Top 10 Tips for Middle School PTA Success

Middle school is different from elementary school for kids—they’re changing classrooms, managing a locker, and meeting new people from other elementary schools. It’s different for parents as well. New activities like band or sports may pull parents who have been involved in PTA at the elementary level away at the middle school level. Here are ten tips on running a successful middle school PTA.

  1. Grab them fast. Parents are at an elementary school for six years; add a second or third kid, and those years can stretch to more than a decade. That’s a lot of time to build a relationship between PTA and a parent, and for that parent to grow into a leadership role. Middle school zips by in three years, and parents may have a year or two off from middle school between kids. That means your PTA has to get parents involved quickly and early in leadership positions. Visit your feeder elementary schools to educate elementary PTA leaders on what the middle school PTA does and how it is different from what they’ve already experienced.
  2. Include them all. Sometimes one elementary PTA will be stronger than the other PTAs feeding into a middle school. Don’t lean on parents from just the dominant PTA for leadership—you’ll alienate those from the other PTAs.
  3. Focus on parent events. Middle school students are beginning to break away from their parents, so student-oriented events like those in elementary school may draw fewer attendees. But that pulling away also means that parents are likely looking to learn more about what is happening at school, since their child is not telling them as much as they used to and the “backpack express” filled with flyers and newsletters is more of a backpack black hole. Shift your meetings to educating parents about what is happening and what is coming up. Be more about communication and less about PTA business.
  4. Embrace the diaspora. As parents become dispersed among various booster groups and other activities in middle school, make sure that they know that the PTA is the one group that addresses the whole school. Have an extracurricular activities fair for incoming students in the spring with the message that middle school provides great opportunities for students to try new things, but that PTA is the way for parents to keep in touch with what’s going on in the school.
  5. Embrace social media. A newsletter or flyer sent home with a middle school student typically ends up on the floor at school, in a trash can, or buried at the bottom of the backpack until the end of the year. You have to reach out to families directly, and Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can help with that.
  6. Cut back on fundraising. Your middle school PTA probably isn’t doing as many events as an elementary PTA and can get by with a smaller budget. Consider having just one big fundraiser, or incorporating your fundraising into your annual dues. How many parents at your school would embrace a PTA membership level of $25 or $50 that means the PTA won’t bother them about money for the rest of the year? Less fundraising means fewer overlaps with booster clubs who are also raising money as well.
  7. Find ways to integrate the PTA into the life of the middle school. Look for opportunities for the PTA to support events that bring families into the school. See if the PTA president can speak to all the parents at open house, consider providing snacks for the band, orchestra, and choir concerts (with a provided by PTA sign), and provide tour guides for new student orientation.
  8. Look for ways to work with other PTAs. Find opportunities to collaborate with your feeder school PTAs as well as the high school PTAs that your students will be going to. Working together helps incoming parents feel welcome and strengthens all of the PTAs.
  9. Cut back on meetings. Parents have often spent much of the day in meetings, so attending another PTA business meeting in the evening isn’t terribly appealing. Your PTA really only needs three general membership business meetings each year. One at the start of the school year to approve your audit and budget, one in the winter to elect your nominating committee, and one at the end of the year to elect your new officers. Add in adopting your updated bylaws at one of those meetings, and the only other thing your membership will need to meet about is amending your budget, which can be done with a quick five-minute meeting before an event or program. Let your board handing the day-to-day running of the PTA, and have your PTA “meetings” focus on parent education.
  10. Build your relationship with the principal and teachers. Just like the PTA, principals and teachers struggle to get information to families about what is happening at school. By building a good relationship with them, your PTA can develop programs and events that help the school keep parents informed and educated.

News from National Convention: Attracting Today’s Parents

PTAs used to be able to simply set up a table with a “Join PTA” sign and have parents line up. But those days are long gone, and today’s PTA needs to provide parents with reasons for joining that resonate with them. At the 2017 National PTA Convention, two events focused on how PTAs can do just that.

Science of PTA Membership Growth—Know Your Audience

National PTA Deputy Executive Director Karin Kirchoff and Florida PTA Vice President for Regions and Councils Carolyn Nelson-Goedert shared demographic information, national surveys of parents, the results of PTA surveys and focus groups, and how that information can be used to grow your PTA’s membership.

The demographic information and surveys drew from the Pew Research Center’s Parenting in America study that looked at parenting as a whole and the Leadership Conference Education Fund’s Second Annual New Education Majority Poll that looked the opinions of Black and Latino parents regarding education and their children’s future. The presenters also suggested using Great Schools’ information on individual schools to learn more about your school’s families. Here in Illinois, the Illinois Report Card for schools can also provide additional information.

Looking at the Data

It probably comes as no surprise that the demographic information and polls show that today’s families look quite different from those of the past, with more mothers working, more varied family structures, and more families struggling financially. Likewise, polling shows that all parents of every ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class are concerned about their child’s education and want to be more involved, and that parent involvement declines as children get older.

With this data as background, National PTA started digging in to why parents who want to be more involved in their child’s education don’t do so and why they don’t join PTA. When looking a PTA’s current membership, there is a broad diversity as a whole, but potential room for growth in areas where families need PTA’s mission the most—rural towns and urban communities.

National PTA’s Focus Groups and Surveys

National PTA conducted six focus groups and a national survey to explore parents’ attitudes towards education, schools, and PTA in depth. The focus groups looked at K-5 parents, while the survey targeted K-8 parents. Both activities included both PTA members, former members, and non-members. One of the six focus groups consisted of only African-American parents and another of Spanish-dominant parents. Half of the focus groups were of lower-income parents and half on middle-upper income parents with mixed racial and ethnic populations in all except as noted earlier. The results from the focus groups were used to create the national survey.

Key Findings

From this work, National PTA discovered that parents define membership in many ways, not all of which include paying dues to actually join the PTA. Approximately 18% of those saying they were PTA members only gave their time to the PTA.

The results also showed that members and non-members are very distinct groups. Members are more likely to be more satisfied with their school, have kids who face fewer challenges at school, are generally older (e.g., Gen X), have a higher education level, and generally have a higher household income, often with two parents both working. Non-members tend to be on the other end of the spectrum from members, being less satisfied with their school, having kids facing more challenges, being younger (e.g., Millennials), having less education, and having lower incomes, often with a single income. Not surprisingly, PTA members were quite positive about PTA, with 60% being promoters. Non-members, however, were almost as likely (51%) to be PTA detractors.

PTA Perceptions

When parents are asked about PTA, their perceptions tended to fall into three buckets:

  • What PTA Does: Raises money for school, puts on fun events, family-friendly, easy to get involved
  • What PTA Affects: Building relationships with teachers and administrators, speaking up on critical issues, linking the school and home, bringing the community together
  • What PTA Could Inspire: Hope for the future, empowering families to make a positive change, helping children realize their potential

Using these three buckets that were generated from the focus groups, National PTA conducted a survey to dig into these perceptions. The results showed that PTA is almost exclusively seen as raising money for the school and being family-friendly, with members also citing fun events as a key component of PTA. However, what PTA affects was much less known even among members, and what PTA could inspire was almost completely off the radar.

Breaking the Time Barrier

Parents throughout this process discussed the struggles to find time. Busy jobs, lack of transportation, and work shifts that aren’t the traditional 9 to 5 all prevent participation at meetings and after-school events. However, many parents said that if they are passionate about a cause, they make sure to make the time in their busy schedule.

Acceptance is an Issue

While 73% of those who identified themselves as PTA leaders described their PTA as “welcoming” and 71% said PTA was “for people like me,” non-members had a much different view. Only 36% described the PTA as “welcoming” and only 22% said it was “for people like me.” In the focus groups, some parents tied this to not feeling welcome at the school as well.

The Fundraising Catch-22

One of PTA’s key strengths that was identified in this work was the ability to raise money for school needs. But that fundraising success is also a weakness for PTA because the fundraising message dominates all others and it is often not tied to PTA’s ability to address education issues. In some schools, there are questions about why the money is being raised and how it is being spent. Low-income families also found the fundraising message leaving them feeling like they are not able to participate.

Attracting New Members

The good news from this work by National PTA is that for those who have felt excluded from PTA, put off by the focus on fundraising, or otherwise unwelcome, PTA’s mission resonates strongly with them as a reason to join the PTA. By focusing their message on PTA’s mission:

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

and following through on fulfilling that mission, PTAs can reach those who haven’t joined PTA in the past. Today’s parents need to feel passionate about a cause to devote their time to it, and it is hard to develop a passion for fundraising. By focusing on helping parents help their child be successful, building bridges between the school and families, and being welcoming and inclusive, PTAs can attract those new parents who can be the next generation of PTA leaders.

Facebook Live Symposium

The above information was reinforced in a symposium at the 2017 National PTA Convention that was shared on Facebook Live (event starts at about 13:45 or -1:40:10 into the video). Called Today’s Parents, Tomorrow’s Leaders: Growing a New Generation of PTA Champions, the symposium featured a presentation by Amanda Slavin, CEO and founder of CatalystCreativ, and a panel discussion with Ms. Slavin, PTA leaders from California, Kansas, and Oregon, and Heather Pressley, Senior Vice President for Girls on the Run International.

Both Ms. Slavin’s presentation and the panel discussion that followed emphasized the importance of engaging the passion of today’s parents for the PTA mission as the key to getting them to join PTA and participate. Ms. Slavin noted that even non-millennial parents are often “millennial minded,” seeking a network, socially connected, passionate about quality education, and emphasizing advocacy for all children.

As a result, to engage these parents to become members and PTA leaders, PTAs need to focus recruitment, activities, and goals to serve parents’ needs, not on what the PTA has always done in the past. Communication and opportunities to participate need to focus on the user, so that a PTA math event becomes a time to share and learn with your child, not to just tell you about the new math curriculum. This also means that PTAs need to facilitate and curate experiences for parents rather than dictating them, providing an inclusive, accepting, and non-judgmental space for parents and families to share their experiences and knowledge.

 

Plan Now for PTA Success in the Fall

With the school year coming to a close and summer activities to look forward to, many PTA leaders may be looking to put their feet up for the next few months. But summer provides an excellent time for PTA leaders to make their lives easier once school starts back up. By doing some planning for your upcoming PTA year over the summer, you can set the stage for your PTA’s success in the fall.

Have an Officer’s Retreat

The summer months provide PTA leaders with some time to meet and plan without the extra activities and schedule conflicts of the school year. It’s a chance to have a PTA officers’ retreat relaxed in someone’s back yard with a cool drink. Invite the previous year’s officers as well as the incoming officers to discuss how the past year went and what advice those leaving office have for those just starting. Then let the previous year’s officers go, and have a discussion with your current officers about what you’d like to accomplish during the coming year. Consider what events you’d like to host, what past events you’d like to stop doing, and create your calendar for the year.

Consider taking part in National PTA’s School of Excellence Program. The sign-up period runs from now until October 1, 2017. Implementing the program at your school provides insight into how your PTA can best involve the families at your school in their children’s education. In Illinois, one PTA who successfully completed the program saw their attendance at PTA meetings jump from a handful of parents to nearly 200 at one meeting. The School of Excellence program provides your PTA with ready-to-use tools to help your PTA be successful, and the results from across the country show that those PTAs that participate see increases in membership and greater support from families for the PTA and their school.

Put Your Financial House in Order

Once your calendar is planned, make sure your PTA’s financial situation is in good shape. Conduct your audit once your fiscal year ends. Plan out next year’s budget based on what you want to accomplish. Remember that Illinois PTA events such as Advocacy Day in Springfield (November 14, 2017) and convention (May 4-5, 2018 at Northern Illinois University—Naperville) can be included in your PTA budget. Get the signatures for your PTA’s banking accounts changed to reflect the new officers, and don’t forget to change any passwords for online banking or social media accounts.

Once your audit shows a clean set of books, file your 990 form with the IRS. For PTAs with less than $50,000 in gross receipts, this is a simple electronic postcard that only takes a few minutes to complete online. Plan on sending in a copy of your approved audit and IRS Form 990 with your first membership dues payment on October 1, 2017.

Membership Matters

Members are the life blood of a PTA, and if your PTA is not actively recruiting new members, you can find your PTA in a constant struggle for volunteers, officers, and resources. Plan your membership campaign over the summer so you’re ready to take off with the start of the new school year. Use the ready-to-go membership materials on the Illinois PTA website, or develop a plan tailored to your PTA. Be sure to think beyond the school walls, as school board members, school district administrators, community members, realtors and other businesses, and even grandparents in another state have an interest in supporting your child’s school.

Get Trained

Take advantage of the free training the PTA offers—it is one of the critical things that sets PTA apart from other parent organizations and helps you avoid problems that can hurt your PTA. Your district or region director can tell you when local training will be happening in your area, and Illinois PTA will also be offering online training this fall. Don’t forget to take a look at National PTA’s online training courses as well. These free training courses are provided to help you and your PTA know what to do to be successful. When Illinois PTA steps in to help a local PTA with an issue, whether it is financial problems, IRS troubles, or conflict among board members, in almost every case the PTA’s leaders did not get trained.

Summertime, and the Living is Easy

Take advantage of the slower pace during the summer months to get your PTA ready to go for the fall. By doing so, you’ll save yourself and your fellow PTA officers the trouble of doing it all while school activities, PTA activities, and all the other activities your family is involved in are going on as well.

Photo © 2014 by Cassinam under Creative Commons license.

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Membership Workshops

One of the great opportunities at the Illinois PTA Convention is to attend workshops by state board members that provide you with new ideas and help you to be a better PTA leader. Illinois PTA Membership Marketing Director Julie Holdeman presented two great workshops on growing your PTA’s membership.

The first, Planning a Year-Round Membership Campaign, focused on how to get people to join your PTA throughout the year, including right now at the end of the school year. The second, Analyzing Your Membership for Retention and Growth, covered how to use the information you have on your existing members to help you recruit new members. Below are combined highlights from both workshops.

The Importance of Membership

Membership is critical at the local level. Without members, you PTA will struggle to find leaders and volunteers. But beyond that, PTA membership can help to create a sense of community within a school, bringing families, teachers, administrators, and students together as a team. PTA membership at the local level also helps to support the mission of the PTA as a whole, providing a larger voice for the Illinois PTA in Springfield and the National PTA in Washington, DC.

Getting Started

Just about everyone, even small kids, recognize the Nike swoosh, McDonald’s golden arches, or the iconic Coke bottle shape. Why? Because those companies have worked hard for decades to make those visual references connect to their brand, and they do it consistently year after year. Your PTA has a brand too—it’s the PTA logo with the “Every child, one voice.” tagline underneath it. There’s even a song to go with that branding.

Make sure that the PTA logo is on everything that your PTA sends out. Be sure to follow National PTA’s branding and web guidelines. You can also customize your PTA logo to include your PTA’s name above the standard logo. Make sure that the logo that your PTA uses is consistent with everything you send out.

Branding can also be an important part of your membership campaign. By choosing a theme for your campaign, you can create a visual identity that you can work off of throughout the year. The Illinois PTA membership page has three ready-to-use campaigns, complete with flyers you can customize to your PTA.

Particularly relevant right now is the “Thanks for the Memories” campaign. You can make a pitch to the families in your school that if they’ve enjoyed the PTA events and resources throughout the school year, they can show their thanks with a PTA membership. An added benefit you can include is that now at the end of the school year, they can join PTA to show their support without fear of being asked to volunteer (this year, at least).

Who Can Join?

Who can join PTA? Anyone who is interested in supporting the activities of the PTA and its mission. That means that your PTA shouldn’t focus just on the families and teachers at your school. Consider reaching out to extended families, since grandparents are just as likely as parents to want their grandchild’s school to have a strong PTA. Ask your superintendent and school board members to join, as well as your mayor, city council members, and other local officials. Don’t forget to ask business leaders to join as well. Strong schools are the bedrock of every community, and their membership can show their support for the schools in the community.

Analyzing Your Membership Data

Keep track of your members in a spreadsheet. Beyond their name and e-mail address, other information you might want to collect includes:

  • Address and phone number(s), possibly for inclusion in a PTA directory (with permission)
  • Whether they are new or returning members
  • Whether they were referred by an existing member
  • What grades and classrooms their children are in
  • What month they joined in
  • Are they a parent, grandparent, teacher, administrator, business member, or community member

All of this information can be helpful in growing your membership. If you have a significant number of members from last year that didn’t join again this year, you can plan a targeted campaign aimed at getting members to keep their streak alive by joining again. For those that don’t rejoin, you can contact them to find out why and what your PTA could do to bring them back.

By knowing what grades and classrooms a member’s children are in, you can find areas where your PTA is not recruiting well. Are kindergarten membership numbers down? Make sure you focus on explaining the importance of PTA to your school and sharing all of the things your PTA does for children at the school. Are some classrooms or grades underrepresented compared to others? Perhaps a membership competition between classes or grades with a popcorn party or other school-approved reward would help.

If you know when a member joined, you can evaluate how your membership activities have performed. Was a campaign successful or not? Are there areas where you could improve a campaign, or did it just not work at all? Without data about your members, you can’t answer the questions you may have about how your membership efforts are working or identify where opportunities for growth exist.

Membership Comes With Benefits

Some people want to know what’s in it for them if they join the PTA. That’s where member benefits come into play. National PTA provides member benefits, as does the Illinois PTA. For example, if you are working to grow the number of grandparents joining your PTA, you might want to share the 15% discount off an AARP membership that they can get as a PTA member.

Member benefits don’t have to come from just the National PTA or Illinois PTA. Your PTA can offer them as well. Provide discounts to PTA members at PTA events. Offer a drawing from members for a VIP parking space and front row seats to a PTA or school event. Have drawings for a free yearbook or spirit wear. Plan a membership appreciation night that everyone can attend, but that PTA members get in free (e.g., at a local roller skating rink). Allow people to join your PTA that night to take advantage of the benefit.

Reaching Out to Businesses

A local business or vendor can become a sponsor of your PTA through a business membership. Your PTA will need to determine what amount to charge for a business membership as well has how many actual PTA membership cards go with it (usually one, since most businesses just want to support the PTA and not vote at PTA meetings). You can also order business member window clings from the Illinois PTA. Be sure to note on your business outreach materials that purchase of a PTA business membership is not an endorsement of that business by the PTA but is rather a statement of support for the PTA by the business. IRS rules prohibit non-profit organizations like PTA from endorsing businesses.

Membership Resources

National PTA provides marketing materials in both English and Spanish that you can use to promote PTA membership. Additional membership and marketing materials are available in the online Back-to-School Kit. The Illinois PTA membership page has additional resources, including three ready-to-use membership campaigns that you can customize to your PTA. The Local Unit Packet, sent to your PTA president at the beginning of the school year, has a folder full of membership materials as well. Make sure your officers for next year are registered this spring to ensure your PTA receives the new Local Unit Packet when it comes out later this summer. Finally, if you have any questions about membership or marketing your PTA, Illinois PTA Membership Marketing Director Julie Holdeman will help you in any way that she can.