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.

Why PTA? Advocacy!

6280517815_e5d397bfd5_bIt is a question that is often heard—why be a PTA? Why not be an independent parent organization rather than paying PTA dues? For many PTAs, the answer is because of the many PTA programs like Reflections, the online training courses and other leadership resources, or even the member benefits. But the one thing that really separates PTA from other parent organizations is probably one that you don’t hear mentioned all that often—advocacy.

Why does PTA advocacy make a difference? Here’s one recent example. Last year, the IRS proposed a rule that would have hurt donations and memberships not just for PTAs, but for all non-profit groups across the country. The rule would have required all PTAs and other non-profits to collect Social Security numbers and other tax-identification numbers from donors.

Illinois PTA became aware of this issue shortly after it was proposed, and brought the matter to National PTA’s attention. Illinois PTA, National PTA, other state PTAs, and many other non-profit organizations provided testimony on how the proposed rule would make charitable organizations targets for identity theft, require a tremendous amount of additional paperwork, and reduced donors’ willingness to make contributions. Last month, after a flood of 38,000 mostly negative comments, including those of Illinois PTA and National PTA, the IRS withdrew the rule.

Chances are, this proposed rule and its subsequent withdrawal wasn’t front page news in your local paper and didn’t make the evening news broadcast. How many independent parent organizations even heard about this rule, much less spoke up against it? Without PTA advocacy and the ability to speak for millions of PTA members across the country, this rule likely would have become law.

Illinois PTA and National PTA advocate for the needs of children, families, members, and volunteers on many issues. Here in Illinois, we serve as the voice of families and children on many state committees, ensuring that their needs and concerns are heard. This proposed rule is just one recent example of how your PTA membership lends strength to our voice, a hidden benefit provided by your PTA dues.

If you would like to lend your individual voice to PTA advocacy efforts, be sure to sign up for the Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Network (under the “Quick Sign Up” bar) to get Illinois PTA action alerts.

Photo © 2012 by 401kcalculator.org under Creative Commons license.

News from National Convention—New Diversity Toolkit

As our country and school communities become more diverse, our PTAs are working to become more diverse in their membership and leadership as well. Tohelp PTAs with that process, National PTA released the new Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit at the 2015 National PTA Convention at a breakfast honoring this year’s Jan Harp Domene Diversity and Inclusion Award winners.

The toolkit is based on best practices from across the country in reaching out to underrepresented groups in your community and provides information for PTA leaders at both the state and local level. Key take-aways for starting or enhancing diversity initiatives are:

  • Assemble a diversity committee
  • Set goals, milestones, and realistic expectations
  • Try new ideas
  • Communicate with community groups and leaders
  • Celebrate your successes

Additional information is provided on how to grow your PTA’s membership by engaging with non-traditional audiences.
This information walks you through the process of reaching out to those communities by:

  • Doing a self-assessment
  • Creating effective messaging by adapting to non-traditional audiences
  • Promoting meaningful family engagement
  • Creating community connections
  • Making your PTA an information resource for parents, families, educators, and community groups

National PTA’s diversity and inclusion page will serve as a repository for best practices and programs, allowing the toolkit to continue to expand. The page also includes a recorded webinar covering some of the material in the toolkit.

As PTAs continue to work to fulfill their mission to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children, the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit provides a critical resource in reaching out to all families and all children.

How Do You Increase Your PTA’s Membership? Just Ask!

happy and diverse volunteer group holding signIn a PTA survey, 49% of respondents said the reason people don’t join PTA is that no one asked them to. The way we ask people to join needs to be personal, powerful, and meaningful. Yet, even with the passion we have for PTA’s Mission, asking other people to join can seem daunting.

Why is it difficult to ask parents to join? Fear. The fear of hearing “no”; fear that asking will strain friendships; fear that a “no” is failure. If the person you ask to join PTA says “no,” you have not failed. You have simply provided that person with an opportunity to help children that he or she has chosen not to take advantage of right now. Be sure to ask again sometime—the answer might be “yes.” And it’s those “yes” responses we receive each year and the ways in which communities nationwide benefit from parent involvement that make asking all the more worthwhile. To help those involved in PTA membership drives and recruitment activities overcome their fears, this article provides practical tips and the know-how for making “the ask” easier and more successful.

Reasons for Asking

You are asking for a good cause. By asking someone to join PTA, you are empowering that person to help make a difference in his or her child’s life. Surveys show that, in general, children of involved parents have better school experiences, higher grades and test scores, fewer disciplinary problems, and more supportive teachers. One of the best ways parents can be involved and show their support for their children is by joining PTA.

PTA is the most recognized school organization. A 2007 survey by L.C. Williams and Associates found that 94 percent of adults are aware of PTA and more than 91 percent have positive impressions of PTA. People understand what PTAs do for schools and are more inclined to join a recognized school organization than to join an unfamiliar one. The audience probably expects you to ask. It’s no secret that PTA success is based on membership. So it’s logical that someone from PTA would ask parents, school administrators, and community members to consider joining. If people expect you to ask them to join and you don’t, they might think they are not needed or are not welcome. People involved with children’s education expect to be invited to join PTA, so go ahead and ask!

Methods of Asking

  • Consider why someone would join PTA. One way to focus your sales pitch is to consider the most likely reasons a prospective member might have for joining PTA. In a PTA survey conducted in October 2004, the number one reason given for joining PTA was “to work to improve the school for the benefit of my child/children.” That’s an important place to start your pitch.
  • Build your case. Going straight to a yes-or-no question—especially “Do you want to join?”—can cut off a conversation and result in a “no” before you’ve had an opportunity to build an effective case for joining PTA. Therefore, begin by asking nonthreatening, open-ended questions, such as, “You may be aware that parent involvement is important to a child’s success in school. What type of parent involvement activities would you like to see at your child’s school?” Always be respectful and aware of the prospective member’s time. If someone is late for a meeting, don’t corner him or her in the hall. Find a time to talk that is good for both of you; 15 minutes is usually sufficient. Don’t forget to ask for the membership. It’s easy to get into the conversation, enjoy the rapport, and then forget to make “the ask.” “The ask” should be personal, powerful, and meaningful. Typically, membership “asks” are made to large groups of parents, for example, at a Back-to-School night or assembly. You can help the success of that “ask” by making eye contact with parents, asking if they have questions, and sharing why PTA is important to your school. Most importantly, be sure to tell parents “When PTA gets involved, children benefit; when you get involved in PTA, the child who benefits most is your own.”
  • Use the “backpack express” only as a supplementary route for recruitment. For decades, PTAs have placed invitations, event announcements, and PTA communications in children’s backpacks, hoping these materials would make it safely home to the parents. This method may have worked better when parents felt more obligated to join PTA, but those days are past. Faced with many choices of where to spend their resources, parents will weigh their involvement in PTA against other competing interests. If other groups make face-to-face “asks,” explaining in detail why the parents should be involved, while PTA is sending home fliers that may or may not make it out of children’s bags, then PTA is not going to win as many members. The “backpack express” can certainly be used as a reminder, just as e-mail and other forms of social media can be used to follow up. However, if it is the only method of recruitment, your membership efforts will not be seen as personal, powerful, or meaningful, and membership may actually decline. 

Overcome objections.

Most objections to joining PTA fall into one of four areas:

  • Time
  • Impact
  • Perceived value
  • Cost

Here are some suggestions for responding to those objections.

  • Time.  When parents say they don’t have time to join PTA, what they are probably saying is that they don’t want to volunteer dozens of hours each week. Some people think that to be a PTA member you have to be a volunteer. Therefore, you need to explain that PTA appreciates everyone’s membership, whether or not the member volunteers, because each member increases PTA’s ability to advocate for children. It’s true that PTA cannot operate without volunteers, but if you emphasize volunteering and in doing so dissuade individuals from joining altogether, you’ll never have those individuals as members or as volunteers.
  • Impact.  Parents want to know if their membership in PTA is going to have a positive impact, if it will benefit their children. You can tell them, emphatically, “Yes!” Decades’ worth of research shows that when parents are involved, students perform better in school. They receive higher grades and test scores, have better school attendance and lower rates of suspension, are more likely to graduate high school, and are more likely to pursue postsecondary education. Children of involved parents also exhibit increased motivation, better self-esteem, less drug and alcohol use, and fewer instances of violent behavior. Those great benefits come from parent involvement, a major focus of PTA.
  • Perceived value. Explain to prospects what they get for their membership dues. In addition to materials and benefits from the local and state PTA, members receive these benefits from National PTA:
    • Online resources at PTA.org, including select articles from Our Children magazine;
    • PTA Takes Action Network, with a monthly electronic newsletter about federal legislation affecting families, schools, and communities, and action alerts that help members make a difference on key issues;
    • Special discounts, offers, and promotions from national companies (see PTA.org/Benefits);
    • Free e-learning courses on PTA basics, as well as on subjects, such as conflict resolution and goal setting, that can be applied to members’ personal lives; and
    • Discounted member rates for the National PTA Convention and on subscriptions to the print version of Our Children.

People like to join organizations that make a difference in the lives of others, are educational and beneficial to the community, allow them to network with successful people, and provide opportunities to have fun. Highlight that your members have opportunities to mix with diverse individuals through local PTA activities. Emphasize once again that for parents the number one benefit of PTA membership is the ability to help their children. For many parents, that is reason enough to join.

  • Cost.  PTA membership is one of the most cost-effective investments parents can make in their children’s education and schools. For an average of two cents a day, parents can help improve their children’s school experiences. PTA members are better connected to their schools, are better informed, and have access to moneysaving discounts and benefits.

 

Source: National PTA Membership Recruitment and Retention Manual