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.