With Finalsite celebrating its 25th anniversary, I’ve been reflecting on how the company has evolved, and one way to do that is by answering the question we have been asked since day one: “Why Finalsite?” Naturally, there are so many reasons and just as many good answers, biased as I am :) But I thought I’d focus on a few key reasons that reflect the changes and growth not only of Finalsite but in our schools and across the technology and K-12 landscape.
A Great CMS for Schools is Step #1
Every now and then, I’ve heard someone say, “The website CMS is dead,” which strikes me as misplaced, given that every school on the planet has a website, and every single one needs to manage its content. We spend our days advancing a software platform that empowers schools to make the most of their digital communication. It’s largely why we refer to our solution as a “platform.”
It’s been inspiring watching our lead engineers integrate artificial intelligence into our solution to speed up content delivery, creating multiple avenues to publish content to social media, SMS, email, and the website within one system and building upon our mobile-first strategy, both philosophically and technically. But no matter how much A/B testing and personalization you do, you still need an easy-to-use system to manage content on a website.
Personalization and Analytics are Critical
Clients have been using our solution to personalize and customize content for years (I think our Personalization Element is coming on four years old). Still, we have learned time and time again that it’s not quite that easy in practice, even with the right technology. We’re glad we can meet our clients where they are, give them the tools they need right now to get their job done, and implement newer and better ways for them to tailor content that makes sense.
For example, it’s been rewarding watching our schools use our inbound marketing tools and communication plans in Finalsite Enrollment to automate personalized messaging. Admissions offices across the country are saving hours upon hours customizing emails by almost any field in the database.
It’s also been rewarding seeing our Digital Marketing team provide so much professional development to leverage the analytics built into clients' sites. We’ve learned that our schools need guidance on using and applying analytics, which is just as important as the technology behind it.
The Power of Long-term Partnerships
One thing has held true over the years: relationships matter. Just as we did 25 years ago, every client is assigned a Client Success Manager who has regular meetings with them multiple times a year. One of the primary goals is to ensure their investment is paying off. Client Success Managers also start the conversation well in advance to discuss the upcoming renewal to help them use the product the best they can to maximize their investment.
Schools have thanked us for giving them the peace of mind to lock in their price for a longer term rather than crossing their fingers each year that prices won’t skyrocket. Moreover, 95 percent of our clients are in long-term partnerships, which means we can commit to longer-term investments in products, services, and infrastructure. Companies that tout the advantages of short-term contracts are also at an equal risk of closing up shop because their financial health is continuously at risk. There’s a reason we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year.
Finalsite agreements have an auto-renew clause in our contracts, which guides future contracts so that schools know how to plan for their future costs after the initial contract. This provides total transparency, which is a key part of Finalsite’s long-term partnerships.
Also, it ensures that the website services will never go “dark” and are always provided contractual obligations for Finalsite to maintain services and security and privacy standards.
Size and Experience Matter
I’ve been impressed that despite being a much bigger company in numbers, we’re still a small company at heart, and that’s probably because our CEO is also the founder, someone who embraces a core set of values. There is so much to get right these days when it comes to giving our schools what they need that I’m grateful we’ve grown to accommodate.
Trust and relationships go hand in hand: Our client success managers for our independent schools are assigned fewer schools than they were so they can better serve them, which means close one-on-one meetings that result in deep, long-lasting relationships.
Our schools know we’re there for them, and our support is still the best in the industry. Our growth has allowed us to achieve so much more for our clients, including developing a small package for schools with tighter budgets, adding an entire admission and enrollment suite, creating a robust app/SMS/email solution, and ensuring that we can provide best-in-class data privacy and security.
The team at Finalsite that serves independent schools has decades of experience working closely with them — luminaries like our Chief Evangelist Rob DiMartino or our head of Client Success for Independent Schools, Anthony Tata or Lorrie Jackson — those three alone have over 50 years of experience serving this market. When you add everyone else, it’s centuries of industry experience, and that’s something to be proud of.
Our Commitment to Independent Schools Runs Deep
After the acquisition of Blackboard K-12, which added a lot of great school districts to our portfolio, many wondered what that would mean for the independent schools that have so long been the cornerstone of Finalsite. Our investment in independent schools has actually never been greater, and our team serving this community is deeper and more extensive than ever. We’ve been to dozens of conferences for the independent school market this year, supporting independent school associations across the country and the globe.
We’re actively adding features to our software for independent and international schools, and we have teams devoted to them. What’s more, integrations with third-party systems like Veracross, Blackbaud, and others continue to be important investments to ensure our schools can leverage the data they need with proven and secure technology.
A Great Design Starts with the School
A quarter century has meant a lot of websites, and I was just reflecting on how our designers still manage to keep it fresh, creating such diverse designs with the launch of large independent schools like Woodward Academy or smaller schools like Kent Place School. Sites like Gilman School, Lawrenceville School, or Baylor School all reflect stunning design, usability, and innovation. We’re all very proud as the awards keep coming in.
We’re keenly aware that a hand-crafted custom design is not inexpensive, which is why we’ve invested in our Theme library with talented designers to achieve a reasonable price point. And we continue to balance that fine line between being “different” while also maintaining best practices around user experience and information architecture. Designs that may appear “unique” can also be very gimmicky and frustrate the user.
And in conclusion…
In 25 years, the answer to “Why Finalsite?” is largely the same. While the software, design, consulting, and integration all keep getting better, Finalsite’s “why” begins with the talented, hard-working people of integrity who value the privilege of working with so many great schools out there to help them engage and enrich their community. While competitors have come and gone, we’ve been around this long, probably because we compete with ourselves, pushing to be better today than yesterday. Can’t wait to see what the next 25 years bring!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angelo graduated valedictorian from St. Paul's School in Baltimore, MD and from Princeton University. Despite getting his degree in creative writing and English Literature, it generally takes some doing to keep him from programming and breaking websites. Just after graduating, he started Silverpoint, and grew it to over 300 schools worldwide before merging with Finalsite in 2013.