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.

Micro-Volunteering and Your PTA

Is your PTA struggling to find volunteers? Are people afraid to join your PTA because you are always asking for volunteers to handle big jobs? If so, your PTA might want to look into micro-volunteering.

What is Micro-Volunteering?

One of the biggest challenges in finding volunteers is people who say they have no time. Micro-volunteering is an approach to overcome that perceived lack of time. There is no agreed to definition of micro-volunteering, but the Institute for Volunteering Research identified eight defining features of most micro-volunteering:

  1. Duration: It involves small increments of time.
  2. Access: It is easy to get started and do.
  3. Immediacy: It is quick to start and complete, and requires minimal planning
  4. Convenience: You decide when and where.
  5. Level of Formality: No formal agreement between the organization and the volunteer is needed.
  6. Frequency: It can be a one-off or repeated.
  7. Activity: It involves discrete actions.
  8. Location: It can be online or offline.

Keep in mind that your PTA may not want to call micro-volunteering opportunities by that name. The term is more common among non-profit leaders and researcher than the general public, so people may not understand what you are looking for in a micro-volunteer. Consider other terms, such as micro-tasks, quick jobs, or whatever you think will resonate with your potential volunteers.

How Can Your PTA Use Micro-Volunteering?

Micro-volunteering won’t work for every job in the PTA, but there may be opportunities for your PTA to take advantage of it. Take a look at everything your PTA does and consider whether there are bits and pieces that could be done by one person, perhaps on their own schedule. Some possibilities might include:

  • Trimming and bundling box tops
  • Bringing a food item or paper goods to a teacher appreciation event
  • Contacting businesses for donations for an event
  • Cutting up materials for the Family Reading Experience
  • Editing the PTA newsletter
  • Maintaining the PTA Facebook page or Twitter account
  • Designing a flyer for an event
  • Providing the collection point for donations of materials for an event
  • Proofreading PTA materials
  • Staffing a welcome table at an event for 30 or 60 minutes

While the tasks assigned to micro-volunteers are often small, they are also usually critical to the success of your PTA. That means that you still need to provide some management for your micro-volunteers, including checking in to see if they have any questions or problems and thanking them publicly and privately for their help.

Potential Benefits of Micro-Volunteering

Very few PTA volunteers started out with a big task. Most started by doing something simple like helping to set up an event or bringing a treat to school. By engaging people in micro-volunteering activities, your PTA has the potential to turn at least some of them into volunteers willing to take on bigger jobs, whether it is organizing an event or serving as a PTA officer.

The key to moving your micro-volunteers along that path to bigger opportunities is to build a relationship with them. Consider providing an incentive (e.g., an entry into a drawing for a prime parking spot at a PTA or school event) for volunteering. Hold a strictly social event for all of your volunteers to thank them for their help (Note: National Volunteer Week is April 23-29, 2017). Use that social event to find out what led your micro-volunteers to step up, what they are looking for in their volunteering opportunities, and what your PTA could do better.

Also keep in mind that micro-volunteers may only pop up for one small task and then disappear. It is still important to make sure that even these one-shot volunteers know that their contribution is appreciated and respect their decision to volunteer again.

Resources on Micro-Volunteering

The Institute for Volunteering Research has created a guide for exploring and developing micro-volunteering in an organization, as well as a full report (with case studies) and a summary report on their research into micro-volunteering.

PTA’s Three for Me program has been helping PTA’s develop a micro-volunteer program for several years by getting parents to commit to volunteering for three hours over the course of the school year.

How Your PTA and Families Can Support National Reading Month

3321615408_7bb5356265_bMarch is National Reading Month, and kicks off with Read Across America Day on March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Your PTA and families can support reading both at school and in the home. Reading is a critically important skill for students to develop, and children who read 30 minutes each day progress faster and do better academically than their peers who read 15 minutes or less daily.

Host a PTA Family Reading Experience

National PTA has partnered with Amazon Kindle to bring the Family Reading Experience for kindergarten through grade 5. The program provides everything your PTA needs to host the event. At your event, there are six stations with literacy games for participants to play. Games are divided between kindergarten through grade 2 and grades 3 through 5. There are four different themes to use, so your PTA can host different events during the year or rotate themes each year. Most of the resources, including promotional materials, are available in Spanish as well as English to help support English Language Learners and their families. Plan your event today!

Supporting Reading at Home

The Getting Smart blog recently posted an article on four ways that adults can support child literacy. It included suggestions both for teachers at school and families at home. For families at home, the suggestions were:

  1. Make Time: Have a “Family Reading Time” when everyone in the family grabs their book and sits down to read at the same time.
  2. Provide Choice: Even the youngest child can pick which book to read, even if it’s just because they like books with red covers. Make sure the choice being made in your house is not to read or not to read, but what to read.
  3. Read to Kids: Reading to kids tends to taper off the more adept they become at reading, but children can understand much more than they are capable of reading on their own. Hearing words read to them before they come across them on their own can also help with learning pronunciation.
  4. Talk About Books: Has any child ever provided an informative answer to, “How was school today?” You will likely have a bit more success with, “What are you reading now?” and the answer can provide a jumping off point for further discussion: “Do you like it?” “Why?” “Who is your favorite character?”

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