Happy National Volunteer Week!

Charity, volunteering and donating concept. Raised up human hands with red hearts. Children's hands are holding heart symbols. Vector

Our PTA leaders have always been the backbones of their communities, working to make every child’s potential a reality. In moments of crisis, our PTA mission becomes that much more important. Our PTA family members across the country have answered the call, going above and beyond to meet the educational and social and emotional needs of all students, educators and families during the pandemic.

This National Volunteer Week, we want to take the opportunity to recognize a few of the leaders who make us so #PTAProud.

National Volunteer Appreciation Week holiday concept. April. Template for background, banner, card, poster with text inscription. Vector EPS10 illustration

Reaching Out to Families

Social distancing doesn’t have to mean total disconnection! Clara B. Worth PTA in New Jersey is tackling this problem head on with a hefty dose of school spirit. Their school mascot is the “Bees”, so students woke up this weekend with a sign in their front yard saying “YOU’VE BEEN BUZZED! #WEBEELIEVE, with love from the CBW PTA.” What an un-bee-lievably cute way to spread joy. Check out the news article on their efforts.

Partnering with Schools

Family engagement is truly the key to school success, and Beacon Hill PTA in Seattle is a fantastic model of what that can look like in action! This PTA has become a vital go-between for their school and community, hosting weekly virtual meetings with the principal, school staff and other school parents to see how PTA can help support our families. Together, they’ve created a Right Now Needs Fund to help families meet urgent basic needs including food, household supplies and bills. Explore more of the great work they’re doing!

Continuing Initiatives

PTA has long believed that the arts are essential to a well-rounded education—our beloved Reflections program just celebrated 50 years of helping children develop artistic literacy, increase their confidence and explore their own thoughts, feelings and ideas. Blue Grass Elementary PTA member (and K-5 Art teacher) Nikki Gillette is supporting that idea by using her own talents! She has created a new YouTube channel, uploading easy at-home art lessons twice a week to support her students and her community during the pandemic. Watch her awesome videos!

Hosting Virtual Events

Books can help us think more deeply about our lives and the changing world we live in, but they can also provide an escape from everyday stress, which is particularly important for children. Alki Elementary PTA hosted a virtual Scholastic book fair to promote literacy in their school community. All orders will ship to students’ houses, and they have an option for families to pledge money that their principal will match with vouchers that families can use to shop. See how they did it!

Speaking Up for Students

At the end of the day, PTA is all about engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. The Fairfax County Special Education PTA is hard at work getting answers from their school district regarding special education questions to pass them on to their members. As a special education PTA, it’s critical for them to gather information for students with disabilities on how to accommodate their needs during this time. Way to go!

Tackling COVID-19 Together

This is just a very small sample of the amazing things our PTAs are doing to support their communities during the COVID-19 health crisis. To help ease the emerging challenges this pandemic presents, National PTA has compiled resources, tools and information to support our families and teachers who are navigating working, teaching and learning at home. You can access those at PTA.org/COVID-19.

Is your PTA doing something great? Tell us about it! Visit PTA.org/PTAProud.

Corinne Canning is the associate manager of editorial and marketing at National PTA.

Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid in Communicating with Your PTA

shutterstock_216261145Effective communication is essential to driving PTA member engagement. Yet all too often, we see PTA leaders make several crucial mistakes. Here are 10 of the most common communication pitfalls and how you can avoid them with your PTA.

  1. Communicating with your PTA members only when you need money. Yes, school fundraising is important. But your PTA members want to know about other things as well, such as school events, PTA programs and volunteer opportunities. Sharing this information will give everyone a deeper connection to the school and to your PTA. That deeper connection will allow you to raise more money when you organize your next fundraiser.
  1. Communicating too much. If you find yourself hitting the “Send” button several times a day, you’re communicating too much. Few parents enjoy receiving multiple emails every day from their PTA leader. If you have a lot to say, try combining your requests and updates into a single email or newsletter. Parent portal platforms such as SimplyCircle allow you to consolidate all your communication into a single Daily Digest.
  1. Communicating at inconsistent frequency. One week you’re sending many emails per day. Then your members don’t hear from you for a month. Unless there’s a good reason for your silence (like a long school holiday), you should pick your communication frequency (daily, weekly or monthly) and stick with it. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is this: the larger the group, the less frequently you should be communicating. Plus, knowing that your communications always come out on Mondays at 3 p.m. will “condition” your group members to open your emails. That translates into higher member engagement for you.
  1. Not being clear about what’s most important. When you put your most important request at the bottom of a 4-page long newsletter (and you should think twice about sending out a 4-page long newsletter in the first place), your critical call to action will more than likely never get seen. Instead, put your main request at the beginning. It should appear both in the subject line and at the top of your email or newsletter.
  1. Making it difficult to take action. The whole point of communication is to drive member engagement, right? So make it as easy as possible for members to engage. If you’re asking them to volunteer, let them sign up with one click. Don’t send them to a paper signup at the school office, or to a spreadsheet that half of the school can’t open. Parent portal platforms such as SimplyCircle integrate signups, event RSVPs and post commenting. When you make it simple for people to volunteer and otherwise engage, you’ll find more of them will do it.
  1. Starting a reply-all email mess. This one is a personal pet peeve of mine. I hate getting emails that ask people to bring food to an upcoming school event where everyone is on the “to” line. Within minutes, my inbox is flooded with “reply all” responses: “I will bring watermelons”. “I won’t be attending”. “What kind of cheese do people like?” Instead, use a platform like SimplyCircle. It allows people to sign up without the blow-by-blow commentary of who is doing what. If people are commenting on your posts, all the comments are summarized in one convenient Daily Digest. If you must communicate by regular email, then put everyone’s email addresses on the Bcc line.
  1. Not respecting people’s privacy. There’s another reason why you should put everyone on the Bcc line. It signals that you respect their privacy. I remember freaking out when I got an email from a non-profit organization I just joined, and saw my email address displayed on the “to” line. Needless to say, I severed my ties with that nonprofit in seconds. People are rightly paranoid about their privacy. So either move everyone to the “Bcc” line, or use a service like SimplyCircle. It hides email addresses, while still allowing everyone to communicate.
  1. Not providing easy opt-out or unsubscribe options. In 2003, Congress passed a law called CAN-SPAM. The law requires senders of commercial messages to let recipients unsubscribe from unwanted emails. While PTAs are not commercial entities that are bound by CAN-SPAM law, it is still a good idea to let people opt out. Here’s why. If you irritate people with frequent communications, and don’t let them get off your mailing list, they will mark your email as “spam”. Too many spam complaints will ruin your email deliverability. That means that all your emails will start landing in people’s spam folders. Needless to say, not being able to connect your PTA members is not effective for great outreach. So let people unsubscribe if they want to.
  1. Making typos or other mistakes in your communication. Spelling or grammatical errors make communication look unprofessional. Fortunately, these errors are easy to avoid. Just run a spelling and grammar check before sending something out. Also be sure to check your email for accuracy and completeness. You don’t want to have to contact a thousand people with an “oops, I got the date wrong” email. Remember, once you hit that “send” button, there’s no way to unring that bell. The email is out.
  1. Leaving some people out. Make sure your communications include everyone. For example, you should not limit your updates to just paying PTA members. Everybody needs to be informed about school and PTA events. In fact, if you keep parents in the loop and make them feel like part of the community, they might decide to join your PTA. If you have a large Hispanic population at your school, you should try to write in both English and Spanish. Using a free program like Google Translate is better than nothing. But you should be able to get translation help from someone at your school who speaks both languages.

If you avoid these 10 common communication mistakes, you will get higher member engagement.

Want to learn more about how you can simplify PTA member communication? Visit SimplyCircle.com.

Happy communicating!

Dr. Elena Krasnoperova is the Founder and CEO of SimplyCircle, a popular parent portal for PTAs, PTOs and other parent communities. She is a mother of two children in elementary school, and an active member of the PTA.