Storytelling on your School’s Website — An Interview with Finalsite’s Tim McDonough

Tim McDonoughTim McDonough is the Director of Client Success at Finalsite. I have known Tim for several years as we have crossed paths at many conferences. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Tim about Finalsite’s website work with schools and how storytelling is a key component of a school’s Web strategy.

What are the most important ingredients in a school website today?

“The most important ingredient needed for a school website is a story about what makes your school unique told by visuals, whether it is videos or a photos. Facts don’t stir emotions and encourage action. People look to rationalize decisions they’ve already made emotionally with facts. Also, it is important to make it easy for people to find what they are looking for as usually the website is the first impression.”

What does it mean to have a responsive website design and why is this important?

“A responsive website is a web design approach aimed at providing the best experience (easy to read, easy to navigate, etc.) across a wide range of devices. In short, a responsive website ensures the end user has great experience with the website whether they access the site on a desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet.”

How should a school utilize a website as their content hub?

“Think about your website as a marketing tool rather than a content hub. Often, websites that are cluttered with summer reading lists, directories, forms and more, do more harm than good. Information on the front-end should include recent news and upcoming campus and athletic events, pictures, and videos. If you’d like to create a content hub for constituents, use private online communities. Within these communities you can create areas for constituents to collaborate and find all the information they need in an organized, secure environment.

If the content is not marketable, it should be in a private area on the website. Everything that is publically viewable should be marketable.

Ultimately, as an end user, you want the content relevant to you. For example, if my kids are in the upper school, I don’t need information about the lower school field trips.

Schools should be very conscious about the content they are pushing out to parents and students and how that content is likely to be digested within the context of all the other information people consume on a daily basis. People’s time and attention are valuable commodities and should be treated as such.”

How should a website be used to convey the story of their school?

“As a prospective student or parent, I care about who will be teaching my children, how this school is different than the others I’m considering, how it is safe, how my kids will fit in, will they get a good education, where will they go to school next, and how much does it cost? Answer those questions with pictures and short videos that are easy to find and prompt people to act, and your site will be working for you (see examples below). A good website will bring the school’s unique school story and culture online.”

Can you give us some examples of exemplary website designs that Finalsite has created that showcase storytelling and use their website as their content hub?

Charlotte Country Day School 

“Charlotte Country Day’s website offers an engaging and intuitive experience from the very first click (or scroll), asking visitors, “Are you ready?” With page-width photos showcasing the school’s academic, athletic, and student life aspects, as well as pop-up student testimonials, it’s easy to immerse yourself in life as a student at Charlotte Country Day. Plus, their replacement of text content with infographics on the homepage is genius.”

Baylor School

“Baylor School set a new standard for school websites with their new parallax scrolling homepage and responsive design. Looking to set the same standard of excellence in their Web experience as they do in the classroom, Baylor’s website is packed with engaging content that invites you to click, scroll, hover, watch, learn, and read.

My favorite part about this homepage isn’t just the content, but their desire to capitalize on it: Scroll all the way to the bottom and you’re invited to request more information, visit the campus, or apply.”

St. George’s School

“St. George’s School will be at the top of anyone’s list, but for potential boarding students who may find it difficult to visit, St. George’s new website provides an all-encompassing, engaging, and informational site that provides you with that “campus experience” without needing to leave your home. Scroll down St. George’s School’s homepage and you’ll find photo, videos, specialty programs, student stories, news, and call-to-action buttons.”

Tim, thank you for your work with private, independent and faith-based schools. I love the three school website examples that you provided as it sets the mark for other schools to consider. If you are interested in reaching out to Tim, you can email him at