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.
"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."