These four online elements are essential to school bonds.
When it comes to online school bond campaigns, you need to reach as much of your community as possible—and tell a good story.
When facing a school bond election, your district has to focus on the all-too-important task of telling your bond story—why you need it and how it will impact your students. Utilizing your online platforms to post clear and consistent information about your bond will help your community become even more informed about and invested in the story of your schools.
So how can you leverage your district’s online spaces to tell the multifaceted story of your school bond? By creating an online bond campaign that cascades across channels but connects back to one constant and reliable source.
A focus exclusively on social media, for instance, could exclude many of your community’s voters; after all, not all demographic groups use social media equally. But posting about your bond only on your district website may do the same, since your community beyond your staff and families may not spend much time on your website. The key to telling a compelling and transparent bond story is to make sure your audience is as large and informed as possible.
We reviewed dozens of district websites and social media pages to pinpoint some common trends among online bond campaigns. What we found were four essential elements for success. With a focus on these factors, your online bond story will not only reach a wider audience but help you gain the support you need at the polls.
1. Centralize your school bond story.
When it comes to providing your voters with up-to-date information about your school bond initiative, there’s no more reliable online tool than your bond proposal’s landing page. This page should serve as the major hub of information for your entire campaign, allowing any and all content shared online to be linked back to one reliable, consistent source. Even after the vote, this landing page can be used to provide construction updates or information about future bonds and levies.
In Texas’ Chapel Hill ISD, passing a bond in 2023 was a must for two reasons: The district hadn’t successfully passed a school bond in 16 years, and the bond they’d run the previous year had failed by a narrow margin. To inform the community about their new $113.9 million referendum and its three proposals, the district designed a wide-ranging bond page for their website. This landing page, linked directly on the district’s homepage, immediately greets visitors with a comprehensive menu bar, clear breakdowns of all three bond proposals, and links to additional resources.
By centralizing their campaign around a specific landing page, Chapel Hill ISD could provide detailed information to their community while using district social media channels to link back to their main site. “Our communications department remained consistent in utilizing our online platforms to communicate with our audiences,” says Belén Cassillas, the district’s director of communications. “Our audiences knew exactly where to go to find accurate and reliable information about the bond.”
Establishing a home base for all your bond information also gives you a place to direct voters who want to learn more—whether they’re coming from a newsletter, email, or printed flyer. “We had established our online platform as a trusted source of information, and community members actively sought out our website for updates, clarifications, and opportunities for dialogue,” Cassillas explains.
An updated and reliable bond landing page helped Chapel Hill ISD reach and inform their community of 15,000-plus voters, earning the support they needed to pass all three of their bond proposals. “By consistently utilizing our bond page and fostering a sense of trust and reliability, we were able to overcome historical challenges,” says Casillas.
2. Showcase your school bond’s impact.
Voters love to see how their dollars are being spent, and it’s no different with your bond. Time and time again, we see successful online bond campaigns that include videos and high-quality images showcasing students, school sites that need repaired or replaced, and even artist renderings of future projects. And there’s science to back up this strategy. According to Social Media Today, people are wired to process and respond to visuals 60,000 times faster than text. And while we only retain up to 20% of the words we read, we retain up to 65% of the information we receive through images or videos.
These visuals may live on a bond landing page, your school social media, or both. Giving your audience something to look at not only captures their attention but can also be an easy, accessible way to inform them of the district’s sometimes complicated plans.
In May of 2022, Kansas’ Hays USD 489 passed a $143.5 million bond—their first in over 25 years. To rally their community around the proposal, which focused on renovations and the construction of an innovative new high school, the district used their bond page to help visitors visualize what their schools might look like after the bond’s successful passage. This isn’t just a smart way to garner enthusiasm for your bond; it’s also a great way to let your supporters see the impact of their votes.
“Seeing those architectural renderings of what we could be offering our students was extremely eye-opening for our voters,” says district PR Director Chrisy Crough. “In the end, we successfully passed a bond that will give our students opportunities and experiences they would not have had before. The new facilities will be a game changer for our students and staff.”
So whether you’re showing them what could be or what already exists, giving your audience visuals is a quick, accessible way to help them understand your district’s needs and empower them to support your schools.
3. Break down the details.
As a school leader, you likely know more about referendums than you ever wanted to. But the general public may have questions like "How do bonds work for schools?" It’s often up to your team and your advocacy groups to make sure voters know what your referendum entails, what the tax impact will be, and why your district needs it to pass. That’s why it’s always a good idea to break down the details of your proposal and share them in accessible, easy-to-understand ways.
Wisconsin’s Athens School District did just that in 2023, when they asked their community to pass a four-year operational referendum to help save their schools from consolidation. “By listening and learning from conversations held with community members, and recognizing the specific information voters were seeking, we provided focused social media posts while sharing our story,” says Superintendent Andrea Sheridan.
The district used Facebook and Instagram to share posts that broke down the referendum’s potential impact on their schools and on taxpayers. They also used social media to encourage voters to attend information sessions and to visit the district’s dedicated referendum landing page. By outlining the referendum’s many benefits and highlighting the importance of voter support for their schools, Athens was able to pass their measure with 74% community support.
4. Amplify student voices.
Often, your best advocates are sitting in your district’s classrooms. After all, who knows your schools better than your students? Incorporating student voice into your online bond campaign is a great way to share information while also being authentic. Share quotes from students describing needed repairs or upgrades in their schools, or have them interview staff members on the bond’s potential impact. No matter how you include student voice, keeping kids front and center in your bond story is always a winning strategy.
In 2022, Spring ISD in Texas passed three bond measures for a total of $850 million. This success didn’t happen by chance, though. Spring ISD spent months informing and rallying their community around the three proposals.
One effective approach the district took was to create and share an animated “Bond 2022” video narrated by students. As the video begins, a student briefly details all the improvements that the district’s previous bond has made possible since being passed. Then he “passes the mic” to another student. “In case you didn’t know, Texas school districts only receive funding for daily operations,” she says. “That means things like new buildings, safety improvements, and important technology have to be funded by a voter-approved bond.”
The video explains what bonds are, why they’re necessary, and what Spring ISD’s bond hoped to accomplish—all with the voices of students. “Everything we do is for our students, and that includes our plans for growth under the bond program,” says Superintendent Dr. Lupita Hinojosa. “So it was really important to have that student voice included, and I think our voters really connected with that.”
Successful school bond campaigns are built on trust.
No matter why your district is running a bond, one thing remains true: Maintaining trust and transparency with your community is paramount. This trust should anchor your online bond campaign. Sometimes too much information can bog people down. But when it comes to bonds, providing as much information as possible—in the right ways—will minimize dissent and misinformation and keep you in control of your district’s bond story.
So use these essential elements accordingly: Centralize your bond information, give your audience memorable visuals, get deep into the details, and remind voters who they’re supporting by using student voice in your online campaign. Always remember to tell the whole story of your bond in appealing, accessible, and informative ways. That’s how you’ll push voters to the polls and push your district into the future.
Originally published as "Four Essential Elements of an Online Bond Campaign" in the Summer 2023 issue of SchoolCEO Magazine.
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