Case Studies – The Bush School

Schools and education institutions are community-building organizations. A major strategic community-building lever for schools is to host events. These events might be engagement events, like celebrations, open houses, and parent-teacher conferences, designed to foster a sense of belonging and community among students, parents, and staff. They might be educational events, like seminars, workshops, guest lectures, and science fairs, that enhance the learning experience and provide opportunities for intellectual growth and development. They might be culture-creating, like sporting events, cultural festivals, and alumni gatherings, designed to strengthen connections and showcase school spirit. They might be fundraising events, like booster club initiatives, bake sales, drives with a specific goal, and more. 

 

In the case of independent and private schools, events play an even larger fundraising role. They serve as community-building events for the purpose of supporting the school. Like nonprofit organizations, grants and donations are essential to sustaining operations for independent and private schools. These donations are prospected, cultivated, solicited, and stewarded by Development offices, and they engage alumni, parents, major donors, etc. in this fundraising cycle. 

 

For independent schools, a tool that can help streamline event management, while instilling confidence in donors, parents, and alumni, is a tool that enables one of its strategic levers. 

This is precisely where RSVPify steps in, providing a reliable, easy-to-use solution that streamlines the event planning process, allowing schools to build their community via engagement and fundraising.

 

With that in mind, RSVPify sat down with Tiffany Kirk (Alumni and Donor Relations Manager) and Kerry Quinn (Event and Volunteer Manager) of The Bush School, a renowned independent coeducational day school in Seattle to learn more about how The Bush School team leveraged our software to make education event planning easier.

About The Bush School

Tiffany shared,

The Bush school is a K-12 independent private independent school in Seattle. We are now officially 100 years old and haven't moved much from our original location. We started in the founder's home just a couple of blocks from here, which is still standing. We moved to our current location in the early thirties and, while we’ve expanded our footprint in a few places, we  have really stayed here. We have an enrollment of about 711 students.  Our mission is really firmly rooted in creating and ensuring accessibility for students in Seattle with a commitment to values of equity and inclusion.

Tiffany serves as the Alumni and Donor Relations Manager, and in this role she supports any of The Bush School’s major fundraising efforts and connection points with school alumni. When talking about her role, Tiffany describes,

The unique thing about working in a K-12 independent school is that we have a fundraising office and an alumni office. My work before had always been done in places of higher education where you'd expect to see this, but most public schools I'm aware of don't have fundraising, alumni engagement, etc. In this way, development is a pretty cool and niche thing to be able for this community.

Kerry serves as the Events and Volunteer Coordinator. She plans and leads events that are hosted by the development office. She also serves as the liaison between the Families Association and the school. Per Kerry, parent volunteers plan a lot of events, and one of her responsibilities is also to support them to host successful events. While Kerry is relatively new to her role, she embodies the community-building events professional. She shares,

The surgeon general came out with an advisory on healing effects of social connection and community.  I think about that and how creating an event is one of the greatest gifts you can give people. People want to gather and connect, and a thoughtfully planned event is such a gift.

While both Kerry and Tiffany are in the development office at The Bush School, they noted that they have different core audiences. Tiffany works with alumni; Kerry works with parents and donors. But they shared that it is important for them that they both represent the mission and vision of The Bush School in similar ways. This will extend to how they think about events (see below).

How does The Bush School think about events?

The team gave two separate responses, each specific to the audiences they serve, and one joint response about the value of events for the Development department at The Bush School. 

From an alumni standpoint – Tiffany shared that while her alumni strategy is not events forward, by the time events are a part of her strategy, she shifts her mindset from engagement to marketing. She described,

Ultimately, it's my job to get alums curious about what The Bush School is now and to make the idea of coming back and re-engaging with the school something that is attractive. I think that one of the things that folks in the alumni relations world gets sort of sucked into is that everything needs to be sort of heartstrings and storytelling and emotional impact. But really, if you look at the schools, universities that have really solid engagement, you go to social media and they're the ones with like the hilarious reels from football games, for lack of a better example, and an impressive web presence. I think that's why RSVPify is such a preference for me. It's really easy to brand it really nicely.

On event size and types of events, she described,

The size of events I throw for alums is not ever 1,300 people here. The most I'll see outside of the Centennial is  a little over 100.  Maybe 120 will register for alumni day. Then from there, typically smaller events, but they are never terribly complex.” She plans events to meet alumni where they are - e.g., Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Events in these hubs are typically smaller happy hours co-hosted with a former faculty member. This is a powerful draw for alumni, whose connections to faculty members are generally strong, thanks to the student-led and experiential curriculum at The Bush School.

The largest, most involved event Tiffany has planned at The Bush School was the Centennial. The Bush School recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary. For the last three years Tiffany has been creating a series of events, culminating in a block party to celebrate. The Block Party was huge – picture summer concert meets street fair. There were over 1,300 attendees – current families, many alumni, faculty and staff, and more.


From a donor, parent, and volunteer perspective, Kerry noted that the

The role of events that I lead is to bring people together to support them.

In this definition, she provided a list of sample events she coordinates:

  • New Families Reception is an event that welcomes all the new families and gets people to interact with each other and engage and build a sense of community. 
  • The Volunteer Fair gets everyone together and shares volunteer opportunities, and in this way, events share information, letting parents and others know the ways they can be engaged with the school, and ultimately how they can help support the school. 
  • The Donor Recognition Party thanks people for the work that they have done for the school.
  • Parent University is an event to help support parents both at The Bush School and in the broader Seattle community. It is a meetup that shares parenting tools and resources – making what they practice at The Bush School accessible to everybody.
  • Celebrate Bush helps raise money for financial aid. This aims to support the mission of the school and make the education accessible to everybody.
  • Grandparents & Special Friends Day is an event that helps engage families by sharing the lower school experience with the families while creating a connection between the grandparents and their grandchildren’s school. 
  • Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. shows appreciation for those who give their time to The Bush School.

From the broader development perspective, Tiffany and Kerry shared,

All of these events exist as a, for lack of a better term, pipeline. We're stewarding folks. We're doing what we can in hopes that they, in one way or another, support The Bush School, whether that's through volunteering or giving up their time or talent or donorship. But all of it is meant to sort of steward them as supporters of the school and carry them along a relationship pipeline.

The Challenge

Prior to RSVPify, The Bush School was using myriad tools for event registration. Tiffany shares,

We'd use Eventbrite, Paperless Post, Evite, Brown Paper Tickets, and others. It was really very piecemeal and awful; we had all of our data scattered just all over the place. There was no sort of clear and expected look for constituents. There wasn't a consistent branding or point of sale experience for our constituents, which is actually really important from a trust and connection standpoint. With some providers - even with paid subscriptions - we'd see advertisements on the event pages. Just not a great experience.

She packs a lot in that quote! The Bush School needed an event management tool that could (1) represent the Bush School’s mission and vision with strong branding and a consistent experience for all event guests – whether they were alumni, parents, donors, or volunteers and (2) serve as a centralized place to track event attendance and engagement.

Tiffany commented on alternatives to the piecemealed approach, using two RSVPify alternatives: CVENT and Raiser’s Edge Events Module. Her comments on both are below:

  • CVENT. In prior roles, Tiffany used CVENT for events when she worked in higher education, She admits it was an upgrade from what the team had and she grew to learn it, but shared that it is not user friendly or easily usable. She described that CVENT took a lot of learning, and she needed to add workarounds to many of her events. 
  • Raiser’s Edge

We use Blackbaud (Raiser’s Edge) as our CRM. There is an events module there, but it is clunky and unattractive. I mean, we haven't figured out how you can even get a header image in there, so it's not a warm welcome.

The Solution

The team started their search online for an event management tool and found RSVPify. It was clear after the first few events that RSVPify would help level-up The Bush School’s event management process.

RSVPify has been my favorite of all of the event platforms that I've used. People need to gather for community - for their health, for their mental health. So what a great tool that you're building for people to create events.

Built-in Event Communications

The team described communications on a few different levels – the event website, invitations, and other email communications….

  • Invitations. Kerry shares,

I like the quote from Priya Parker. She's a speaker about gatherings, and she says an event begins with the invitation. So when we send an invitation, it has to make an impact. It’s something you start looking forward to. The invitation has to have the basics of the event and the reason why we’re gathering. And the invitation has to be easy to navigate, easy to use.

RSVPify’s email invitations and paired event website have made this easier and more streamlined for The Bush School team.

  • Event Website. With RSVPify’s event website, Kerry is able to communicate event details with guests. When details change, she can easily update the page – so there is one source of truth for the invitation.  She says,

It just makes communicating from when you send the invitation to when the event happens, streamlined, and it’s so great.

  • Event Communications and Reminders. Tiffany describes,

I do love the communications features in RSVPify, and I very much love that it's easy to turn on and off the reminder emails.

Most organizations like The Bush School opt to send a mix of event communications – like save the dates, invitations, reminder invitations, know before you go emails, and thank you emails. Just like Kerry and Tiffany, education organizations also opt to send curated, personalized emails using our suite of merge tags, tags, and more.

Consistent User Experience

With RSVPify, you can bring in every bit of your branding kit into your events. This is what Tiffany did, and for her audience it has made a big difference.

Alums are not people we see everyday, so they don't get the on campus branding or, you know, atmosphere experience. That's got to be what we build into the online or digital experience. And I would say that's my favorite part of RSVPify.

Reporting

Both Kerry and Tiffany commented on RSVPify’s dashboard and event-level reporting. For Kerry, logging into RSVPify and seeing quick counts of event attendance was clear, exciting, and confidence-instilling. For Tiffany, the event-level reporting is key. She describes,

For whatever reason, the majority of registration sites that I used will, like, pull if one person has registered for three people. I only see that one person and that they have other registrants. RSVPify is so clean; I can see everyone. I can see that they are paired as a group or if  there was one single registrant. I am telling you, that seems like the most simple thing, but no one except RSVPify does it. And it's so silly.

All-in-one

Tiffany described how RSVPify offers event management all in one space.

We have a landing page for events. It's really customizable, which is lovely. The communications, the ability to do all of the communications out of the RSVPify event specifically is really wonderful. The ability to personalize any of those communications is really lovely.

Ease of Use

Kerry shares, 

I am on the opposite spectrum of Tiffany. She's a highly skilled professional with invitations and creating these websites, and I'm new to it. I was a little bit nervous because I had never heard of RSVPify. It was so easy to use, and it made managing the guest management so much easier. I actually used it for Grandparents & Special Friends Day, and then had a phone call with another school, and they were asking me what we used to run the event. And I told them about RSVPify, and she had never heard of it. I told her to check it out; it’s great!

The RSVPify Factor

Tiffany and Kerry shared a set of savings that RSVPify brought to Bush School and additional benefits that stemmed from adopting RSVPify as the Bush School event management tool.

Savings — Time!

  • Event Setup. Tiffany reflects that relative to Eventbrite – for reunion events – RSVPify saves between 3-4 hours per event.
  • Coordination. Kerry shared that RSVPify’s custom questions setup enables her to ask questions like special access, allergies, and more. That RSVPify puts all of this information in one place, so neatly, has saved her time. She shares, 

As an event leader or manager, you have to communicate everything that is happening. RSVPify made it easy for me to do my job - i.e., to see numbers of who responded, who has not yet responded, communicating all in one spot, updating event details in a quick way. I feel like it saved me hours. If I had to do it with Evite and then resend out new information, it would have taken me much longer.”

  • Event Communications. Tiffany shares,

When we use a system that doesn't have a good communications platform built in… it adds so much time we have to build out or pull a new template.” With RSVPify, the team leveraged the duplicate and duplicate to draft features in our email-builder to save them time.

Added Benefits — Engagement and Identity!

  • Tiffany believes the See Who’s Attending Feature on the event website was a significant contributor to the overwhelmingly strong Block Party attendance. She believes the fact that others could see who was coming got others excited enough to come.
  • Both Tiffany and Kerry also spoke at length about the value of events for their organization. Tiffany reflected on this further as an added benefit from partnering with RSVPify.

I think that events are an opportunity to create a more visceral sense of who you are as an organization that is either difficult or really just impossible to fully convey via digital content. Done right. Events are an opportunity to apply humanity and personality to whatever content you're also putting out there in the education sphere. When you come to an event here you get a stronger sense of community and overall values of the institution and overall atmosphere.

RSVPify helps support those moments of humanity for The Bush School, and it’s something we’re really proud of!

Partner with RSVPify for your education training events

Are you looking to save countless hours planning education training events like The Bush School? Have questions about how RSVPify can partner with your organization to provide a custom suite of event planning tools designed for streamlining your upcoming fundraisers, student life functions, commencement events, or donor relations?

 

You can contact our Sales team here to book a demo and learn more about features, pricing tiers, and features specifically designed for higher education users.

 

RSVPify is proud to partner with hundreds of education institutions from around the world, to help these organizations continue the vital work that they do and spend less time on the mundane duties of event planning. We’re excited to meet you and help tailor a solution to fit your organization.

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