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

Overcoming Membership Challenges—Ideas from the Illinois PTA Online Membership Chat

Illinois PTA understands there are challenges to PTAs in recruiting and retaining members. We believe we can best address these Large Group of Children Celebratingchallenges by communicating with you, the local unit members, in finding out what works for your PTA and what doesn’t. On September 4th, Illinois PTA hosted an online membership chat that discussed why people join PTA and shared ideas to overcome those challenges that keep people from joining PTA.

Why do people join PTA?

PTA offers families the opportunity to get involved in their child’s education. Studies show that family engagement is one of the most valuable assets for a child’s success in school. Along with family engagement, PTA encourages local units to reach out and partner with their communities (businesses, city councils, optimist clubs, chambers of commerce, etc.) to be involved in support of their efforts on behalf of children, families, and schools.

Challenge: Fear of being asked to volunteer for anything or everything

  • 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 helps us achieve a larger voice in local, state and national advocacy with governments and other policy makers.

Challenge: 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 school to help inform them about the process of participating in PTA and within the school.
  • 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.

Challenge: Busy with other volunteer activities (e.g., sports, scouts, dance, place of worship, etc.) AND parents working full time can’t volunteer during the 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 take 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.

Challenge: English as 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.

Challenge: 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.
  • 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 and National PTA training – many interesting webinars are available online.
  • 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.

Challenge: 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.

Challenge: 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.
  • Host “breakfasts”, “coffees” or “sack lunches” for informal times that parents can meet with administrators and express concerns or ask questions.

General ideas for engaging families—including some programs ready to go!

  • Donuts for Dads/Muffins for Moms: Host quick morning events for parents as they drop off children for school.
  • Curbside Bagel Hello: One participant on our chat 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 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 with Illinois PTA’s 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 additional ideas or suggestions, please share your experiences with Illinois PTA Membership Marketing Director Rhonda Jenkins.