How to Grow Your PTA Membership

Membership is what makes PTA go. Members are our volunteers and future leaders, and they amplify our voice when speaking to school leaders and legislators. Some PTAs, like many membership-driven organizations across the country, have struggled recently to grow their membership. Here are some tips and PTA resources to help you grow your PTA membership.

  • Register for your Local PTA Leader Kit from National PTA.This kit has a multitude of resources for PTA leaders, but the key membership item is the free Design Your PTA/PTSA Membership P.L.A.N. that walks you through developing a membership recruitment plan tailored to your PTA, school, and community and loaded with examples, questions to consider, and brainstorming prompts to help you through the process.
  • Register your PTA officers with Illinois PTA to gain access to the Illinois PTA Online Leadership ResourcesLike the National PTA Local PTA Leader Kit, these online resources provide you and your PTA with the information you need to have a successful PTA year, including growing your membership.
  • Use the Illinois PTA 2019-2020 Membership Awards to guide your membership activities. Each month from September through May has a specific membership award that your PTA could win.
  • Not sure how to run a short-term membership campaign? Use one of Illinois PTA’s ready-to-use campaigns along with other Illinois PTA membership resource
  • Sign your PTA up for the National PTA School of Excellence programPTAs participating in the program have seen improvements in family engagement and growth in membership, PTA meeting attendance, and volunteer participation. The deadline to sign up for the 2019-2020 program is October 1, 2019.
  • Use National PTA’s Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit to reach out to underrepresented groups from your school community.Does your PTA membership reflect the diversity of your school? The Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit can help you bring those communities in your school who may not be familiar with PTA into the fold. If you’re not sure of your school’s demographics, the Illinois Report Card can provide you with that information.
  • Check out the collection of One Voice Illinois articles on membershipIllinois PTA’s blog, One Voice Illinois, has been publishing for over five years now, and the archive of articles on specific topics can be accessed by clicking the links in the Categories sidebar.

News from National Convention—Engaging Hispanic/Latino Families

National PTA ran the Hispanic/Latino Outreach Initiative from June 2018 to May 2019 in ten states to develop ways for PTAs to connect and engage with Hispanic/Latino families. The results of the initiative will be packaged in a toolkit for PTAs to use that will be released in early 2020. At the 2019 National PTA Convention, several participants shared what their state PTAs had learned from participation in the initiative.

The Hispanic/Latino Outreach Initiative had several goals.

  • Develop culturally-specific outreach strategies
  • Initiate Hispanic/Latino membership growth
  • Document successful strategies and identify opportunities
  • Create a toolkit for PTAs to use based on proven strategies

Hispanic/Latino outreach was identified as a critical population for PTA, as currently 1 in 4 students are Hispanic/Latino, while only 4% of state PTA boards are from that community. By 2050, 1 in 3 students are expected to be Hispanic/Latino.

Challenges with Hispanic/Latino Outreach

While language barriers are an easily identified challenge to reaching out to the Hispanic/Latino community, the initiative clearly noted that it is not the only one. “Family Engagement” is not common in Hispanic/Latino culture, as teachers are seen as the experts and speaking to a teacher is seen as questioning authority. Other challenges identified by the initiative include:

  • While the deference towards teachers is sometimes interpreted as Hispanic/Latino not caring about their child’s education, 92% of these parents think it is essential for their children to attend a two- or four-year college—the highest percentage of any demographic group.
  • 50% of Hispanic/Latino children have a parent that was born outside the United States, and 25% have an undocumented parent. To engage these families, PTAs must be trusted; however, once that trust is built, Hispanic/Latino families can be very loyal.
  • 78% of Hispanic/Latino parents who own a smartphone use it to access news and information. Consequently, it is important for PTAs to be mobile-friendly when reaching out to this population and realize that Hispanic/Latino families may prefer to receive texts rather than e-mails.
  • Non-standard work hours are common in the Hispanic/Latino community, 75% of Hispanic/Latino children in single-parent homes and 90% in two-parent homes having parents working non-standard hours. 40% of children with low-income parents work hours between 6:00pm and midnight, making it impossible to attend evening functions at school.

Reaching Out to the Hispanic/Latino Community

The Hispanic/Latino Outreach Initiative gave the state PTAs in the program the freedom to try many different approaches. Among the successful activities and lessons learned from the initiative are:

  • Don’t expect the Hispanic/Latino community to come to you; it is essential to figure out how to go to them. One successful approach with migrant farm workers was to meet with them during their lunch break in the fields, providing cold water to drink, and discussing and providing PTA family engagement resources so they can better support their child in school.
  • New Jersey PTA created a “Why PTA?” presentation in Spanish. One way to have materials translated is to reach out to the local Hispanic/Latino Chamber of Commerce (if there is one), as the business community is very interested in supporting these students and their families.
  • Take advantage of existing resources. New Jersey PTA put together a toolkit for local PTAs of what they considered the top 15 National PTA resources that are available in Spanish. They also included the English language versions as well so those PTA leaders who did not speak Spanish knew what topic each resource addressed. Don’t forget to take advantage of other organizations’ resources that are available in Spanish, such as Learning Heroes.
  • Don’t be afraid to have an event in Spanish rather than English. Washington PTA hosted a showing of the Spanish-language version of Frozenthat was a big success. As one leader put it, “Who doesn’t already know Frozenregardless of the language?”

Be sure to take advantage of the other National PTA resources to help you reach out to underrepresented communities, such as the Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit.

News from National Convention—Proposed Dues Increase

Early this year, National PTA proposed an increase in national membership dues of $1.50/member, raising the total National PTA portion of dues from $2.25/member to $3.75/member. The original proposal was to make the dues increase effective July 1, 2019, but National PTA moved the proposed start date to September 1, 2019 based on feedback. The increase and effective date were considered at the National PTA Convention last week in Columbus, OH, and delegates voted to reject any dues increase.

Based on feedback from our local units, the Illinois PTA State Board of Directors adopted a position to oppose any increase in national dues and to have the effective date for any increase approved by delegates to be as late in the 2019-2020 school year as possible. National PTA had stated that any effective date after the dates of the 2020 National PTA Convention could result in that convention’s delegate body overturning any decision made on dues at the 2019 Convention.

The debate over the dues increase was lengthy. Motions were made to reduce the dues increase to $0.75/member, $0.50/member, $0.25/member, and $1.50/member implemented in three $0.50/member steps over three years. In addition to Illinois, several other large state PTAs were directed by their membership or state boards to oppose any dues increase, including California, New York, and Texas. As a result, all amendments to modify the dues amount were rejected by 60% or more of the delegates, and the final vote on the $1.50/member increase was rejected by 69% of the delegates.

Moving Forward

The National PTA Board of Directors had already adopted a budget assuming no dues increase, so while the coming year will be tight financially, there is already a plan in place for the current situation. It is likely that National PTA will have a new dues proposal to be considered at next year’s convention in Louisville. Illinois PTA urges National PTA to provide more transparent information to the state associations regarding finances at the national level and to make the case for the dues increase based on what it will mean for our local units—the people who will have to ask their members for those additional dues.

Is Your PTA a Clique?

Today’s guest post comes from Washington State PTA with some advice on how to avoid having your PTA seen as a clique.

Sometimes, the reason more people don’t join your PTA is because they feel unwelcome. Whether warranted or not, your PTA may have a reputation as a clique. Overcoming this common issue can be challenging because it requires the focus and commitment of your group as a whole.

The first obstacle to overcome – and the spot where most groups get stuck – is agreeing there’s a problem. When a PTA is labeled a clique, most leaders instinctively go on defense, arguing all the reasons the label isn’t accurate. And, in many cases, a group may have a compelling argument as to why that perception is wrong. However, it doesn’t matter. The simple truth is this: if your PTA is perceived as a clique, it IS a clique. And the more you argue that point, the stickier the label becomes and the harder to remove.

Think about it: how often does a group of friends decide to call themselves a “clique?” Pretty much never, right? But you can probably think of several examples of cliques you’ve encountered in your life. Groups get labelled “cliques” by those who consider themselves outside of one. In other words, it’s a matter of how others perceive your group. Perception is reality; that is, others’ perception of your group is the reality of your group’s reputation.

Once you’ve come to terms with your PTA’s public perception, the only way to change that reputation is with consistent action over a sustained period of time. Your board (or other group of leaders) must dedicate the time and consistency required for the change to happen. Each person must be willing to change how things are done, which can be a hard pill to swallow for an established PTA. Even if a board member disagrees with a change, they must be able to rise above their personal feelings for the benefit of the group. Naysayers are always on the hunt for a sign that things haven’t really changed, and if anyone in your group isn’t walking the talk, that person will become the “sign” those naysayers seek.

Once your board owns up to its reputation as a clique and agrees to do what’s necessary to change, the real work begins. The quickest way to combat a negative public perception is to analyze those actions that are creating that perception and then change them (and don’t assume you already know – that’s what got your PTA in this dilemma in the first place). Sometimes it’s possible to gather this information through a constructive discussion among honest, well-intentioned stakeholders. However, that’s often not an option, in which case your board should take time to walk through all of your PTA’s touchpoints with “the public” and consider where there may be opportunities to improve your perception as a welcoming group. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. At every PTA function, proactively seek out any new faces and introduce yourself. You might not recognize them, but they probably recognize you. Undoubtedly, you are that person “from the PTA,” and the way you behave toward them is the biggest factor in determining their opinion of your group.
  2. Regardless of your good intent, do not huddle together with fellow board members in private conversation during PTA events. If you catch yourself doing this, agree to separate out and canvas the area.
  3. Get folks on a level playing field by asking everyone to wear name tags at meetings and events, from the president to the first-time attendee.
  4. Communicate to families in the languages they speak. Find a parent or community member who can help translate materials and even serve as an interpreter at meetings. Make sure to advertise the availability of interpreters and materials to encourage participation among diverse groups. Don’t forget to personally tell them how happy you are that they’re in attendance.
  5. Eliminate the practice of having the board sit together (or at a head table) at membership meetings. Minimize side conversations, inside jokes, and chit-chat, which can make newcomers feel like outsiders.
  6. Explain each piece of business, and steer clear of obscure terms and insider jargon. Don’t assume “everyone knows that.”
  7. Instead of having board members volunteer together at an event, assign a mix of new and old volunteers to each station or shift.

While there will always be critics, it’s up to you to decide which words may have some truth behind them. And, since the clique label is a matter of others’ perception, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention to others labeling your PTA a clique. You may uncover a multitude of opportunities to improve your reputation, increase your membership, and broaden your volunteer base.