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.

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—School of Excellence Program

At first glance, Kreitner Elementary School in Collinsville looks like a school that would be struggling to get families involved. The Pre-K through fourth grade school has just under 400 students, and 91% are from low-income families, 100% receive free lunch, 75% are Hispanic, and 53% are English Language Learners.

And a few years ago, it was a school struggling to involve families. The PTA was made up of three to five parents most years, all of whom were alumni of the school 30 years earlier, and PTA meetings might have a dozen parents show up. Hispanic families rarely came into the school.

Today, Kreitner PTA has as many as 200 people attending their PTA meetings, membership is up nearly 600%, student achievement is improving, and 95% of parents would recommend the school to others, based on the 5 Essentials Survey. What caused this dramatic change at Kreitner? The short answer is the National PTA School of Excellence program, described by Kreitner PTA treasurer and Special Education teacher Greg Hobbs simply as, “The best thing a PTA can do.”

Starting the Process

At the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention, PTA leaders and staff from Kreitner shared how they had used the National PTA School of Excellence program to engage the families at their school and transform both their PTA and their school. The School of Excellence program begins with the PTA choosing a focus for their efforts. At Kreitner, that focus was family engagement because everyone involved felt that issue was critical to everything else they wanted to happen at the school.

The next step in the process is to survey families about the school. The program offers an online survey, but only about 70% of Kreitner families have internet access at home, so the PTA felt that the online survey wouldn’t work for them. They set up a paper survey with the questions in English on one side of the paper and in Spanish on the other side. To encourage families to return the surveys, they offered a drawing for a Walmart gift card from among those who responded. PTA leaders then spent a fair amount of time entering those responses online.

Surprising Results

The results of the survey were surprising to both PTA leaders and school administrators. The School of Excellence survey is designed to give schools and PTAs a mapping of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as providing a “Roadmap to Excellence” that the PTA can use to work towards their goal. PTA leaders and school administrators had long assumed that the reason Hispanic families did not come to PTA meetings or events was due to the language barrier. What the survey showed, however, was that these families did not feel welcome at the school or in the PTA.

Transforming a PTA and a School

Based on the results of the survey and using the Roadmap to Excellence, Kreitner PTA developed a plan to welcome every family into the school. They began by working with their school district to translate PTA materials into Spanish and convinced the district to pay for a translator at their PTA meetings.

They worked to get teachers on board with the PTA as well. Their “Building a Strong PTA” membership drive had each teacher who joined the PTA get a cutout of a hammer with their name on it posted on their door (and classroom aides who joined added a second hammer). When families joined the PTA, a nail was added to each teacher’s door that had a child from that family. They held a drawing for a $25 gift card for classroom supplies for the teacher whose class had the highest percentage of membership by the end of October. The result was every teacher joining the PTA, including all of the traveling teachers who were only at the school part time.

Member Benefits

With all of the teachers on board and a growing number of families joining, Kreitner PTA then decided to provide some local member benefits for joining the PTA. Every year the PTA would have a fall festival that served as their primary fundraiser. Families would purchase tickets for students to participate in games and activities for $0.25 each and could purchase a hot dog for $1.00 at the festival. For PTA members, Kreitner provided PTA members a couple of activity tickets and a free hot dog for each child in the family. Families could purchase a PTA membership at the door, so some families could actually save more than they spent on a PTA membership that night alone.

While the member benefits cost the PTA at the door, they still made money at the festival through additional ticket and hot dog sales. Membership jumped to 147, up from 25 the year before. The real benefit for Kreitner PTA, though, was getting many more families coming through the school door and becoming familiar with the PTA, teachers, and staff.

Involving the Kids

So how did Kreitner PTA get 200 people at a PTA meeting? By including the kids at many PTA meetings. They helped form a dance team that does traditional Mexican dances and had them perform at a meeting. Another PTA meeting featured a schoolwide talent show, while another featured artworks for sale created by every student.

Before the PARCC assessments last spring, they hosted a PARCC Pizza Night for students and families. Families could choose to hear the program in either English or Spanish, rather than the English with Spanish translation that the PTA uses for most events and meetings. Students attended with their families and could demonstrate what they had learned that year and how they were ready for the PARCC assessment. The PTA included a drawing for one of three gift cards as well to encourage families to attend.

The End Result

Kreitner PTA completed its follow-up survey last spring and was named a National PTA School of Excellence. But beyond the recognition, Kreitner PTA leaders noted a significant milestone for the PTA. Even as more Hispanic families attended PTA meetings with the translator translating everything, PTA business was generally conducted with the English-speaking parents making motions and contributing most of the discussion on those motions before everyone voted. However, at a recent PTA meeting, a motion was made in Spanish, discussed in Spanish, and the vote conducted in Spanish, all with English translation.

That is not to say that Kreitner PTA still doesn’t face challenges. Post-election immigration fears have reduced the number of Hispanic families attending PTA and school events, and PTA leaders and school staff are working to deal with those concerns. However, everyone involved with the School of Excellence program feel that it has provided them with the tools, insight, and ability to address these challenges as well as any future ones.

Sign Up Your PTA for the School of Excellence Program

Sign-up for the National PTA School of Excellence program begins in early April and runs through October 15. Keep an eye on the National PTA webpage on the program as well as National PTA and Illinois PTA social media for the launch of the 2017-2018 program. While you are waiting, you can share the results of the 2015-2016 School of Excellence program with your principal and superintendent. Those results include a 30% increase in families’ perceptions of how their child’s school is doing on all six of the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships.

5 Ways to Fire Up Your Middle School or High School PTA

1280px-Calhan_High_School_Senior_Classroom_by_David_ShankbonePTAs and PTSAs at the middle school and high school level often struggle. It’s not that families are no longer involved with the school, it’s that they are now spread out among athletic boosters, band, orchestra, drama, and other groups as well as the PTA. Here are some ideas to fire up families to engage with your middle or high school PTA.

  1. Focus on Communication
    Middle and high school students are notoriously uncommunicative about what goes on at school, and a newsletter would likely end up buried on the bottom of a backpack until the end of the school year. That means that families are hungry for information about what is happening at the school, and PTA is in the perfect position to be that information source.

    Create an e-mail list to send information out to families and students. Having a laptop at registration, open house, and other events where people can type in their e-mail addresses will save you having to decipher handwriting and avoid bounced e-mails. Work with your school administration to see if the daily announcements can be e-mailed out to families. It may be easier to set it up so a school secretary can send it out once the announcement sheet is ready.

  1. Make Your PTA Meetings Informative Rather than “Business-y”
    Adults already sit in lots of business meetings all day, and adding another one in the evening is not very appealing. Turn your PTA meetings into sources of information rather than conducting lots of business at them. General membership meetings are only needed to approve the annual audit, to adopt or amend the budget, to amend the bylaws, to elect a nominating committee, and to elect officers. Move all other business matters to your PTA board meetings or committee meetings. Highlight what it going on at the school both academically and with extra-curricular activities. Consider having a “vendor fair” of all the clubs and sports at the school. Have teachers spotlight new curriculum or interesting class projects. Provide presentations on student and family needs, such as staying on the college-ready path through middle and high school, how to apply to college, how to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or families role in driver’s education.
  1. Cut Back or Eliminate Fundraising
    Just as middle and high school families are spread out among many student organizations, those organizations are often all raising funds for their activities, many of them at the start of the school year. Avoid the competition and fundraising fatigue by cutting back or eliminating PTA fundraising.

    PTAs should always plan their program year before determining how much money they need to raise to implement that program. Changing your PTA’s focus from buying things for the school to doing things for the school, students, and families can reduce the amount of money your PTA needs to raise. Consider making your membership dues sufficient to meet your budget. While some families may be concerned about the higher dues, many are happy to join when told that the PTA will not be coming to them with fundraising programs during the year. Look at non-dues sources of revenue such as PTA member benefits from Illinois PTA and National PTA, affiliate programs from national or local stores (e.g., a percent of each purchase is donated to the PTA), or restaurant dine-out nights. Remember that to protect their 501(c)3 status, PTAs cannot endorse commercial entities (e.g., “Eat at X restaurant because they’re giving PTA 10% of sales tonight.”) but can state that businesses are supporters of the PTA (e.g., “X restaurant is sponsoring a Lincoln PTA night tomorrow by donating 10% of all orders.”). In other words, you can’t tell people to support a business, but you can say the business is supporting the PTA.

  1. Make It Clear that Joining PTA is to Support the PTA
    Many parents, especially those fresh from active elementary school PTAs, have a fear of being asked to do things and cite that as a reason not to join the PTA. Make it clear to your families that joining the PTA is solely to support your PTA and the programs you provide. Let them know that signing up for the PTA e-mail list isn’t limited to PTA members (you’re providing information to all families, and once they see all the good things your PTA is doing, they are more likely to join). You can still do the occasional ask for help through your e-mail list, but be sure to break it down into small bits (e.g., donating paper products, plastic utensils, a dish, or drinks for a teacher appreciation breakfast).
  1. Don’t Forget the Students
    Think about becoming a PTSA if you are not one already. Middle and high school students are beginning to take more responsibility and also looking for activities that look good on college applications. Consider adding a student representative (or one from each grade) to your PTSA board. Use teacher and administrator recommendations for potential representatives, as they know which students are well-connected with their peers and what is going on in the student population. Have the student representative share what students are concerned about at your meetings. Let students sign up for the PTA e-mail list as well, since they may not be able to hear the morning announcements well in their first-period classroom.

Photo © 2008 by David Shankbone under Creative Commons license.