How RPMS Moved their Annual Fund Online to Record Success



The Rogers Park Montessori (RPMS) is a co-educational day school that serves children 2-14 in the Andersonville neighborhood on the north side of Chicago, Illinois.

Using the Montessori philosophy of education, the school community inspires each child to reach their highest potential, as an individual and a learner, and to become a vital member of the global community.

To support their mission, RPMS has the generous support from families, alumni, grandparents, and friends. But when the pandemic hit and the team couldn’t continue their typical in-person special events, there were many questions running through their mind.

  • What will fundraising look like this year?
  • How will we continue to provide the best school experience for our students?
  • If we can’t gather in-person, how will we reach our donors?



It wasn’t a question of if, but how RPMS would continue to fundraise. The team was determined to keep going.

“We quickly came to realize three important things: The need still exists. The population still has the ability as a whole to give. And there’s still a desire to be helpful,” said Billy Surber, Director of Development at RPMS.

From there, the RPMS 2020 Annual fund went completely online.

The goal was to not only create a great annual fund, but a powerful online giving experience – one that would highlight their mission, bring people together, and ignite giving in this new giving landscape.

They turned to OneCause’s Online Giving technology to make it happen.



RPMS hit the ground running and created a plan to make their 2020 Annual Fund an undeniable success. They were focused on:

  • Raising essential funds for the school
  • Reaching and connecting with donors online
  • Engaging families in the community in a unique way
  • Providing supporters easier ways to give

The team went live with their online annual fund and began executing a strong digital marketing campaign. To the team’s surprise and delight, it started to pick up momentum!

“While the pandemic did effect some of the families’ ability to show their financial support, what we quickly came to realize is that their desire to give was still alive and strong,” said Surber

To continue the momentum of the online annual fund, the team relied on these 3 key best practices:

  • Focus on recurring donations
  • Maximize digital marketing efforts
  • Make online giving dynamic
  • Keep the annual fund top of mind

Focus on Recurring Donations

Amongst all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the RPMS team was certain about one thing: the need to provide an unwavering, positive learning experience for its students. To do so, the team needed a way to make the donations that were coming in sustainable.

“Think about NPR, PBS. They have great success with sustaining that recurring gift, and I think nonprofits need to think about that more,” said Surber.

Not only do recurring donations help nonprofits, but they also may help out donors as well! A $600 donation may not be possible immediately, but $50 a month could be very feasible!

RPMS found success by giving their donors a wide variety of ways to support them during this time.

Maximize Digital Marketing Efforts

An online campaign needs powerful online marketing. The RPMS created an email marketing campaign that targeted donors based on how they’ve previously supported the school.

Whether the supporter was new, loyal, or lapsed, the focus of each email was to create a compelling story that tied back to the purpose of the annual fund–being able to make the 2021 school year possible.

Families were asked to give where they felt most comfortable. This was a different strategy than years past, where RPMS would encourage a standard donation amount. The RPMS team found that when a specific donation amount was given, it alienated people who couldn’t give that much and cut off people who could have given more.

“50% of donors gave more this year than the year prior. I attribute that to two things. The first being that families are saving money on things such as going out to eat or going to the movies. And the second is that they were grateful that we continued to stay open and provide their children with fully realized Montessori experience,” said Surber.

Make Online Giving Dynamic

RPMS is known for its community – a community that is used to gathering together in-person for fundraising events. That’s why the team knew it was important to make the online giving experience as engaging as possible.

“The OneCause technology itself is simple and dynamic simultaneously–which it has to be. If it’s too complicated, no one is going to pay attention,” said Surber.

Surber went onto explain that in a typical in-person event, a supporter’s eyes are shifting from one thing to the next, fully present in the event. He wanted to create a donation page that did the same – captured and kept their
attention to the very end.

“The truth is whether it’s online or not, people live on their technology. That’s why it’s important to choose the right solution,” said Surber.

Keep the Annual Fund Top of Mind

Since they couldn’t gather their supporters together in person, the RPMS team had to get creative in order to keep the annual fund top of mind!

They decided to create a huge thermometer at the front of the school for families to see at drop off and pick up. It kept the families up to date on the progress of the campaign while also serving as a reminder to show their support when possible.

“The thermometer became a physical manifestation of all the online work. It was a reminder to families that we’re here because of your support,” Surber.



RPMS was blown away by the support of their community. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, the desire to give was there and it was strong. Check out these incredible results from their Annual Fund:

  • 137% to original goal
  • 92% participation rate for families
  • 99% participation rate for faculty and staff

Connect with a Cause

To learn more about the Rogers Park Montessori School and donate to their cause, please visit their website.

Wrapping Up!

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