Founders’ Day, February 17th, celebrates the legacy and work of Alice McLellan Birney, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and Selena Sloan Butler to improve the lives of children. The date marks the first National Congress of Mothers, held in Washington, D.C. in 1897. As part of that celebration, National PTA designates the week that includes Founders’ Day as PTA Take Your Family to School Week.
This year, PTA Take Your Family to School Week is February 13-17, and the theme is Celebrating the Changing Faces of Families. Research shows that families engaged in their children’s education results in greater student success, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, or parents’ level of education. PTA Take Your Family to School Week provides PTAs with an opportunity to engage the families at their school in their children’s education. It also promotes your PTA and the work you do in your school, which can lead to more families joining your PTA to support that work.
Now is the time to think about how your PTA will bring families into your school building. Do you want to provide the opportunity for families to share a meal with their children, either before, during, or after school hours? Will you work with your principal to provide families the chance to participate or observe in the classroom? Do you have no idea where to start?
If your PTA isn’t sure where to start, both National PTA and Illinois PTA have resources to help you host a fun, pre-planned event for the families at your school.
National PTA also has an invitation letter to send to families and specially-sized graphics for your PTA to use on social media to help you promote your event. Plan your event now to celebrate PTA Take Your Family to School Week.
Social media is the place for PTAs and other organizations to engage their members. Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or some other platform, social media lets PTAs keep their members informed about events, share information, and connect in ways that printed newsletters in backpacks never could. Now, Skills Platform and several nonprofit social media experts have collaborated to create The Charity Social Media Toolkit.
The toolkit is a free online resource to provide not just the fundamentals and tactics for social media use but also inspirational case studies from across the nonprofit sector. The toolkit will help your PTA develop a social media strategy, determine what platforms to use, and leverage those tools to benefit your PTA. Chapters include:
Each section or chapter concludes with three top tips and three links to further reading on the subject. Check out the full toolkit and turn your PTA into a social media powerhouse.
PTAs and PTSAs at the middle school and high school level often struggle. It’s not that families are no longer involved with the school, it’s that they are now spread out among athletic boosters, band, orchestra, drama, and other groups as well as the PTA. Here are some ideas to fire up families to engage with your middle or high school PTA.
- Focus on Communication
Middle and high school students are notoriously uncommunicative about what goes on at school, and a newsletter would likely end up buried on the bottom of a backpack until the end of the school year. That means that families are hungry for information about what is happening at the school, and PTA is in the perfect position to be that information source.
Create an e-mail list to send information out to families and students. Having a laptop at registration, open house, and other events where people can type in their e-mail addresses will save you having to decipher handwriting and avoid bounced e-mails. Work with your school administration to see if the daily announcements can be e-mailed out to families. It may be easier to set it up so a school secretary can send it out once the announcement sheet is ready.
- Make Your PTA Meetings Informative Rather than “Business-y”
Adults already sit in lots of business meetings all day, and adding another one in the evening is not very appealing. Turn your PTA meetings into sources of information rather than conducting lots of business at them. General membership meetings are only needed to approve the annual audit, to adopt or amend the budget, to amend the bylaws, to elect a nominating committee, and to elect officers. Move all other business matters to your PTA board meetings or committee meetings. Highlight what it going on at the school both academically and with extra-curricular activities. Consider having a “vendor fair” of all the clubs and sports at the school. Have teachers spotlight new curriculum or interesting class projects. Provide presentations on student and family needs, such as staying on the college-ready path through middle and high school, how to apply to college, how to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or families role in driver’s education.
- Cut Back or Eliminate Fundraising
Just as middle and high school families are spread out among many student organizations, those organizations are often all raising funds for their activities, many of them at the start of the school year. Avoid the competition and fundraising fatigue by cutting back or eliminating PTA fundraising.
PTAs should always plan their program year before determining how much money they need to raise to implement that program. Changing your PTA’s focus from buying things for the school to doing things for the school, students, and families can reduce the amount of money your PTA needs to raise. Consider making your membership dues sufficient to meet your budget. While some families may be concerned about the higher dues, many are happy to join when told that the PTA will not be coming to them with fundraising programs during the year. Look at non-dues sources of revenue such as PTA member benefits from Illinois PTA and National PTA, affiliate programs from national or local stores (e.g., a percent of each purchase is donated to the PTA), or restaurant dine-out nights. Remember that to protect their 501(c)3 status, PTAs cannot endorse commercial entities (e.g., “Eat at X restaurant because they’re giving PTA 10% of sales tonight.”) but can state that businesses are supporters of the PTA (e.g., “X restaurant is sponsoring a Lincoln PTA night tomorrow by donating 10% of all orders.”). In other words, you can’t tell people to support a business, but you can say the business is supporting the PTA.
- Make It Clear that Joining PTA is to Support the PTA
Many parents, especially those fresh from active elementary school PTAs, have a fear of being asked to do things and cite that as a reason not to join the PTA. Make it clear to your families that joining the PTA is solely to support your PTA and the programs you provide. Let them know that signing up for the PTA e-mail list isn’t limited to PTA members (you’re providing information to all families, and once they see all the good things your PTA is doing, they are more likely to join). You can still do the occasional ask for help through your e-mail list, but be sure to break it down into small bits (e.g., donating paper products, plastic utensils, a dish, or drinks for a teacher appreciation breakfast).
- Don’t Forget the Students
Think about becoming a PTSA if you are not one already. Middle and high school students are beginning to take more responsibility and also looking for activities that look good on college applications. Consider adding a student representative (or one from each grade) to your PTSA board. Use teacher and administrator recommendations for potential representatives, as they know which students are well-connected with their peers and what is going on in the student population. Have the student representative share what students are concerned about at your meetings. Let students sign up for the PTA e-mail list as well, since they may not be able to hear the morning announcements well in their first-period classroom.
Photo © 2008 by David Shankbone under Creative Commons license.
As the school year comes to a close, many PTA leaders look forward to an opportunity to put their feet up and relax until school starts in the fall. However, there is one thing that PTA leaders should be planning now to make their PTA more successful in the coming year—planning on how to welcome new members.
New members are the life blood of every PTA. We have built in turnover as PTA leaders have their youngest child move on to the next level of their education and your PTA loses that experienced leader. Procedure books can help your PTA retain that knowledge and experience, but without a volunteer to use that procedure book, your PTA isn’t moving forward.
Your PTA’s prime new member recruiting time is right at the beginning of the school year, whether it is during school registration days, open house, or your first PTA meeting. Families new to your school will be looking for information on what’s going on at the school and how they can be involved. By creating a welcome packet, your PTA can make a great first impression on these new families and increase your membership. People are more willing to join a group that has its act together and knows what it’s doing and where it’s going. The time to create that welcome packet is now.
Creating Your PTA Welcome Packet
When creating your PTA’s welcome packet, you want to provide information on your PTA and on your school. The contents should provide the information you would have liked to have known back when you first arrived at your school. You may want to organize the information into sections about your PTA and about your school. Things you may want to include are:
- Welcome Letter: A welcome letter from your PTA president should be short, friendly, and provide a quick overview of what’s in the welcome packet. Be sure to provide your contact information and welcome questions and suggestions.
- Important Dates: Provide a list of your PTA meeting dates and times, any PTA programs and events that are already scheduled, Take Your Family to School Week, as well as dates such as your PTA’s Reflections You can also include important school dates, such as Parent-Teacher Conferences, school holidays, and exam dates. The more comprehensive your calendar is, the more likely it is to be stuck to the front of a refrigerator.
- How to Join the PTA: Include your membership form, information about dues, and a list of PTA member benefits. Share how PTA membership helps your PTA and your school even if a member doesn’t volunteer. Remind people that you do not have to have a child in your school to join your PTA—consider asking grandparents, community members, and businesses to join your PTA. You will provide information on volunteering later, but when you are asking someone to join is not that time. No one wants to walk into a party and be asked right away if they can help wash dishes in the kitchen afterwards.
- PTA Officers and Chairmen: Provide the contact information of your PTA officers and chairmen. This list can also include brief descriptions of what each chairman does.
- Volunteer Opportunities: When listing ways that people can volunteer, be sure to provide information on how much time is required and whether the work needs to be done at school or can be done at home. If you have or will have committees working on programs or events, invite those interested to join the committee with no commitment beyond attending the committee meetings. This lets new volunteers find out what is involved in an event without worrying about being asked to do a lot of work. Chances are, when they see that they might only need to go get some paper goods, talk to a couple of businesses about donations, or sit at a registration table for an hour-long shift, they will step up without being asked directly.
- Information on Navigating the School: This might include a school map, how to put money in your child’s account for lunch, and all those other little things you had to figure out when you were new to the school.
- Presentation Matters: How you present your welcome packet is just as important as what you include in it. At the beginning of the school year, families are flooded with information—forms to fill out, letters from teachers, information on activities and groups, and more. Make sure that your welcome packet is easy to read, well organized, and easy to skim and search for information. Consider using different colors to identify different areas of information.
- Put Yourself in a New Family’s Shoes: Think back to when you were first walking in your school’s door. What questions did you have? What information couldn’t you find? Who could answer those questions? Be sure to talk to some of your members that first joined last year to help figure out what information you need to provide.
- Be Inclusive: If possible, provide information in other languages if there is a significant number of families that speak that language at home. By starting now on your materials, you will have time to arrange translations of at least some items.
- Go Digital (But Not Just Digital): The younger an adult is, the more likely they are to prefer accessing information digitally. Make sure your welcome packet is available online, whether through your PTA’s website, Facebook page, or e-mail list. Consider making a QR code (those boxes of dots you scan with your phone) to take people to your welcome packet online and having it displayed at your PTA information table, on a PTA bulletin board, or on a sign at your school’s main office. You’ll still want to have a paper version of your welcome packet as well for those families that have limited internet access or prefer a hard copy to stick on the refrigerator.
- Your Welcome Packet is a Marketing Tool: Your welcome packet should present your PTA as a well-organized and well-run association that is doing great things in your school. Be sure to share what your PTA does, why you do it, and what you have accomplished. Be sure to include outcomes—what changed because of your PTA’s work—and not just activities.
- Add Your Own Member Benefits: Consider reaching out to businesses in your area to provide additional member benefits specific to your PTA. Costs of creating and producing your welcome packet can be offset by selling advertising space to businesses. Remember that these ads cannot imply PTA endorsement because of your PTA’s 501(c)3 status. These businesses are PTA sponsors or PTA supporters, not the other way around.