Even during uncertain times, the autumn term is all about planning for the year ahead. With many of us returning to PTA duties for the first time in six months, the workload might seem overwhelming, so it's important to break it down into manageable chunks.
Welcome new families
With less access to the school this year, new parents won't be feeling part of the community in the same way as usual. Use the PTA to help soothe any worries and start to integrate them. How about a virtual coffee morning a few weeks into term? Make it unique by creating a welcome package containing a teabag, coffee sachet, sweet treat and a copy of your welcome pack or a PTA leaflet. If permitted, parents can either collect a package from the school at drop-off or from a designated committee member's house in readiness for a Zoom call, where they can get to know each other over a cuppa.
Assess who might step down from your committee and start warming up any potential candidates. Make sure all your paperwork is in check, including knowledge capsules, licences and supplier contacts. If anything needs updating, get it done before it's time to start fundraising. GDPR probably means you have deleted personal contact details at the end of last year, so get this crucial information collected now so you can contact parents, volunteers and supporters more easily. Establish how you will contact parents if flyers in book bags aren't allowed yet.
Check out PTA equipment
Ensure your equipment is ready and waiting for when you can next use it by taking some time to go through your PTA stores. Does anything need repairing or replacing? If anything has broken or stopped working, is it still under guarantee? Does any electrical equipment need to have its annual PAT test, and can this be done in conjunction with the school?
Gather the team together
The aim of the first meeting should be to focus your committee. Agree on a schedule for future sessions, and establish your goals for the year. Next, examine your activities and start planning events. Remember, some families still have more caring and work commitments than before lockdown, so try not to overwhelm people.
Meet with the head
It's vital to have a good working relationship with your headteacher, with mutual support being more critical now than ever. Discuss what you can do for the school and how they will support you to achieve it. Ask the headteacher about the school's intended plan for the year and suggest ideas for how you can get the best results. Arrange regular meetings by whichever means are easiest to keep you updated.
Look at your fundraising mix
Allocate sub-committees to look into different aspects of current fundraising options, including virtual challenges and socially distanced events. A broad range of options (regulations permitting) as well as ongoing income streams, such as shopping affiliate schemes, will have the best impact. Alter your strategy to work with your school demographic and community preferences.
Rethink financial priorities
Many PTAs have seen a considerable drop in income over the past few months, meaning it's vital to analyse your financial situation and decide on your priorities. What monetary commitments do you have in place, and can they be met with your current funds? Consider ongoing spending such as subscriptions and playground maintenance as well as longer-term goals. Consult with your school to establish what funds are needed and where. If you can't meet the requirements, can any projects or activities be stopped or paused and funds diverted to essential spending?
It isn't possible to do this with all profits, however. If your charity raised money for a specific purpose stated at the time of fundraising, this is known as 'restricted income' and may only be used for the intended goal. In some cases, you may be able to overcome these limitations, but you should only do so if there's no alternative. Whatever financial decisions you make, ensure they are agreed on collectively and note them in writing.
Start planning events
Think outside the box and allow plenty of time to come up with - and adapt - ideas. Make allowances for how protocol might change and develop contingency plans in case of any last-minute reworking. As a starting point, review last year's successes and see how you can adapt them to suit current guidelines. Thinking ahead to Christmas, could you accommodate a distanced physical event? How might you use the space? If not, how can the experience be replicated virtually? If booking third parties, check their cancellation terms and make sure you're not left out of pocket.
Publish key dates
Usually, it's best to announce your annual events programme as soon as you can so that parents can get dates in diaries, but that's less feasible this year. Announce each fundraiser as soon as you are able and take every opportunity to remind parents using all your available communication channels to get the information seen.
Check your constitution
It's best practice to read your governing document from time to time. Remind yourself who is defined as a member, how committee roles are elected and how decisions should be made and documented. Check for guidance on postponing meetings and whether you're able to hold them online. If you can't find a copy and your association is a registered charity, the Charity Commission (charity.commission.gov.uk) may have one.
Alter your AGM
Distancing measures may mean some PTAs can't hold their annual general meeting in the usual way. If you decide to cancel or postpone your AGM, record your decision and reason for postponing, then hold the meeting as soon as is reasonably possible. It's crucial to keep detailed minutes of decisions as it may make it harder for you to finalise annual reports and accounts. In the current circumstances, where the health of members is to be safeguarded, the Charity Commission will accept a virtual meeting as a valid meeting, as long as it is quorate.
When you do hold your AGM, it's common practice to give at least 21 days' written notice to all members - check your constitution though, as it may differ. At the AGM, committee members typically stand down - although they can stand for election again. Remember that committee changes may require updates to the signatories on the PTA bank account and named contacts held by the Charity Commission and other organisations.
For more information
If you're unsure about any legalities, the Charity Commission can help you at charitycommission.gov.uk or on 0300 066 9197.
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