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Emma Willard School

Emma Hart Willard was a lifelong advocate for women's education, and after seeing an opportunity for improvement, she opened a new kind of boarding school for “intellectually curious women” at just 26 years old. After more than two centuries, Emma Willard School in Troy, NY, is still committed to its mission of preparing young women for the future.

To honor and extend Madame Willard’s legacy to future generations, the school began a five-year strategic plan focused on continuing the school’s dedication to nurturing young women's intellectual growth, leadership skills, and passion for learning. To fund the aspirations of the strategic plan, the school launched Infinite Horizon: The Campaign for Emma Willard Schoolthe largest known campaign for an independent girls' secondary school in American history.

students walking to class on campus


At a Glance

For more than 200 years, Emma Willard School has been a leader in girls' education and recognized as one of the nation's leading college-preparatory boarding and day schools for girls in grades 9–12.

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With its sights set on the future, Head of School, Jenny Rao, in partnership with the Board of Trustees and Emma Willard School's Office of Communications and Marketing, began organizing the messaging and marketing strategy of one of the largest campaigns for a school in history—a campaign that would take collaboration, perseverance, and the same spirit of its founder to reach its goal of raising $175 million.

“In many ways, our school's mission is considered a cause,” shared Ann Dejnozka, head of advancement at Emma Willard. “Educating girls is an investment in the future of our country and our world, and using that cause as a way to inspire philanthropy was something that we were invested in."

Emma Willard’s team sought input from faculty, students, alumnae, parents, and trustees on their aspirations for the school, eventually identifying six key priorities that span multiple initiatives.

“We structured our work over that year to develop big picture aspirations, which for Emma Willard School included doubling our endowment, growing the annual fund in our operating budget, supporting faculty and academic programs, and attending to our iconic campus,” said Dejnozka. The benefits of a campaign this size would be multi-fold.

The six factors for success included:

  • An affection and appreciation for the school 
  • A convincing mission and a case for support 
  • Effective leadership
  • Robust and ready prospect pool
  • Professional advancement team
  • Effective storytelling

“Firstly, campaigns can significantly boost a school's endowment, and that’s crucial for sustaining long-term efforts,” said Dejnozka. “Operating budgets also tend to expand as a result. Secondly, campaigns often lead to improved retention and recruitment of talented faculty and staff.”

Aside from the campaign's financial support, Dejnozka and the advancement team also wanted to spur greater alumnae and parent engagement. “It was a key performance indicator of success in our school, our advancement programs, and our plan for developing long-term, sustainable success for Emma Willard School.”

To capture that success, Emma Willard’s communications and marketing team recommended a digital space to house the messaging, content, and vision to effectively share the aims of the Infinite Horizon campaign with their target audience.

Tools Needed For Success

Despite the challenges posed by launching during the onset of the pandemic, the Infinite Horizon campaign leveraged the school’s digital campus, mobile experiences, and the rise of online giving platforms to engage donors and stakeholders, setting in motion a multi-faceted communications, marketing, and advancement strategy.

giving form on iphone

Communications & Marketing

A generous alumna paved the way by starting the campaign with a $30 million lead gift to build the Alice Dodge Wallace ’38 Center for the Performing Arts—the first of many stories of generosity.

“A campaign is especially exciting for the communications and marketing folks,” said Chief Communications & Marketing Officer Luke Meyers. “It’s a chance to go back and really think about the school's presentation and message through the eyes of those who've had a long history with the school.”

“If you were to audit our different communications around the campaign, the story is told through their eyes,” said Meyers, adding that the teams asked themselves, ‘What did alumnae value as students, and how do they see themselves today?’

Those were the stories and the voices that would carry the importance of how every gift, new connection, and level of participation supported the impact of women’s education.

“We based our storytelling around that connection over time — the generations of Emma Willard students who share that connection and that experience at a campus that's so historic but also has been a leader in girls' education for centuries,” said Meyers.

“I made a commitment to Ann and her team that we’d have a campaign feature in each issue of our Signature magazine with several spreads of what's going on in the campaign, who is investing in it, who's involved, and who's serving.” 

“We’d highlight giving and volunteering and talk about progress on capital projects, and that's been our anchor for our outgoing communications. Then there are monthly, even sometimes weekly updates that we share on the web, and we have a whole suite of social media graphics that we use to share our excitement and celebrate this moment.”

With this in mind, they created content that included a host of professionally produced videos (in partnership with Generation and NinetyNineFilms) detailing each of the campaign’s initiatives. Stories of impact, naming opportunities, messages from leadership, and renderings for campus and facility improvements were all presented as chances to inspire and engage.

“The real discipline is in our editorial planning and our content calendar,” said Meyers. “The magazine, the newsletter, and our other content have really helped us keep the messages alive and fresh.”

email on laptop mockup

The school used Messages, Finalsite’s email communications tool, to include regular campaign updates in its alumnae newsletters and website pop-up notifications to catch users' attention and announce important matching days or giving initiatives.

Regular posts shared news, updates, and milestones, while social media graphics and features in their bi-annual magazine helped to engage their audience and drive them back to the microsite to make a donation.

A Microsite for the Campaign

Creating a focused and dedicated microsite with Finalsite’s Content Management System, Composer, gave the Emma Willard team the chance to showcase all aspects of their campaign and present a unified message.

“A key goal of the microsite was to have a place where we could hold all those assets,” said Meyers. “The microsite is where everything lives; we really try to drive people back to it,” he said, adding that the microsite served as a centralized “hub” for campaign updates, progress reports, and donor recognition.

microsite on laptop mockup

The microsite also served as an important component of their mobile strategy. The teams knew that since online giving has increased by more than 20% since 2020, according to one report, and nearly a third of the gifts were made using mobile devices, how users engaged with the site on mobile devices could enhance the overall experience and message of the campaign.

“I can see all of the Google Analytics that come through our site, and half of our visitors are on mobile phones,” Meyers shared. “We really felt strongly that a mobile-optimized site would be important, so we built the site so that it would be as good or better on a phone as on a desktop.”

A responsive design with simplified navigation, image optimization, branded fonts and colors, and clear calls to action elevated all the content and made browsing the Infinite Horizon microsite even easier. Users can explore news, read impact stories, and easily make a gift or pledge.

“If you have a microsite, it also allows you to have its own brand,” Meyers said. “A microsite gives you more flexibility with a brand that’s an extension of your website, and more options for how we structured the information, versus just having to conform to what our main website had.”


Meyers' marketing and communications expertise and Dejnozka’s advancement strategy have contributed to the campaign's success, bringing decades of knowledge and best practices toward the success of such a lengthy and record-setting endeavor.

Regular in-person and team meetings kept the teams on a regular schedule. However, “the secret sauce is communication,” said Meyers, who shares a similarly long commute to campus with Dejnozka. “Ann and I would use our drive time to talk on the phone — we probably talk more than anyone else on campus!”

“His work in communications, branding the campaign, developing our marketing, microsite, and messaging helped support and leverage the work we're doing in advancement for Emma Willard,” said Dejnozka.

“We have a great advancement team and a great partner in Luke and our comms team at Emma. I was confident that we would be able to develop the compelling message needed to inspire online gifts and expand the donor pool.”

Infinite Horizon Campaign


Year Campaign


Key Priorities


Campaign Goal

Results and Impact

Since the campaign's launch, the school has seen remarkable outcomes and engagement from alumnae, parents, and donors, who have come together to make significant contributions. 

“A curious thing happened when we launched our campaign to the public. Not only did it inspire our alumnae, parents, and friends to join us and make an investment in our school, our students, and our faculty, but it inspired other donors to make their gifts to girls' education even at other schools,” said Dejnozka. “It’s raised the bar and the tide for all others.”

The Infinite Horizon campaign shows the impact of strategic planning, communication, and community involvement in fundraising across other aspects of the school, too.

“We've given overdue attention to our campus, and there's been notably greater pride. There’s engagement and support of Emma's community from various decades of alumnae with diverse backgrounds and interests, and more have come forward to connect with the school through great hard work,” said Dejnozka.

“We will have more interest from talented students because of an expansion of financial aid, and that's always a highlight. We've been able to develop distinctions in teaching and academic programs because of this campaign,” said Dejnozka.

With two years left for the campaign, Emma Willard School is well on its way to meeting its goals and expanding opportunities for future generations of young women.

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