In a PTA survey, 49% of respondents said the reason people don’t join PTA is that no one asked them to. The way we ask people to join needs to be personal, powerful, and meaningful. Yet, even with the passion we have for PTA’s Mission, asking other people to join can seem daunting.
Why is it difficult to ask parents to join? Fear. The fear of hearing “no”; fear that asking will strain friendships; fear that a “no” is failure. If the person you ask to join PTA says “no,” you have not failed. You have simply provided that person with an opportunity to help children that he or she has chosen not to take advantage of right now. Be sure to ask again sometime—the answer might be “yes.” And it’s those “yes” responses we receive each year and the ways in which communities nationwide benefit from parent involvement that make asking all the more worthwhile. To help those involved in PTA membership drives and recruitment activities overcome their fears, this article provides practical tips and the know-how for making “the ask” easier and more successful.
Reasons for Asking
You are asking for a good cause. By asking someone to join PTA, you are empowering that person to help make a difference in his or her child’s life. Surveys show that, in general, children of involved parents have better school experiences, higher grades and test scores, fewer disciplinary problems, and more supportive teachers. One of the best ways parents can be involved and show their support for their children is by joining PTA.
PTA is the most recognized school organization. A 2007 survey by L.C. Williams and Associates found that 94 percent of adults are aware of PTA and more than 91 percent have positive impressions of PTA. People understand what PTAs do for schools and are more inclined to join a recognized school organization than to join an unfamiliar one. The audience probably expects you to ask. It’s no secret that PTA success is based on membership. So it’s logical that someone from PTA would ask parents, school administrators, and community members to consider joining. If people expect you to ask them to join and you don’t, they might think they are not needed or are not welcome. People involved with children’s education expect to be invited to join PTA, so go ahead and ask!
Methods of Asking
- Consider why someone would join PTA. One way to focus your sales pitch is to consider the most likely reasons a prospective member might have for joining PTA. In a PTA survey conducted in October 2004, the number one reason given for joining PTA was “to work to improve the school for the benefit of my child/children.” That’s an important place to start your pitch.
- Build your case. Going straight to a yes-or-no question—especially “Do you want to join?”—can cut off a conversation and result in a “no” before you’ve had an opportunity to build an effective case for joining PTA. Therefore, begin by asking nonthreatening, open-ended questions, such as, “You may be aware that parent involvement is important to a child’s success in school. What type of parent involvement activities would you like to see at your child’s school?” Always be respectful and aware of the prospective member’s time. If someone is late for a meeting, don’t corner him or her in the hall. Find a time to talk that is good for both of you; 15 minutes is usually sufficient. Don’t forget to ask for the membership. It’s easy to get into the conversation, enjoy the rapport, and then forget to make “the ask.” “The ask” should be personal, powerful, and meaningful. Typically, membership “asks” are made to large groups of parents, for example, at a Back-to-School night or assembly. You can help the success of that “ask” by making eye contact with parents, asking if they have questions, and sharing why PTA is important to your school. Most importantly, be sure to tell parents “When PTA gets involved, children benefit; when you get involved in PTA, the child who benefits most is your own.”
- Use the “backpack express” only as a supplementary route for recruitment. For decades, PTAs have placed invitations, event announcements, and PTA communications in children’s backpacks, hoping these materials would make it safely home to the parents. This method may have worked better when parents felt more obligated to join PTA, but those days are past. Faced with many choices of where to spend their resources, parents will weigh their involvement in PTA against other competing interests. If other groups make face-to-face “asks,” explaining in detail why the parents should be involved, while PTA is sending home fliers that may or may not make it out of children’s bags, then PTA is not going to win as many members. The “backpack express” can certainly be used as a reminder, just as e-mail and other forms of social media can be used to follow up. However, if it is the only method of recruitment, your membership efforts will not be seen as personal, powerful, or meaningful, and membership may actually decline.
Most objections to joining PTA fall into one of four areas:
- Perceived value
Here are some suggestions for responding to those objections.
- Time. When parents say they don’t have time to join PTA, what they are probably saying is that they don’t want to volunteer dozens of hours each week. Some people think that to be a PTA member you have to be a volunteer. Therefore, you need to explain that PTA appreciates everyone’s membership, whether or not the member volunteers, because each member increases PTA’s ability to advocate for children. It’s true that PTA cannot operate without volunteers, but if you emphasize volunteering and in doing so dissuade individuals from joining altogether, you’ll never have those individuals as members or as volunteers.
- Impact. Parents want to know if their membership in PTA is going to have a positive impact, if it will benefit their children. You can tell them, emphatically, “Yes!” Decades’ worth of research shows that when parents are involved, students perform better in school. They receive higher grades and test scores, have better school attendance and lower rates of suspension, are more likely to graduate high school, and are more likely to pursue postsecondary education. Children of involved parents also exhibit increased motivation, better self-esteem, less drug and alcohol use, and fewer instances of violent behavior. Those great benefits come from parent involvement, a major focus of PTA.
- Perceived value. Explain to prospects what they get for their membership dues. In addition to materials and benefits from the local and state PTA, members receive these benefits from National PTA:
- Online resources at PTA.org, including select articles from Our Children magazine;
- PTA Takes Action Network, with a monthly electronic newsletter about federal legislation affecting families, schools, and communities, and action alerts that help members make a difference on key issues;
- Special discounts, offers, and promotions from national companies (see PTA.org/Benefits);
- Free e-learning courses on PTA basics, as well as on subjects, such as conflict resolution and goal setting, that can be applied to members’ personal lives; and
- Discounted member rates for the National PTA Convention and on subscriptions to the print version of Our Children.
People like to join organizations that make a difference in the lives of others, are educational and beneficial to the community, allow them to network with successful people, and provide opportunities to have fun. Highlight that your members have opportunities to mix with diverse individuals through local PTA activities. Emphasize once again that for parents the number one benefit of PTA membership is the ability to help their children. For many parents, that is reason enough to join.
- Cost. PTA membership is one of the most cost-effective investments parents can make in their children’s education and schools. For an average of two cents a day, parents can help improve their children’s school experiences. PTA members are better connected to their schools, are better informed, and have access to moneysaving discounts and benefits.