Harper Collins

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 receptive.

The who, what and why 
of communication

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 date,
  • 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 friends/aquaintances.

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 ambassador.


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.

Communication channels

You need to mix up your approach to getting the message out, just as you mix up your fundraising activities. Your toolkit should include:

  • Face-to-face talking! This works very well for volunteer recruitment, ticket sales, and product sales, as well as sponsorship requests,
  • 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 achievements.
  • 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 volunteers.
  • 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 broadcast.
  • 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 attention.
  • 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 enough!

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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