Case Study: The Rock School for Dance Education

Kevin D. Hendricks
Case Study: The Rock School for Dance Education

We talked with Richard Clark, the chief advancement officer for The Rock School of Dance Education in Philadelphia, about their nonprofit, challenges, and using Rally.

“Rally was instrumental in converting our donorship to digital and online donation. That was a big thing for us.” -Richard Clark

What They Do: One of the most renowned ballet schools in the world.

Founded: 1963

26,000: School children in Philadelphia area impacted by The Rock School

Learn more:


The Rock School of Dance Education trains some of the best dancers in the world in their pre-professional program. Hosted in a five-story building in Philadelphia, they offer a residence and academic program, instruction, performances, scholarship programs, and more.

“If you looked at the top 10 dancers in the world right now in the best companies, on Broadway, and in London’s West End, you would find that they all have touched The Rock School,” Clark said. “We’ve simply touched the lives of thousands of young dancers, starting in ‘63. And 60 years later, we’re still doing it.”

Biggest Challenge: 

The organization was too focused on its earned revenue model and not cultivating donations.

Easy to engage: “Rally helped us engage donors in a way that is very easy for them to give,” Clark said. “People may want to give, they may have the impulse to give—but to sit down at their desk and pull out their stationary and write a check and stick it in an envelope and fill out a form and put a stamp on it and drop it in the mailbox is a lot harder than just clicking on a button in your email or text.”

Transitioning to digital: “Five years ago, when I came here, we’d see maybe 20 transactions a year and now you see hundreds, nearly a thousand a year,” Clark said. “We used to encourage people to mail checks because we didn’t want to pay the credit card fees. Now we get so many donations it’s not even a thought in the back of our mind.” 

How Are You Using Rally?

“Rally has actually converted our audience—pre- and post-pandemic—to a virtual giving audience,” Clark said. “I came in here with an 80% direct mail response, check after check after check. Now it’s probably a 15% direct mail response.” 

What worked: “The main way we’ve been utilizing Rally is in our direct mail campaigns,” Clark said. “On return envelopes we put ‘place a stamp here or text to donate.’”

How Did You Get Started With Rally?

At a previous nonprofit, Clark worked with a developer to create an app that tracked all kinds of data using geofencing and following engagement patterns, looking at psychographics and demographics. It turned out to be overkill. 

“We came to the conclusion that putting engagement in the hands of our participants was a very effective way to move them from point A to point B or just increase their basic engagement,” Clark said. “This was a lot simpler than developing an app and most people want nothing to do with the school’s app, if we had one. This was a tool to achieve similar goals with a stronger ROI and a very basic engagement level.”

Tactic: The Direct Ask

“It started with a 2017 Nutcracker curtain speech that I made,” Clark said. “Part of the ‘turn your cell phone off’ speech was ‘before you turn your cell phone off, open it up and text ROCK SCHOOL to 24365 and then support programming like this and support having children from underserved schools coming to see programming like this and our scholarship fund.” That initial ask brought in $1,700. 

“We’re hooked at that point,” Clark said. “The ROI exceeds the cost, definitely.”

The next year saw about $5,000 in donations from the curtain speech.


“I think people were first fascinated with the idea: ‘Oh, this is great. I did it. It worked wonderfully,’” Clark said. Some of the board members, who already give a lot, would throw in an extra $1,500, “just because they like the idea that we’re doing it. They’re enamored with the concept.”

It helps that people are already engaged: “As a school, there’s a lot of good feeling and good will that goes with giving here,” Clark said. “We have a short reach and those we reach are engaged”

Ukrainian Refugee Program

The Rock School is joining other schools in hosting refugees from Ukraine. Seven students will be staying at The Rock School, the largest contingent in the program. 

“They were completely without home, without place, risks in their homeland, worried about their families—but now living and thriving in our dormitory,” said Clark.

They’ve launched a campaign to support this effort, hoping to raise $350,000 to host these students for a year. They’re more than halfway to the goal.

Expanding reach: “The audience we had for this campaign wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t used text-to-donate as a function of expanding our reach and the accessibility of giving for our donorship,” Clark said.

The program builds on deep connections with Ukraine:

  • “One of the most famous and talented dancers in the world, Christine Shevchenko, is Ukrainian,” Clark said. “She came to The Rock School when she was 12 years old.”
  • “Philadelphia also has one of the largest Ukraine communities in the country,” Clark said.

What’s Next?

“Having this conversation is nice because it gives me 20 minutes worth of presence of mind in this particular channel, and then I’ll start thinking about it and I’ll start making changes,” Clark said. “When my four-year-old daughter’s asleep tonight and I’m done with my other writing, I’ll probably start noodling away on Rally and putting workflows together to generate more revenue.” 

Some of those workflows include specific targeting to share more info with people one-on-one:

  • “Like if someone wants to sit with somebody for coffee and say, ‘Oh, you want to learn more about our board, text this number and you’ll get a password to go in and look at our board introductory packet.” 
  • “Or if you want to learn about the history of the organization, you can do this here. Just text Rock History to 24365 and people can learn the history and have it end at a donation portal.”

Clark also envisions doing more texting, something they don’t actually do very often. But he thinks it would be a good fit for the Ukrainian student campaign as well as their upcoming gala event. 

“The nice thing about phone numbers is you can segment area codes,” Clark said, already brainstorming about how he could make even better use of Rally.

Download: Rock School of Dance Embraces Digital

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Case Study: The Rock School for Dance Education Embraces Digital
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