• General Best Practices
  • Software Updates & Tips
Create Happy Users and Happier Admins with Clean Data Collection
Sam Lipscomb

When your personal life intersects with your professional life, it's incredibly satisfying. There's just something about the interconnectivity of my day-to-day that pumps me up. So when I'm mentoring a high school robotics team and best practices that I've learned from working at Finalsite are there to save the day, it feels meant to be.

Robotics Club

Background: my robotics students want to sell their team apparel to alumni, parents and friends. They called for printshop quotes, have t-shirt and hoodie designs ready to go, and are ready to start selling. They've created a document with the product previews and prices, ready to hand out to our extended robot family so they can rock our colors and cheer us on at competitions. It's linked in our Friday newsletter and sent to our full mailing list.

And no one fills it out.

A week later, my students bring this up at our pre-build session meeting. Someone asks the fateful question, "Can't I just fill out the form online?" Bingo.

A paper form, even sent via email as a PDF, is not user friendly. It assumes everyone has a printer at home (I don't). If someone does have access to a printer, it assumes they would be motivated to remember to print the form, fill it out, write a check, find an envelope and stamp, put the whole thing in the mail... a lot of assumptions, right? And I won't even get into how the original form didn't tell people where to send the form and payment.

Our latest newsletter went out Friday with a new link to an electronic form, tested to make sure all of the right information was being collected and ending with a link to a PayPal page so orders could be paid online.

We already have nine orders!

Forms Manager

Data collection is incredibly important in all aspects of school administration. When done well, it's easy for the end user to provide information for a specific reason, and easy for the admin to take that information and use it quickly and effectively. When done poorly, data is almost unusable for any purpose or, worse, never collected at all.

Finalsite offers a variety of modules for data collection, ensuring it's done well. I'll share my favorite secrets about all of them here!

Tips for Forms Manager

One of our core product offerings, Forms Manager has been around for years. It's incredibly easy to create forms from scratch and build them right into any Composer page in minutes.

Here are three hidden gems that will make life easier when building a form and using the data:

Calls to Action

We've said it before: "Submit" is a really standard way to end a form. Use the opportunity to include branded messaging and a strong call to action by changing the text of your Submit button! Just click "Show" next to Form Layout at the top of any form you are editing to make changes to the button text. There are a few bonus hidden features under this Form Layout section: I personally love to place my Form Labels on the left to create a line of clean form fields. You can also edit the message that displays when the form is expired and let the tooltip display on hover!

Forms Manager - Form Button

Reporting Labels

It's definitely a great idea to ask full questions and use accessible language in a form. Anyone filling it out shouldn't have to guess what you're asking for! But when you have to go back to your results spreadsheet and figure out which field is, "How_did_you_hea," you might be lost. Editing your Reporting Labels solves this problem and gives you great front-end forms with clean back-end reporting. And you'll know the difference when you ask for names of multiple students or guests.

Changing form field how-to

Hidden Fields

Hidden fields are by definition a hidden gem, but mostly because it's not immediately obvious why you might want to include one in your form. If a form is behind a portal, users have to log in to access it, giving you a window directly to their Constituent Manager profile. Pre-filling the form fields with their name and contact information will make them happy to save the time, and you can use pre-filled hidden fields to attach information about the user to the form... and make your job easier. Need their import ID to quickly get this information back into your SIS? Want to know if the user is in your system as a Major Donor? Hidden fields pre-filled with this information will make your forms results work even harder for you than normal. You can also use a hidden field with the setting checked for currency and you'll have the cost of an event baked into the form in a way that can't be edited by the user.

forms cheat sheet

If you attend Finalsite Prep at our Connecticut HQ at any point during 2018, you'll learn even more tips and tricks about Forms Manager. We share a cheat sheet spanning A-Z with examples of forms and ideas for why you might want to build them in the first place.

Tips for Forms Plus

Forms Plus is a direct add-on to Forms Manager, and those add-ons are powerful. If you've ever wondered if you could cut a form off from receiving responses when a certain number of people filled it out, the answer lies with Forms Plus' registration elements, which can connect to a seating capacity or offer tiered pricing for bulk purchases.

But my favorite piece of functionality is actually separate from all of these:

True RSVP functionality

You could easily email all of your alumni a link to a form, asking them to RSVP to a reunion luncheon. And then you could wonder if any of them saw the email, opened the form and responded (or didn't). Obviously checking the form results would let you know who filled out the form, but the rest would be a mystery. In Forms Plus, the RSVP tab allows you to upload a list of people to invite to an event. The link to the form is unique to the recipient, so the system can actually track who has been invited, who clicked the link, who filled out the form and what their response was.

Forms Plus - RSVP Funtionality

Even better, you can enable the option to, "Please include my name on the public list of attendees for this event," to get a true list of who else is coming that can be viewed by anyone who responds to the form. More alumni will come to the luncheon if they know their friends are attending too, and the built-in messaging means you're not blasting the whole alumni list to RSVP when half of them already have.

Forms Plus - RSVP Part 2

Tips for Registration Manager

And now it's confession time: I love Registration Manager. After more than two years at Finalsite, this still gets me a few odd looks and a great nickname: Reggie. But why? What makes Registration Manager so great, and why did I immediately think I could use it to stay organized with the many events being handled by our office? During my time as a communications director, it really broke down to three things:

User experience


Every time I wanted to have our students and parents sign up for an event, I used Reg. AP Exam fees? Registration form for that. Prom tickets? Registration form for that. Golf Open foursomes? Registration form for that. Summer program spanning grades 4-12 with sessions for different age groups? You guessed it. Once our community was used to a registration form for one event, they could easily recognize how to fill out another one in the future. Registration Manager can also prompt users to log in and "Quick Add" from their constituent profile, including not just a parent's information but also students related to the parent and guests they recently added. It becomes a snap to register for events, and these snap decisions lead to easy revenue and maxed guest lists.

Registration Manager User Experience

Registrations at a glance

Anyone running an event was always quick to ask, "How many people are signed up?" even if they received the registration confirmations! It was so great to be able to run to the Registration dashboard and know how many people were signed up for each session, but also to see the breakdown by grade level. If I was hitting the limit for our high school sessions but middle school needed a little help, I was able to target my marketing efforts with ease. Bonus fact: you can use Registration Manager's messaging tool to reach out to people that follow certain rules. Let everyone who signed up for Week 1's LEGO Mindstorms session know that the Week 3 Intro to Computer Science session still has openings for more students and you may double your registration numbers.

Registration Manager - Registration View

Calming the chaos

That summer program I mentioned? I have no idea how I would have created an online form to register for that. Some of the sessions were for middle school students, some were for high school students, and some were for both. All of them had different prices per week, different instructors running the athletic camps versus the STEM camps, and of course they all had different session capacities (I guess the gym is bigger than the computer lab). A form per session? A nightmare to track. One form per week? I knew I'd have seniors accidentally signing up for the middle school basketball camp. Registration Manager solved all of these problems and more, and on the first day of camp, I had pre-built rosters to download and print for each instructor, schedules for each camper, and one master list of who had paid and who said they would bring a check. Easy.

summer camp smartphone registration

Key Takeaway

Forms Manager, Forms Plus and Registration Manager build on each other to help with increasingly complex event registrations and data needs. There are a ton of tools to make the forms easy to complete for the user and easy to parse by the admin. From annual giving to zoo field trip permission, it's easy to build a form for whatever your data needs may be. If you'd like a demo of one of these products, please email your Client Success Manager.

And if you want to buy some robotics swag, my students have a form for that too.



As a former independent school communications director, Sam knows the ins and outs of making marketing magic happen. As a Client Success Manager working with the western half of the United States, Mexico and South America, she excels at helping clients optimize and streamline marketing efforts for the biggest impact.

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