Effective PTA Communications

Multi-Ethnic group of children outdoors, arms raisedWe live in a media-rich environment with smartphones and the internet providing information in an almost constant stream. PTAs used to be able to send home a newsletter with a brightly-colored front page and know that families would see it, but the “Backpack Express” is much less effective these days. So how can your PTA’s communication be heard in this constant clamor for attention? How can your PTA communicate effectively with your school community?

Building a PTA Community

When you think about your PTA community, who do you see? Is it just your members? Is it all the families in the school? Does your PTA community include teachers and administrators? What about those in the neighborhood around your school? What about grandparents who live in another state? An important part of effective PTA communications is building your PTA community. That means reaching out and engaging everyone in that community.

Fortunately, there are a number of resources available to PTAs to help engage your community. While newsletters may still be a part of your PTA communication plan, e-mail lists, websites, and social media provide additional tools to connect your PTA with those who care about the students at your school regardless of where they live.

Your PTA’s Communication Plan

There are a variety of reasons that PTAs need to communicate:

  • To inform members about upcoming events
  • To solicit volunteers
  • To advocate
  • To share their PTA’s successful events and programs
  • To thank those who have helped out

All of these reasons have one common thread—to tell your PTA’s story. If you approach your PTA communications with this goal in mind, you are providing vibrant descriptions of how your audience can engage with your PTA and how your PTA is making a difference in your school and in your community. Your PTA communications become one of the most effective tools in bringing new members into your PTA.

To effectively tell your PTA’s story, you need a communications plan. A communications plan should include:

  • All of the communication channels your PTA will be using (print, website, e-mail, social media, VolunteerSpot, etc.)
  • Your PTA’s communication goals
  • Your target audience(s)
  • The frequency of communication on each channel
  • The deadlines for submissions for each communication
  • A list of who will be submitting content
  • A budget for your communication tools (printing costs, domain registration, etc.)
  • An evaluation plan to improve your communications over time

Georgia PTA has a useful video presentation on building your communications plan that can walk you through the process of creating a communication plan and the basics of implementing some communication channels. North Carolina PTA also has a video on creating and executing a PTA communications plan.

As you develop your plan, remember that a diverse school community needs a diverse array of communications to reach out to everyone. Consider how to connect with families of English language learners or those without internet access (or only through their phone). Think about how you can make those families unable to attend PTA programs and events at the school still feel connected to the PTA.

Your communications plan should also incorporate the rules and policies that your school or district may require. Be aware of photo restrictions, sharing children’s names, and other policies that might affect your PTA communications.

Social Media

Many PTAs have given up on printed newsletters and PTA websites in favor of e-mail lists and social media. A Facebook organization page allows a PTA to share things that would have gone in a newsletter or on a website. Twitter allows a PTA to share timely, relevant information with its followers, link to Facebook or website posts, use hashtags for events, and share important reminders or quick photos at events. These and other social media tools provide a powerful way to get your PTA story out and to connect with a broad audience.

But as Spiderman taught us, with great power comes great responsibility. Be sure to have a social media policy in place specifying who has access to and responsibility for your PTA’s social media presence. Make sure that more than one person has the login information to your social media accounts. Ensure that those who will be posting to Facebook, tweeting, or using other social media are aware of any restrictions on sharing photos that your school district has. National PTA has a sample social media policy that you can use as a template for your PTA.

Blowing Your PTA’s Horn

Your PTA’s communication should not be restricted to just your school community. Be sure to share your PTA story to your community as a whole. Send out press releases announcing your upcoming PTA events. Many school districts have a public relations or communications person whose job is to submit press releases to the local media, and they may be willing to submit releases on your PTA’s behalf or can provide a list of media contacts. While you may not end up with a news story on your event, you may have a newspaper photographer stop by to take some pictures or have a TV station record some footage that will run under their closing credits.

By communicating with your broader community, you have the opportunity to make the public aware of the great things your PTA is doing to improve the lives of children. Remember, if your PTA isn’t telling its story and sharing its good news, no one else will either. And with increased awareness of the positive effect your PTA is having comes the opportunity to partner with businesses and other organizations in your community, whether through grants, co-promotion and cooperation on events, and the ability to spread your message to a wider audience through speaking opportunities, guest blog posts, and articles in non-PTA newsletters.

Communication Tools for Your PTA

A primary communication tool should be the Communications Quick Reference Guide, a part of the online PTA Back-to-School Kit. Here you will find information on PTA branding, newsletters, websites, social media, marketing and media relations, photography and videography, and much more. Be sure to also look for the Illinois PTA piece on the Role of a Membership Marketing Chairman, which includes a sample press release and social media guidelines.

For PTA e-mail communications, a simple free e-mail list from Google, Yahoo, or other provider might be all your PTA needs. However, Benchmark provides free e-mail marketing for PTAs, allowing you to send e-mails to 100,000 contacts up to seven times a month for free. In addition, your PTA would have access to all of the advanced functions, including segmented e-mail lists, real-time reports on who opened your e-mail or clicked on a link in it, surveys and polls, sign-up forms, and more. Illinois PTA currently uses Benchmark for its Weekend Update e-mail.

For signing up volunteers, Illinois PTA has partnered with VolunteerSpot to provide local PTAs, councils, districts, and regions with a free premium package upgrade (up to $300 in value). The premium package provides unlimited custom group pages and up to 15 assistant organizers (so one person doesn’t have to run sign-ups for every event), up to five custom registration fields (e.g., t-shirt size), and more. You also get the standard reminder and thank you e-mails to those who sign up as well. To take advantage of this member benefit, follow the directions on our member benefits page.

Navigating Illinois PTA’s New Advocacy Tools

You may not think of yourself as an advocate, but if you’ve ever spoken to your child’s teacher about a problem your child was having, if your PTA has ever brought a concern to your school’s principal, if you’ve ever spoken up at a school board meeting, you are an advocate.

Illinois PTA has new advocacy tools to make being an advocate for your child to state and federal legislators easier than ever. You can find these new tools under the Take Action item on the Advocacy page of the Illinois PTA website. Here’s a tour of the four tools, powered by Voter Voice.


The Actions tool is the home for advocacy campaigns, legislative blog posts, voting scorecards, and other advocacy information. At early points in legislature sessions, many bills before the Illinois legislature are shell bills—bills that have no rules or laws specified that are simply placeholders for future legislation. Once the legislature puts actual language into these bills, we make an assessment of the bill based on our platform, continuing positions, or resolutions. Depending on the point in the session, we may have one or two advocacy campaigns active at a time. Once an advocacy campaign begins, an alert will be sent to everyone on our email list. You can expect to see an advocacy campaign in the coming weeks. When you click on a campaign, you will have information on the issue, Illinois PTA’s position, and a ready-to-go letter or e-mail that you can modify and send to your legislators.

Blog posts provide information on various legislative issues and successes. The legislative scorecard debuted this weekend, and provides you with information on how Illinois legislators voted on several bills that Illinois PTA took positions on. You can search based on your zip code to find your legislators, or you can search on their name. There are separate tabs for the Illinois House and Illinois Senate.

Find Officials

The Find Officials tool lets you enter your zip code (and street address, if your zip code is divided into more than one legislative district) to identify your state and federal legislators. The search result provides you with your federal (President, Vice President, Senators, and Representative) and state (Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, State Attorney General, State Treasurer, State Comptroller, State Senator, and State Representative) elected officials.

Each official’s name is a clickable link that provides their office address in both Washington, DC  and Springfield, their local district office address, phone and fax numbers for both offices, e-mail address, website, social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube), committees they serve on, office staff and duties, and more. Click the checkbox next to one or more names, and then use the Compose Message button to send a message directly to those officials.

Find Legislation

The Find Legislation tool lets you search for legislation based on key words (e.g., “bullying”). Doing so brings up all legislation on the issue from the current term of the Illinois legislature. If you want to switch to federal legislation on the topic, use the Change Jurisdiction dropdown menu in the title bar and hit Search again. You can use the menu again to switch back to Illinois legislation.

The search results present you with clickable links to each bill. Each link provides you with the bill’s title, sponsors and cosponsors, actions taken, and a link to the bill’s page at the Congressional or Illinois General Assembly website.

Below the search tool is a View Key Legislation link. This link takes you to a list of bills that the Illinois PTA is tracking and our position on the bill. Each of these bills is a link that provides you with the same information as the search tool.

Quick Sign Up

The Quick Sign Up tool makes it easy for you to add your e-mail to the Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Network. Simply enter your e-mail address and zip code, and when there is an Illinois PTA advocacy campaign under way, you’ll get a quick e-mail with information about the issue and a link to a ready-to-go letter to contact your legislator. We do not sell or provide your e-mail address to other organizations, and your zip code is used only to connect your legislators to your e-mail address. That allows us to provide you with a customized letter depending on whether your representative is already supporting, opposing, or is undecided on an issue or to target only those with representatives on a specific committee.

These new advocacy tools provide you with a simple and powerful way to contact your elected representatives to speak up on behalf of your child. Be sure to sign up for the Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Network so legislators will hear the voice of parents and teachers when it comes to our children.

10 Ways to Get Community Support for Your School

As school budgets continue to shrink, school districts are turning to their local communities to enhance children’s education. The Family Education website has a slide show of 10 Ways to Get Community Support for Your School.
Their ten ideas are:

  1. Organize workplace tours
  2. Have a career dayChild And Adult Reading
  3. Volunteer reading programs
  4. Interview local community members
  5. Attend community events
  6. Organize summer learning activities
  7. Be active on social media sites
  8. Arrange face-to-face interaction
  9. Encourage use of school facilities
  10. Organize special programs for star students

Engaging your community in your school and PTA provides an opportunity for those who do not usually interact with the school district to see the great things going on in the schools as well as a chance to see the needs that the school may have. Such engagement can be beneficial to building support for school referenda to build new buildings, renovate existing ones, or increase school funding. Be sure to check out the article for details on each of the ten points above

Planning for a Successful PTA Year

Submitted by Brian Minsker, V.P. of Programs

So here you are, a brand new PTAPortrait Of Happy Family In Garden president, with the National PTA Back-to-School Kit and Illinois PTA Local Unit Packet USB drives sitting next to you packed full of information, and you are starting to feel a little overwhelmed by the job you’ve taken on. Take a deep breath and relax—with a few helpful pointers, being president can be one of the easiest jobs in the PTA.

  • First, recognize that as PTA president, you are a leader and your role at the school has changed. Your relationship with the principal, teachers, and other parents will change as well, with you serving as a communicator, mediator, and resource for all of them. Remember that effective leaders listen and encourage, offer a vision but don’t dictate, pass success and praise on to others but take responsibility when things go wrong, and build teams rather than empires.
  • As PTA president, you don’t have to do it all yourself. “Superman” leaders that do everything themselves may get things done in the short term, but damage the PTA in the long term. No one wants to step into the shoes of the leader who did everything herself, so don’t hesitate to delegate work to others. Delegating is often one of the hardest parts of being a PTA president, but doing so shows that your PTA is welcoming to those who want to be involved, engages those who are excited to volunteer their time and energy to the PTA, and helps to build a team that will keep your PTA running strong for years.
  • Be a servant leader. Your job as president is to provide those under you with the tools and resources to be successful. Be sure to share resources from those USB drives—we want you to make copies from them for your PTA. Communicate openly and often with others, asking not just how their work is going but also what you can do to help them.
  • Share with your members what the PTA is doing. Many people would gladly volunteer to help if only they knew what was happening and how to help. Don’t make your PTA meeting the only place to find out what the PTA is doing. Don’t be afraid to try out new ways of communicating with your members, whether it’s an e-mail list, a Facebook page, or Twitter reminders of upcoming meetings and events. Take advantage of your Illinois PTA free premium upgrade and use VolunteerSpot to coordinate volunteers at your next event.
  • Remember that communication is a two-way street. Listening is one of the most important jobs of a PTA president. Listen to your principal to find out how he feels about PTA events and activities. Listen to all parents, not just your friends or those at PTA meetings, to make sure they feel informed, included, and welcomed by the PTA. Listen to teachers and staff, not just your child’s teacher, to find out ways the PTA can better support the education of every child in the school. And listen (or read) to National PTA, the Illinois PTA, and your district or region director—they all have resources and information to make your job easier.
  • Make sure that your principal is your partner at the school. While a PTA is an independent organization, we are most effective when we work with our school principal. Be sure to keep your principal in the loop regarding PTA plans, and solicit her feedback on ideas for new events as well as on how past events went. Remember, both the PTA and your principal have the same goal—a quality education for all of the students in your school.
  • Use a procedure book, and make sure your committees do as well. PTA leaders learn over time, and when they leave the PTA, that knowledge can go with them unless your PTA has used procedure books. If you received a procedure book as president, take the time to review it. If you didn’t, create one as you go through the year. Keep track of the things that you do, who you contact, and how you do things, and make sure your committee chairs do as well. A procedure book also makes it easier to recruit new volunteers to take over next year.
  • Run effective meetings. Everyone has sat through PTA meetings that dragged on and on, and those meetings certainly don’t encourage people to attend the next meeting. Make sure you have an agenda and stick to it. Contact committee chairs and others with PTA business ahead of the meeting to determine what needs to go on the agenda. Start on time. Listen to the discussion during the meeting with an eye toward bringing a decision to a vote or passing the issue off to a committee to make a recommendation at the next meeting.
  • Keep on top of your PTA’s finances. Your treasurer oversees the day-to-day details of your PTA’s finances, but as president you need to be aware of the financial aspects of the PTA as well. Make sure your treasurer is submitting monthly reports, using deposit and expense vouchers, and getting two signatures for every check. Don’t be afraid to ask your treasurer questions, including whether PTA dues were paid on time or your PTA’s IRS Form 990 was filed.
  • Thank your volunteers. Be sure to thank all of your volunteers and to thank them often. Thank them at the PTA meeting, thank them at the event if there’s an opportunity to speak to everyone at once, thank them in the PTA newsletter, and perhaps even with a short, hand-written thank-you note. Don’t wait until the school volunteer assembly at the end of the year. When volunteers feel valued and appreciated, they are much more likely to volunteer again.