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Boost support

10 ways to boost parental support

1. Get in early

Parents of children who are new to the school are the most enthusiastic about joining and supporting the PTA - use this to your advantage! Many schools invite families of new starters to an event at the end of the summer term, or arrange parent coffee mornings within the first few weeks of their child starting school. These social events are organised so parents can get to know each other, but they are crying out for PTAs to launch a recruitment drive.

2. Make it easy

Signing up to your PTA should be as easy as possible. Put posters up on noticeboards, with information on how to get involved. Include pictures of key committee members and include every possible method for contacting you - email, phone, Facebook. Make it clear what skills and services your PTA is looking for. Don't put potential volunteers off by letting them think they'll be organising the summer fair if they sign up. From joining the 100 club, to becoming a class rep or joining the committee - any level of support is welcome.

3. Staying power

Make sure that everyone who offers support is regularly contacted either by e-mail or personally, so that they know what is going on and how they can help. Make them feel important, useful and wanted, and they will be yours for the long haul. You certainly don't want your PTA to appear cliquey so make the effort to mingle on the playground and include everyone in PTA emails. Encourage new ideas - you may have heard them 100 times before, but try to appear enthusiastic and encouraging, amongst the chaff there may be a fundraising gem! Schedule an informal meeting in a local pub for the discussion of new ideas. This allows everyone to contribute without the time constraints imposed at official PTA meetings.

4. Doing, not saying

Recruitment of volunteers is one thing, but using them is quite another. People are happy to SAY they will help but actually the reality is, they DON'T! Try to reduce legitimate excuses. Keep meetings short and at a time when partners are home from work. Arrange events that children can attend so childcare isn't a barrier. Break events down into bite size chunks - someone is more likely to run the cake stall than the whole summer fair. Publicise meeting dates and events months in advance, so parents can make appropriate arrangements to attend. And keep reminders coming!

5. Thank you!

It may sound obvious, but saying 'thank you' costs nothing and makes people feel valued. If you have an events programme, take a page to thank the organising committee by name, and ask the head to write thank you letters to those involved, outlining what their work means to the school. Thank parents and children for attending. Announce details of how much money has been raised by an event - not only is this extremely motivating, people will feel that they have contributed to its success.

6. Less is more

Remember that people do have a life outside school, so don't go event crazy! Look at the calendar and plan an even spread of events across the year, taking into account other commitments in the school calendar, e.g. productions, exams, etc. Early planning will enable you to maximise the success of your events by promoting them well in advance. Employ a 'year rep' system aiming to have two parents from each class. Encourage each year group to organise one event a year - with the support of the committee! Be realistic about what you have the time and manpower to achieve.

7. Start small

Recruiting for the key PTA positions is probably one of the hardest challenges that a committee will face. Very few people are confident enough to jump straight into a key PTA role such as chair or treasurer. Most people initially volunteer at one or two less daunting events and once they have found their feet, take on more and more responsibility. The current PTA committee should identify those volunteers who show an interest in increasing their involvement and nurture them. Pairing less experienced with more experienced volunteers avoids the problem of getting to an AGM only to find you have nobody stepping forward for the committee!

8. Set targets

The success of a fundraising event (and the willingness of people to get involved) is greatly increased if people can see how the money is going to be spent, and how much is needed. This is not always possible, but in these cases it is always a good idea to set a target to show how much you hope to raise as a PTA over the year, and keep parents regularly updated on progress. Promote the work of your PTA - make sure parents know that it is the PTA that pays for the Christmas lunch, or the end-of-year disco and without their support, these extras will stop.

9. Head teacher

The head teacher - indeed all teaching staff - play a very important role in the success of your PTA. By showing their support and demonstrating the impact the work of the PTA has on the facilities in the school, more people will want to get involved. A good head will attend as many of your meetings and events as possible, will encourage teachers to get more involved and may even allow children to throw wet sponges at them at the summer fair!

10. Make it fun!

PTAs are not all about raising money, there is also an important social element to them too. Many PTAs recognise this and organise events that are purely social, e.g. family quizzes or BBQs. These events are great for generating a sense of camaraderie and to show that the PTA isn't always asking you to put your hand in your pocket! Not surprisingly, if the children are on board, an event is usually better attended. Parents may be apathetic about attending an adults-only race night, but will attend an event that appeals to their child. If you have a particularly indifferent parent base, concentrate on developing child-focused events such as a film night or beetle drive. Although it's unlikely you'll get everyone off the sofa, you can do a lot to increase parental support. And next time you want to scream 'Yes, I'm busy too!' at someone who can't or won't help - remember that all your effort is appreciated by the children and that's what counts!

This feature appeared in the winter 2013 issue of PTA+ Magazine. To read it in full, click here.

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