How can you combine the data with the best of web services and create the slick car with the monster engine that’s going to engage families and serve your community?"

About Derby Academy

Derby Academy is the oldest, coeducational independent day school in New England — located in Hingham, Massachusetts. A pre-K through grade 8 school, Derby Academy focuses on small class sizes, innovative curriculum, project-based learning, a dedicated faculty, and many opportunities to ensure students are challenged to learn and supported in their development.  

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