In our previous post, we talked about the importance of providing value to your PTA members. We called it “Making it REALLY worth their while to join your PTA”. We also talked about why it’s important to TELL your members about the value that the PTA provides.
Today, we’re going to talk about Step 2: “Making the most of the Back To School season”.
Back to School season is an excellent time to get new PTA members.
New families are starting at the school and are eager to get integrated into the school community. The PTA can be a warm “welcoming committee” for them, and gain new members in the process.
Returning families are in the “Back to School” mode. They will likely do anything that the school district, principal or teacher tells them to do. Capitalize on that (see tip #3)!
If your school has online BTS registration process, make sure joining the PTA is part of the “flow”. I’m not suggesting that you go overboard and add dozens of steps to the registration process. But adding a page to remind them of all the great value that you provide, and inviting them to join the PTA, is absolutely fair game!
At most schools, online registration includes getting everybody’s current email address. It is vital that your PTA gets up-to-date email addresses for everyone at your school. If your PTA doesn’t have access to emails, you should “lobby” your principal or school district for permission to get them. Of course, you would need to give parents an opportunity to opt out of your emails. But it is very important that you have a way of communicating with the entire parent community.
Ideally, you want to include the following steps right into the online Back to School registration flow:
- Get an up-to-date email address.
- Have a check box next to the phrase “I allow the PTA to use my email address for school and PTA communication”, and leave it checked by default.
- Allow parents to opt out of your emails by unchecking the box.
It is important to get email addresses for both PTA members and non-members. As we discussed in Lesson 1, part of your “job” as a PTA leader should be keeping everyone at the school informed and in-the-loop, year-round. You need email addresses to do that, so be sure to get them for everyone.
Back to School time is when people are most hungry for information. The questions are endless: When do I find out teacher assignments? What after school classes are available in the Fall? When is Back to School night? When does homework start? What are the expectations for the new grade level that my child is in this year? So make sure to satisfy this hunger, and you will have some very grateful parents!
Organize a New Family night to give information just for families new to your school.
Post a school calendar online with Back to School night, school vacation dates, early dismissal dates, parent-teacher conferences, etc.
Provide information about school-wide events such as concerts, sporting events, and fundraisers.
Invite everyone to general PTA meetings, and be clear about what each meeting will cover. Try to focus the first few meetings of the school year on topics that are of interest to most in the school community. Save the more narrow or specialized topics for later in the year.
So that covers what you should be communicating about, and to whom. Now let’s talk about how to communicate – i.e., what tools or systems to use for communication.
PTA leaders typically fall into one of 3 camps:
- Those who use regular email distribution lists (with everyone bcc’ed) to communicate.
- Those who use a paid email service such as Constant Contact or Mailchimp to send electronic newsletters.
- Those who use an online system such as SimplyCircle to communicate with their school community.
I’m admittedly biased (I’m the founder, after all), but I think that SimplyCircle is a much better choice than either regular email or an email marketing service. Here are some of the reasons why:
- It’s custom-designed for PTAs and other parent community leaders.
- It’s private and secure. Only your circle members can see photos and documents.
- It’s designed for engagement. People can RSVP, sign up to volunteer, comment on posts – all without being bombarded with “reply to all” email threads.
- People can update their email addresses on their own. In fact, you don’t even need to know their email address. They can join your circle on their own, as long as you give them your invite code.
- All the reminding is done automatically – no copying and pasting required.
- If you have a lot to say, you can choose to combine your messages into a single daily digest to avoid bombarding your members with tons of emails.
- Whatever method of communication you choose, the important thing is that you communicate!
Hopefully your principal and the teachers are already aware of the tremendous value that the PTA provides for the school. If they are not, you’ve got some work to do!
Hopefully they are also already members of your PTA. If they are not, make them your prime recruiting “targets”.
It’s very important to get them on board in your membership drive. There are 3 reasons why:
1. They are authority figures, and their endorsement and requests carry a lot of weight with both students and parents. Just hearing the principal say “Join the PTA, here’s why…” at Back to School night can get you many more members.
2. They are very creative and resourceful, and can come up with innovative and unique ideas for how to encourage more people to join.
3. Some principals we know (no names shall be named!) come up with wacky things to reward the school if they meet the PTA membership goal: be duct taped to a wall, dye their hair hot pink, kiss a pig, jump into a tub of Jell-O, dress as a super hero, let the kids out of school an hour early, sit in a dunking booth, etc. You and your principal can use your imagination!
Make sure the PTA table is “stationed” in the highest traffic area. For example, put your table by the entrance to the school gym where the general meeting is held, so that everybody has to pass by your table on their way in.
Have several PTA leaders present there, and be clearly visible. You may want to wear school spirit wear, or PTA t-shirts.
Collect registration information and payments right there. You can do the registration on a laptop or a tablet computer, or even on good old-fashioned paper clipboards. Same goes for payments – be prepared to accept cash, checks, PayPal or even credit cards (use Square to accept credit cards from your mobile phone).
One cool idea I learned about recently was handing out “I just joined the PTA” stickers. (They are like the “I just voted” stickers you get on Election Day). These stickers make it publicly visible that people are joining your PTA, which encourages even more people to join.
Hand out some goodies for PTA members – popcorn, lemonade, etc. You can also sell school spirit wear at the same table.
Make sure that the PTA President has a speaking “slot” during the general meeting. Keep it short and sweet – and make it fun. If you have a cool prize to announce (e.g., “The Principal will be duct taped to the wall if we reach 100% PTA membership”), this is your time to shine!
Make sure information about the PTA is included in the BTS folders that every family gets at the general meeting or in the classroom. Families will be referring to these folders for weeks or even months to come, so you want to reserve some “real estate” there for the PTA.
We hope this gives you some ideas for how to grow your PTA during Back to School season. Next time, we’ll talk about Step 3: How to keep momentum going throughout the school year.
For other useful, free resources for PTA and PTO leaders, visit our PTA Leader Resources page.