During our current times, parent groups are having to get super creative in trying to engage with their community of families. Not only for fundraising, but in building their community. Thinking outside of the box for our schools and how we can support them, is quickly becoming necessary in our volunteer lives. It’s crucial to remain engaged with your in-person, hybrid and virtual families because the pandemic and all of its health guidelines will change and morph (probably a few times!) and so will parent groups. One thing is for sure, our focus will always be on bringing the best of the best to our schools, teachers and most of all, our children.
We had the opportunity to chat with Tracie Cohen of McKinley PTA in Santa Monica, CA about their creative idea in bringing their much-beloved annual Harvest Festival virtual. This year, their PTA board & Event Committees went back to the drawing board to determine how they could make their highly interactive, in person event just as exciting, while no longer ‘in person’. One of the keys to their success was utilizing their Membership Toolkit website. They were able to create a webpage for each activity with links to fun videos and games. The prep work was all done behind the scenes with the big ‘reveal’ happening when the event began, creating the feel of that in person Festival.
Tell us your thought process and mission for your Virtual Festival.
Every year, our elementary school hosts a Harvest Festival and Haunted House in October, and it’s one of our most popular events. We wanted to find a way to bring our community together while we’re distance learning. We had three teams working on three different aspects of the event – Harvest Boxes (themed activities and favors), Haunted House (2 interactive videos starring a 5th grade cast – scary and not-too-scary), and Virtual Festival (games, photo slideshows, demonstrations, teacher messages).
What helped you organize your event?
We used our previous events as a template for what we wanted to include this year, and the inspiration for the structure of the website was taken from the middle school’s online Back to School night.
Are there some fun details you did that you wouldn't have been able to do if you had the festival in person?
Our teachers and staff are always an important part of Harvest Festival, and this year they contributed more than their volunteer time. They submitted clips of autumn-themed jokes that were compiled into a short video, and this was one of the most watched videos of the event! This format also allowed us to include the school mascot, former and current students and staff, and local businesses in ways they wouldn’t typically participate. We even used the old school basement as a scene in the Haunted House. Another popular element was the photo slideshows of past festivals and teachers’ costumes. Part of the fun was brainstorming wild ideas and trying to see if we could make them work (for example, the virtual petting zoo and games). Unfortunately, we weren’t able to incorporate food booths into the event, so we had cooking demonstrations instead!
Was there any push back about holding the event virtually?
From your home page, it looks like it's been so successful that you've extended it. How have your families responded?
The feedback we heard was that families loved it and were really appreciative of our efforts to bring the Festival online. I think it was helpful that we didn’t try to recreate the entire event from scratch, but brought the best parts of our in-person event online.
Was there any negative response from your families?
None that we heard.
In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?
I think we were really fortunate to have a team that worked well together online, and we gave ourselves plenty of time to put the website and all of the different elements in place. If I could do anything differently, I’d ask for outtakes clips from all of the participants. That would have been a great addition to the event! Another thought I wanted to add: Next time, I would want to make sure that we have site analytics set up on the website prior to going live. I wish we had the data to know how much activity we had on each page. It looks like it’s really simple to set up, so we’ll have to get on that before the next event!
McKinley PTA hit this one out of the ballpark. A lot of time and effort has not gone unnoticed in their community. When you host “friendraisers” like these, where the focus is on building and engaging with your community, they’ll support your efforts in other areas and maybe add a few outside-the-box ideas for you to run with in the future.