Rethinking the Advancement Tech Stack

Advancement teams are drowning in software, but it’s often de-centralized and doesn’t always meet every need. Is your school’s advancement tech stack moving you forward or holding you back?

Aug 15, 2022  |  By Angela Brown, Niche

technology stack concept art

When it comes to technology, there are some tools that are top of mind for business offices, such as student information systems, billing software and emergency management platforms. But when was the last time you peeked down the hall or across campus to find out which tools were being deployed for advancement? What’s behind all of the invoices and credit card statements that come across your desk, and are those tools helping or hindering your school’s efforts to recruit families and share its story?

Ahead of the release of Niche’s inaugural PK-12 Admissions and Marketing Technology Survey, consider these three data points regarding independent schools’ use of technology in advancement offices:

  • 40% of responding professionals reported that they did not believe they had all the tools they needed to effectively perform the duties associated with their roles. In addition, feedback from open-ended responses indicates that integration among existing platforms is a widespread challenge.
  • Only 9% of responding schools could confirm that their school websites were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design. While this isn’t a requirement for private and independent schools, it is a best practice. And with 36% of schools planning to invest in website redesigns in 2022-2023, this is an important consideration.
  • 64% of consumers think companies who text value their time, are progressive, and would recommend them to others. 68% of consumers like chatbots because they provide quick answers to burning questions. And yet, 84% of responding schools said that they do not use chatbots on their websites and 71% reported that they do not use SMS messaging (texting) to engage with prospective families.

More is not necessarily better

“Centralized communications.”

“Something workable and comprehensive. We have separate services for CRM, student information and admissions, billing, etc.”

“A single database across departments or an SIS that speaks to all of our other databases.”

These are just a few of the many open-ended responses that shared a clear message: While many schools have no shortage of software tools between admissions, marketing, fundraising, and the business office, only rarely do those platforms “talk to” each other. And that’s a problem.

As you think ahead to 2023, a technology audit would be a great task to add to next summer’s to-do list. Consider the platforms being used by your admissions, fundraising, marketing communications and business offices. Record their features, openly discuss their benefits and drawbacks, and consider their costs relative to the benefits they provide. Then ask:

  • What features do we love and what can we do without?
  • What’s saving us time versus adding to our plates?
  • What are we missing?
  • This platform was designed for education, but is it really meeting our needs?

Use this as an opportunity to create a blank slate for the software you’re using and create a list of “must-haves” for each team, including which platforms need to integrate with one another. This exercise will get all of these cross-functional teams aligned on institutional needs rather than departmental needs, and you can build your wish list of service providers from there.

Choosing Software Platforms is a Team Sport

When schools have too many disparate platforms that don’t work well together, it’s because in most cases, those platforms were chosen in siloes. Admissions needed a customer relationship management (CRM) system. Marcom needed a project management system. Development needed a more effective tool for email. And all of those tools were chosen without those department leaders engaging with one another and looking for opportunities to identify integrated tools, or, at a minimum, tools they could all benefit from using.

Even small schools are too complex not to take a collaborative approach to choosing software. And in addition to making everyone's lives easier with integrated data, systems, and workflows, aligning on software selection can also be a cost saver.

Consider Your End Users and Work Backward

Another important consideration in software selection is the end-user: How are current and prospective families experiencing the school's current software and how do they factor into decisions about other platforms? The advancement office's technology stack should be built with evolving consumer needs in mind, from changes to the ways that parents and caregivers search for schools, through enrollment and parent and student communication. In addition to your institution’s needs, it’s important to consider your constituents. For instance, a student information system (SIS) that works well for administrators and teachers could be confusing to navigate and technologically clunky for parents and students.

The advancement office's technology stack should be built with evolving consumer needs in mind, from changes to the ways that parents and caregivers search for schools, through enrollment and parent and student communication. 

And while this survey wasn’t focused on recruiting and human resources, HR-focused tools are also important. Recruiting new teachers and staff is hard enough right now without antiquated HR tools further complicating the process. Like it or not, the software the school uses is an extension of its institutional brand and “customer” experience, so it’s important to choose wisely.

Give Yourself Room to Pivot

Finally, it’s important to consider the contract terms for each of these vendors, both as you audit what you have and think about the future. Business officers often have a keen eye for these things and have the school lawyer on speed dial, but advancement leaders may need a reminder in this area. The world changes too quickly and schools’ needs evolve too frequently for long-term, multi-year contracts to make sense for most platforms, and while changing platforms can be time-consuming in some areas, that shouldn’t stop schools from keeping their options open and being willing to make a change if a particular tool or platform is no longer meeting the school's or families' needs.

The independent school technology landscape will only continue to evolve and expand. Savvy school leaders who work collaboratively across teams, put their end-users first, and regularly review their existing tools with a critical eye will be best positioned to ensure that they are efficiently and cost-effectively meeting their institutional needs and the needs of their internal and external constituents.

The full results of the Niche PK-12 Admissions and Marketing Technology Survey will be released in September 2022. They can be found at


Angela Brown

Angela Brown is senior enrollment insights leader for K-12 schools at Niche, a platform where students and families choose their school. For more information about admissions and marketing strategies for schools.


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