News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Membership Recruitment, Retention, and Engagement

conv logo 2Illinois PTA understands there are challenges to PTAs in recruiting and retaining members. We believe we can best address these challenges by communicating with you, the local unit members, in finding out what works for your PTA and what doesn’t. Through online conference events and convention networking workshops, we have discovered some of the challenges you face and have brainstormed together some suggested ideas for meeting those challenges. Most recently at our 114th Annual Convention, we offered a “Recruitment, Retention, Engagement–Membership Networking Workshop.” Challenges and solution ideas expressed in a past web conference were presented and added to by the participants in the workshop.

Why Join PTA?

Why do people join PTA? What does PTA offer them? PTA offers families the opportunity to get involved in their child’s education, to volunteer to make the educational experience for the kids in their community the best it can be. Studies show that family involvement is one of the most valuable assets to a child’s success in school. Along with family involvement, PTA encourages local units to reach out and partner with their communities (businesses, city councils, service clubs, chambers of commerce, etc.) to be involved in supporting their efforts on behalf of children, families, and schools. Many people take advantage of PTA leadership development opportunities and assistance with resources for advocacy on behalf of children at the local, state, and federal levels.

Why Don’t People Join PTA?

At the workshop, participants were asked to share their experiences on why people don’t join PTA? Here are the challenges that were discussed:

  • Fear of being asked to volunteer for anything or everything
  • Parents volunteer at school but don’t feel the need to join PTA
  • Too many PTA meetings to attend
  • Cultural differences
  • Busy with other volunteer activities (e.g., sports, Scouts, dance, place of worship, etc.)
  • English as second language–can’t understand and participate in meetings or activities
  • Parents working full time can’t volunteer during the school day
  • Lack of awareness of PTA or what we do
  • Unable to pay dues
  • Uncomfortable with interaction with administration of school

The workshop participants then brainstormed ideas to deal with each challenge.

Fear of Being Asked to Volunteer or Parents Volunteer but Don’t Join PTA

  • Be sure to inform parents that while we welcome those who are able to volunteer, membership in PTA helps support your unit financially and more members provides PTA a larger voice in local, state, and national advocacy with governments and other policy makers.
  • Offer a program where you ask for a commitment of only a few hours each year from each member (e.g., PTA’s Three for Me Program). That way members are assured they won’t have to work at every event.
  • Offer a contest and reward parents for volunteering the most hours. Keep track of each volunteer’s hours either monthly or yearly. Hold a volunteer appreciation event and either just acknowledge the hours volunteered by each member or give out little awards. Many businesses are happy to donate items that can be used for this purpose.
  • What about and incentive like “reserved parking!” One school started a program where each year they place the name of every member who joins into a drawing. At a PTA meeting before a special school event, a name is drawn and the lucky winner gets preferred parking reserved at the school for that event. It was very successful in recruiting new and keeping returning members. What about doing this with a few reserved seats at the event? This would promote partnership with the school leadership. What about requiring that the winner be present at the PTA meeting to be awarded the incentive? Would that perhaps increase attendance at meetings?

Too Many PTA Meetings to Attend

  • PTAs do not have to have a meeting every month throughout the year. Your local PTA bylaws dictate how many meetings you have to hold each year. Amend your bylaws to reduce the number of meetings your general membership has to hold each year. General membership meetings are only needed to approve the audit report, to adopt or amend the budget, to elect a nominating committee, or to elect new officers.
  • Pick months for your meetings when you can involve the children in a short program or performance. Everyone enjoys coming out to see the kids perform. Ask for help from your choral or band departments on ideas for programs. Use one meeting to highlight students’ artwork. If your school participates in the PTA Reflections Program, hold a meeting to recognize the students’ achievements.
  • Pick months where you can supply a light meal or snacks. Many participants in the workshop voiced that members really enjoy coming to meetings where there is some sort of treat!

Cultural Differences

  • Find ways to reach out to parents of different cultures and help them feel welcome. Educate them that parents are able to participate in school activities.
  • Host workshops to help educate these parents and families about participating in PTA and school activities. Consider holding these workshops at different times of the week and day to allow more people to fit them into their schedule.
  • Hold an event highlighting the different cultures in your school. One PTA suggested that having an event where children from each of the cultures represented in their school did a presentation demonstrating aspects of their culture. Some used dance and song, others used language activities, and others used a sampling of their culture’s food. It is a huge success and is done every year now. What a great idea!

Busy with Other Volunteer Activities or Parents Working Full Time Can’t Volunteer During School Day

A great way to include parents and families who cannot volunteer during the school day is to provide opportunities for them to assist with things for which they do not have to be present:

  • Make a treat for a party or special event and let their child bring it in that day
  • Simply ask those parents who cannot be present to send in the paper goods. Again, allow the child to bring the items the day of the party. (Allowing the kiddos to bring the items in allows them a sense that their parents are contributing and supporting them as much as those parents who are able to be physically present.)
  • Send home craft work needed for PTA events and allow parents to cut, fold, staple, color, sort, etc., during any free time they have outside of work or other activities. Be sure to do this well in advance of the event to allow parents time to finish without feeling stressed.

English as a Second Language

  • Consider holding two separate meetings: one for English speaking members and a separate meeting for individuals who may need more time understanding the meeting discussion.
  • Have the agenda translated into their language.
  • If possible, have someone who speaks the language of those in attendance to assist.

Lack of Awareness of PTA or What We Do

  • Toot your own horn! Be sure to have information available about all the good things you do for kids. Don’t just think in terms of fundraising; talk about all the events you hold for families and children as well as the hours your members volunteer to assist at school.
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation or video showing what your PTA does throughout the year. Show the presentation or video at kindergarten or back-to-school orientation.
  • Be sure to host and advertise parent education on topics of interest to your community.
  • Inform members about the advocacy successes of Illinois and National PTA.
  • Take advantage of Illinois PTA and National PTA training. Many interesting webinars are available online. Training courses are for all members, not just PTA officers.
  • If your school has a mail-in registration, ask if your PTA can include information about what your PTA does and membership in your PTA with the mailing.
  • Check out the PTA Back-to-School Kit at www.ptakit.org. The section on Membership contains a wealth of resources for promoting PTA.

Unable to Pay Dues

  • This is a difficult challenge for PTAs. One suggestion is to find community partners who might be able to contribute funds to sponsor families to become members of PTA who may need assistance with dues.
  • Title I funds can be used to pay PTA dues for those families receiving free or reduced lunches.

Uncomfortable with Interaction with Administrators of School

  • Get parents to interact at school by inviting parents to participate in parent-led enrichment activities during the school day. Parents volunteer one hour per week to come in and teach an enrichment course about an area of their interest/expertise. These could also be implemented as an after-school club.
  • Host “breakfasts,” “coffees,” or “sack lunches” for informal times that parents can meet with administrators and express concerns or ask questions.
  • Invite an administrator to attend your PTA meetings to talk informally about things going on at your school. This may help alleviate any discomfort as members get to know the administrators.

General Ideas for Engaging Families–Including Some Programs Ready to Go!

  • “Donuts for Dads” and “Muffins for Moms”: Host quick morning events for parents as they drop off children for school.
  • “Curbside Bagel Hello”: One participant indicated that the process for dropping children off at school was such that parents could not park and come into the building for a quick morning event. The suggestion was a “curbside bagel hello.” Literally stand out by where parents drop off children and hand them a bagel and a “Hello” from PTA. This is true thinking outside the box!
  • A family movie night is a very popular event to engage families. This involves some expense by the PTA to purchase the license to show a movie, but then you can engage the community by finding partners to donate pizza, ice cream, popcorn, drinks, etc.
  • Find successful programs ready to use on the Illinois PTA website under Programs then Programs to Go.
  • National PTA has programs with everything you need to promote and administer a family event for a PTA Back to Sports Night Program or a Family Reading Experience.

If you have ideas on any of the items listed or if you have challenges and solutions you would like to share, please send them to the Illinois PTA Membership Marketing Director, Rhonda Jenkins, at rjenkins@illinoispta.org. We will share these ideas in future One Voice Illinois posts, on Facebook, and on the Illinois PTA Membership Page.

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Leadership

conv logo 2At the 114th Annual Illinois PTA Convention, National PTA Executive Director Nathan R. Monell gave a presentation on Tomorrow’s Leaders: Attract, Develop, and Orient Leaders through Transition that focused on an issue that every PTA faces—recruiting and developing new leaders. He began his presentation with the PTA mission:

To make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.

He asked the audience how does engaging and empowering families and communities help make every child’s potential a reality? The audience’s answers echoed what research has shown, that engaged families lead to children who are more successful in school and better prepared for life and that communities that value education are economically more prosperous. It really does take a village to raise a child.

Selling the “Why” of PTA

Mr. Monell then asked the audience about why they originally became involved with PTA and why they are involved now. The reasons for originally starting with PTA were the reasons most people give: to help their child, to learn what was happening at the school, or to improve the school. The reasons for currently being involved with PTA were broader in scope: to help all children, to make a difference, or to improve all schools and communities.

He tied why people are involved with PTA with Simon Sinek’s TED talk on leadership. Sinek said, “You want to attract people who believe what you believe. They don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Thus, to recruit new members and new leaders, it is essential that we share not just what our PTAs do for our schools, but also why we do what we do.

PTA Values

There are five key values that PTA holds, and successful PTA units are usually strong in all five of them. These values are:

  • Collaboration: PTA values partnerships with teachers, principals, and school districts, with other organizations, and with our communities.
  • Commitment: PTA is one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world, and the reason people volunteer for PTA is a commitment and dedication to the PTA mission.
  • Diversity: PTA values diversity because we cannot speak for every child if we do not accept that every person brings strengths and a unique perspective to our association.
  • Respect: PTA respects every member as having an important voice in our association, helping to provide new ideas and connections.
  • Accountability: PTA leaders are responsible for ensuring that the PTA mission informs everything that the PTA does.

Vision for the Future

So what are the tools and talents that have been effective in seeing our mission and vision realized? There are three key tools in moving from values, vision, and mission to effective PTA leadership:

  • Communication
  • Influence
  • Teamwork

The key to effective communication is to ask open-ended questions, to listen to the answers, to appreciate the feedback, and to affirm the value of their voice. By doing so, we can empower people to participate in joint problem solving, encourage better connections between people, and engage other people to want to help PTA leaders.

Exercising influence is a critical skill for PTA leaders. By developing the ability to influence the beliefs of others and using that influence to promote the mission of PTA, leaders can become talent magnets, bringing together a team of believers who inspire collaboration with other people and other organizations. A crucial part of wielding influence is developing a “yes and” strategy when barriers are presented. That means that when an idea is brought forward, a PTA leader doesn’t say, “No, we tried that before, and it didn’t work.” Instead, the answer should be, “Yes, that’s a good idea and something we’ve tried before. When we did it last time, these are the problems we ran into. Has our situation changed since then so that those are not problems, or can we think of new ways to solve those problems?”

Teamwork is the third key tool of PTA leaders, and the PTA values are essential in building an effective team. PTA leaders should be seeking out individuals who have a passion for the mission of PTA, and then use the communications skills above to make connections and to identify the skills that others bring to the PTA. PTA leaders must encourage others and influence them to bring their passion and strengths to the PTA leadership team. Finally, PTA leaders need to reach out to diverse populations for new ideas and learning opportunities.

Expanding PTA Leadership

It is not enough to build a PTA leadership team. You must put in place processes and procedures to help your team members to be successful. Essential parts of those processes are:

  • Orientation
  • Mentoring
  • Inclusion

When a new volunteer joins your PTA team, you need to make sure that they understand how the PTA functions and how they fit in with the rest of the team. Orientation is how you accomplish that. As a PTA leader, you should engage with those interested in joining the PTA, explain not just the mission of the PTA but the reason for the work, and determine what goals and tasks best fit their skills and time. You need to make sure that they understand the connection between their role and the intended results so that they have a sense of what success looks like. You can’t put someone in charge of a fundraising event, tell them that $12,000 was raised last year, and then after the event say, “Last year’s fundraising was a disaster. The $12,500 you helped raise was our second worst fundraising event ever.” You must lay out the goals and expectations ahead of time.

Another effective tool in making PTA team members successful is mentoring new board members. Successful mentoring of new PTA leaders requires a plan for ongoing communications, whether that is pairing a new leader with an experienced one or having other PTA leaders check in regularly to answer questions and provide advice. Effective mentoring helps a new PTA leader understand how their work is contributing to the mission of the PTA, reassures the leadership team that the new leader is making progress, and ensures that the new leader is not losing their passion for PTA because they feel unappreciated or do not see how they are contributing. Finally, PTAs need to offer leadership training to encourage new leaders to build their PTA skills, making it possible to move into positions of greater responsibility.

One PTA leader at the workshop shared how their PTA had implemented a mentoring program for new leaders. They had noticed that it was not unusual for someone to chair an event for many years in a row, especially if their children were spaced out well, resulting in a leader running a program for a decade before moving on with their last child and only leaving behind a procedure book. To solve this problem, the PTA implemented a standing rule that no one could be on an event’s leadership team for more than four years. The first year was to serve as an apprentice for the existing event leader, followed by serving as the event leader in years two and three, and concluding the fourth year as a mentor to the incoming leader.

Finally, inclusion can be an effective tool in supporting PTA leadership. This can be done by inviting potential PTA leaders to be a guest at a PTA board meeting, to serve as a committee member, to be part of a brainstorming process on new programs or initiatives, to be involved in planning a new activity or program, or to participate in training. Illinois PTA training courses are open to any PTA member, not just elected PTA officers or chairpersons. Likewise, National PTA has created several online training courses that can be taken by any PTA member.

Building a Legacy of Leadership

Building a successful PTA leadership team is a significant accomplishment, but a PTA is at its best when it has built a legacy of leadership to sustain those successful leadership practices. Building a successful legacy involves being aware of what has already been accomplished, demonstrating our commitment to the children of today, and appealing to our next generation of leaders. It requires focusing on the PTA mission in everything that we do. Most of all, it needs us to share and demonstrate that which keeps all PTA leaders going—passion.

Mr. Monell concluded his workshop with four questions for every PTA leader to ask themselves:

  • How do you contribute to the sustainability of PTA?
  • Are you moving in the direction that will help PTA grow?
  • Would your passion show in your “elevator speech” to engage new leaders?
  • Are you leaving PTA in better shape than when you arrived?

Procedure Books—Preserving Your PTA’s Knowledge

Portrait Of Beautiful Young Girl SmilingEvery PTA has that one person, the one who took over an event and turned it into something more than it ever had beenbefore, the event that every parent and child at your school looks forward to all year. Their kids were spaced just right, and they’ve been doing this job for years and years. But now that youngest child is getting ready to leave your school, and now you’re faced with the challenge of finding someone new to fill those big, big shoes being left behind. Your task is a lot less challenging if you have one key item in your possession—a procedure book that explains everything that this special volunteer did over the years to make the event what it was.

Why Have a Procedure Book?

PTAs have volunteer turnover built into them. People rarely stay involved in a local PTA once they no longer have a child at a school. Procedure books play two critical roles for a PTA:

  • Preserving a PTA’s Knowledge: Volunteers may move on, but a procedure book preserves what they did, how they did it, who they contacted, what was spent, and much more. Your PTA has worked hard over the years learning how to meet its goals, how to make programs and events successful, and how to meet all of its legal responsibilities. A procedure book means all that hard work isn’t wasted by being lost when a volunteer moves on.
  • Helping to Recruit New Volunteers: Stepping into a new PTA position, whether as an officer or a chairperson, is a bit like a journey to a new land. A basic procedure book serves as a map of that new land, while a detailed procedure book can be a wonderful guidebook. A procedure book makes it easier to find someone willing to take on a PTA position, knowing that they are not setting off into that new land with nothing more than a flashlight and a hearty wave from their fellow PTA members.

What Should Go In a Procedure Book?

A procedure book should contain all the materials needed to accomplish the work of the office or committee, plus any additional information a new volunteer would find helpful. A three-ring binder makes it easy to add and remove materials to keep the contents up-to-date. A set of tabbed dividers can help keep sections organized. The items listed below are suggestions for a procedure book, but are not necessarily complete. If you feel that a certain document would be helpful to the person following you, be sure to include it in the procedure book.

  • Contact Information
    • Contact information for the chairperson/officer (name, address, e-mail, phone number)
    • Other relevant contacts (e.g., other officers, committee members, etc.)
  • Goals and Responsibilities
    • Job description for the position
    • List of overall goals
    • Plan of work for the year
    • Budget information
    • Reimbursement procedures and forms
    • Tax-Exempt Letter
  • Event Planning
    • Materials from previous year(s), including past budget and how it was spent, previous contacts, promotional materials, etc.
    • Event planning templates, including timelines, volunteer responsibilities during event
    • Correspondence related to the event (e.g., e-mails, notes of phone calls and conversations, etc.)
    • Materials distributed by the committee (e.g., calls for volunteers, flyers, posters, etc.)
    • Post-event committee reports, including how budget was spent, who was contacted, who volunteered to help, what went well, what went wrong, and what you would do differently the next time
  • PTA Administrative Information
    • Bylaws and Standing Rules
    • Agendas and Minutes
    • Financial materials (budgets, financial reports, etc.)
    • Contact information for all officers and chairpersons
    • Calendar of events and responsibilities for each month
    • Records retention schedule

At the end of the year, the PTA president should be sure to collect the procedure books from all of the officers and chairpersons who are not continuing in their current position. They should also collect a copy of each committee report form at a minimum for the PTA’s records so at least a basic procedure book can be recreated if one should not be returned.

Six Keys to a Smooth PTA Leadership Transition

As your school year comes to a close, it’s time to make sure your PTA board provides a smooth transition to next year’s board. Your board has worked hard all year for your PTA’s success, and now is not the time to damage that legacy by having your PTA fall apart over the summer or early next school year. Here are six things you can do as a current officer or board member to help provide for a smooth leadership transition.

  1. Meet with your successor. Provide them with the materials you inherited in your position and what you’ve added. Be sure to include a procedure book. Discuss what worked, what didn’t, and what you’d do differently if you had the job for another year.Team Meeting In Creative Office
  2. Meet with the incoming leadership as a board. The new board will need to build their abilities as a team, even if only a few new board members are joining. The outgoing board can share their experiences of working as a group.
  3. Arrange meetings with contacts. Outgoing officers and committee chairs should take the time to introduce their replacements to key contacts such as teachers, administrators, community partners, and community leaders.
  4. Introduce the new board to your membership. Make sure your members see a smooth succession and know that their PTA and their children are in good hands. Be sure to share the abilities of the new team that led to their nomination.
  5. Update your PTA’s contact information. Make sure that they will get the Illinois PTA Local Unit Packet later this summer by filling out the local unit registration form (or the council registration form for PTA councils).
  6. Plan to step back. You may be moving to another position on the board, not taking a new PTA leadership position, or moving on to another school. In any case, you should plan on stepping back from the position you are turning over. Let your successor know that you are handing them the keys and letting them drive off without you sitting in the back seat (and, yes, this can be as tough as letting your teenager do the same with your car). Make sure they know that you are still there as a resource for them, but that you realize that they will do some things differently and that you will give them the space and support to do so.