Perfect planning 5: communication
In the autumn 2016 issue of PTA+ Magazine,
Australian fundraising expert Mandy Weidmann explains why
communication is an integral part of fundraising.
Communication is an integral part of fundraising, but is often
done haphazardly when it really should be planned strategically and
put high up on the list of must-dos. If you want your fundraiser to
stand out from the crowd, it needs to get on the radar of
volunteers and supporters for your initiative to be given the
attention it deserves. That means selling your message. And the
better you sell your message, the more successful your fundraising
initiatives will be!
You need to create dialogue - a clear, compelling, concise
message that leaves no doubt in your audience's mind what you're on
about and what's needed of them. If the community understands and
identifies with your goals, then your 'ask' or fundraising request
will have a context and supporters will be more prepared and
The who, what and why
When we think of communication we often think 'media', and
that's important, but certainly not all there is to communication.
You need to think about your audiences: you have internal audiences
and external audiences and they respond to different messages.
Internal audiences include committee members, volunteers, core
supporters, and wider members of the school, while external
audiences include the wider local community, local businesses,
sponsors, and strategic partners.
Purpose of messages
Your fundraising message is likely to be three-pronged - you
want to educate people about a cause/need. Remember SMART goals?
They need communicating. (See PTA+ Magazine, autumn 2015 issue). You
need to set expectations of what you will need from your community.
And set the stage for what will be happening, what support you will
need from people, and when.
With a fundraising calendar set, use the early part of the
school year to make known your expectations of support - in its
many forms. If you're on people's radar, they will know your
fundraiser is coming and can plan for it. A BBQ is a great way for
new school families to meet others, so assign enthusiastic
supporters to take new families under their wing at this event - to
meet others, make friends, and clue them up on what has already
been achieved by working together.
Enlist the Headteacher's help. Get on the 'welcome' agenda at
information nights in the early weeks of the new school year. Make
certain your website message is updated with a 'welcome' for new
families. Specify how you will be counting on them for support.
Make the messages clear, for example:
- Organise a table of friends now for the next quiz night on xx
- Family photo portraits will be delivered in time for Mother's
Day - what a great present for Grandmas!
- The Christmas fair will be held on xx date and we will need
adults to sign up for one-hour shifts between 3-5pm to help us make
this magical event happen!
Get your message out
Begin with a designated publicity officer and a communications
plan. Your publicity (or communications) officer is ideally a
member of your school community or PTA, with some experience in
public relations, journalism, or marketing. The person will have an
infectious passion for your cause or fundraising events, has great
interpersonal skills, and a strong network of
An alternative is someone who can craft the message and do the
placements, but who leaves the 'talking head' stuff (the interviews
and photo opportunities) to an 'official' spokesperson or group
Your communication plan
All that's needed is a plan that ensures all members of the
fundraising team are singing from the same hymn sheet and spreading
the same message in a timely way, to the right people. Use a
spreadsheet to outline your communications plan. Consider:
- What are your key messages?
- Use bullet points and prioritise,
- Who needs to know what, and when? Focus on internal and
external audiences and timelines,
- What are the best ways of communicating a given message to an
identified audience at a particular time?
- Save time by finding out who your media contacts are - name,
phone number, email. Include a column identifying which message or
'angle' was sent to whom, and when.
You need to mix up your approach to getting the message out,
just as you mix up your fundraising activities. Your toolkit should
- Face-to-face talking! This works very well for
volunteer recruitment, ticket sales, and product sales, as well as
- Group assemblies or gatherings. Whether it's a
PTA meeting or parent information nights, use gatherings to
encourage enthusiasm for your efforts. Provide updates on what's
happened and highlight achievements, and reinforce what still needs
to be done for your goal to be attained.
- School newsletters. Businesses see email lists
as a fundamental part of their business, so why not PTAs? If your
school sends out a regular newsletter, make sure there's a section
in there for PTA news. Find out the deadlines - and meet them,
without fail. Your appointed publicity officer should coordinate
information for newsletter contributions - remember to include
'thanks' and special mentions. Commit to regular content, and use
the space to build your profile and highlight your
- Website. Your notices ideally need to be
included somewhere on the school's homepage. At the very least this
might be about the next event, with the date and a link directing
people to a page with more details.
- Social media. Many PTAs are successfully
running Facebook groups, and social media is proving an invaluable
way of reminding parents about an event, or putting out a cry for
- Local newspapers and radio. Prepare a press
release for the local newspaper, paying attention to the types of
stories that make it onto the front page. Build a relationship with
the paper, inviting a representative to attend your events. Local
radio stations often have a community calendar that may be
- Online 'What's On' columns. Many towns or
regions have a local online journal. Special interest group pages
or blogs (such as parenting) might also be a good avenue through
which to promote your activities.
Get your message noticed
First and foremost, how can you make your fundraiser stand out?
The key to newsworthiness is:
- Timing: 'News' is exactly that: now, current,
happening! A media release distributed after the event is not
'news'! For fundraising purposes, you want your supporters to know
about your activity before it happens. Depending on print
deadlines, newspapers need advance notice, so get information to
them as early as possible, but certainly no later than three weeks
before your event.
- Significance: The number of people involved is
important, so an event that will impact more than a handful is
likely to gain attention.
- Proximity: The closer the story is to home,
the more newsworthy it is.
- Prominence: Famous people get more coverage
just because they are famous, so a celebrity appearance may capture
- Human interest: Human interest stories often
disregard the main rules of newsworthiness! They should be
tear-jerkers, or humorous or quirky. Could a human interest angle
be lurking there? It could even come from a volunteer's own story
of why they're involved.
Writing a media release
- Find your angle. What is the purpose of your
PTA's fundraising? Who will benefit? Is anyone influential
involved? Is there a human interest angle? For example, someone who
has baked cakes for this event for 20 years! A well-staged photo
here could make or break your chances of coverage.
- Be timely. PR is about raising awareness and
drawing a crowd. Allow one month's notice for media, and follow up
closer to the event.
- Use letterheads. A letter written on headed
paper (with charity registration number, if applicable), will add a
sense of authority.
- Write using an inverted triangle. The most
important information should be up front: who, what, when, where,
why and how.
- Be creative in your headline.
- Keep it brief. A couple of hundred words is
About our expert
Mandy Weidmann is the fundraising coordinator at her children's
school, so understands fully the everyday challenges and triumphs
of working with other volunteers to raise funds for a good cause.
As a small business owner she knows how important it is to have a
great plan in place! Mandy is author of The Practical Fundraising
Handbook and publisher of the Australian Fundraising Directory, as
well as being a qualified lawyer and mother of five children - she
knows all about managing chaos!
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