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.

 

Catch Up on National PTA Webinars

Perhaps you’ve seen them mentioned in an Illinois PTA Weekend Update e-mail or in a National PTA Newsletter. Maybe you saw it on National PTA’s Facebook page or Twitter feed. “It” being a webinar on a topic you were interested, but being held at a time you couldn’t join in. Think you’ve missed out? Think again.

National PTA has increased its media production in the past year, including Facebook Live events and webinars. For webinars that you’ve missed, you can find them on National PTA’s YouTube channel. Among recent webinars are:

So if you’ve missed a webinar on a topic you are really interested in, be sure to check out the National PTA YouTube channel a day or two after the webinar to catch up or subscribe to the channel so you can be notified when new videos come out.

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.

6 Things to Wrap Up Your PTA Year

May is a busy month for PTAs with Teacher Appreciation Week, end of the school year activities, and electing new officers. As a PTA leader, you’re probably a bit worn out from everything your PTA has done this past year. But making sure your PTA is successful next year begins with wrapping up this year. Here are six important things to do before your PTA year ends.

  1. Register your new officers. Illinois PTA sends out a Local Unit Packet each year filled with resources to successfully run a PTA. However, that packet can’t be sent if Illinois PTA doesn’t know who the new officers are. Be sure to register your new local unit or council officers as soon as they are elected so they can get the materials and information they need. Even if you have the same officers as last year, you still need to register them to confirm their contact information.
  2. Prepare for your audit. Your bylaws spell out how your audit should be conducted. Remember, nobody authorized to sign checks can be on the audit committee, though it is helpful for the treasurer to be accessible to the committee when they are conducting the audit. Make sure the committee has all of the financial records, including treasurer’s reports, the checkbook register, the ledger (or spreadsheet or wherever you record income and expenses against your budget lines), deposit and expense vouchers, copies of meeting minutes, and last year’s audit report. Be sure to have the audit committee sign off on the audit report form.
  3. Thank your volunteers. Most people don’t volunteer for personal recognition, but recognizing and thanking them for their service keeps them coming back and encourages others to step up and start volunteering. Whether it is something simple like a small reception with punch and cookies or supporting the Illinois PTA Scholarship Fund with the purchase of a volunteer award, thanking your volunteers in a public way is essential to keeping your PTA running well.
  4. Make sure procedure books are up to date. A procedure book helps preserve your PTA’s knowledge and makes it easier for a new volunteer to get up to speed on their position. Make sure your officers and committee chairs have written up what they’ve done, how they did it, and what they would do differently the next time. Be sure to keep a copy in the president’s files in case a procedure book doesn’t return at the end of the year.
  5. Get your new officers (and anyone else) trained. Nobody would expect to walk into a new job, be shown to their office, and told, “Okay, there you go. Get started. Good luck!” It should be the same way with a volunteer job. Illinois PTA has several free training courses to help PTA leaders (and any interested PTA member) learn how to do their PTA job. Contact your district or region director or Illinois PTA Leadership Development Director Brenda Diehl to find out when training is scheduled in your area or to set up training. Be sure to take a look at National PTA’s E-learning Library of online courses, many of which are available in both English and Spanish.
  6. Pass on materials. It seems so obvious—you’re leaving a position, and you need to pass on all the materials to your successor. Yet this simple, common sense task fails to happen more often than you would guess. Far too often, district and region directors hear from new PTA officers that they didn’t get any materials to help them do their jobs. If you’re an outgoing president, make sure your officers and committee chairs are passing on their procedure books and other materials. If you’re an incoming president, keep in touch with both your new officers and chairs and the outgoing officers to make sure your board has the tools they need to be successful next year.

Photo © 2013 by Geneva Vanderzell under Creative Commons license.