Change comes quickly for some industries in the United States but education is not one of them. A common refrain heard in the halls of schools: “We have always done it this way – and it works.” If your parent organization is considering going paperless here are a few tips and experiences from others who have already taken the plunge!
Two Options: Paper or Paperless – Sending Mixed Messages
We met with a middle school PTO in October to brainstorm on why their membership numbers were not as high as last year. This was their first year offering parents an online option and they were trying to decide what to do. They relied heavily on their membership numbers to fund their PTO activities.
Our conclusion: they continued to offer parents the option of joining their PTO the old fashion way with a check and paper form AND they offered the online option. So what happened – parents had the choice and didn’t choose either.
Parents would receive an email that gave them two options for joining: online or turn in your paper form. Busy parents thought they would wait and take care of it at Parent’s Night. At Parent’s Night, they chose not to stand in line and said they would take care of it when they got home. There was not a clear Call-To-Action (what you need parents to do) so parents procrastinated and forgot to do either.
Their board came up with a Communication Plan that included one call-to-action, “Join the PTO” and within a few weeks they were able to increase their membership numbers so that they exceeded the previous year. Their Call-To-Action was simple. Click here to Join the PTO.
We have worked with hundreds of parent organizations and the most successful have always been those that set a date to end paper, transitioning to all online tools for communications, forms, and sales.
Make the Switch and Don’t Look Back
A great success story is Schimelpfenig Middle School in Texas. Angela King, PTA President, set a high goal to get over 90% of their families registered in their new online system. Over the summer the PTA announced that they would be going paperless and all of their families needed to complete their school registration and PTA registration, which included information for their directory and communications. Parents who completed their paperwork before the Schedule Pick-up would be able to go directly to the counselor’s table and pick up their schedules.
Angela welcomed all of the parents to the building, checked to see if they had completed their online registration and either directed them to the gym to pick up their schedules and supplies or to the computer classroom. Honestly, we were a little worried about the response she would receive from parents. This was a few years ago before districts were using online tools for registration so this was new for everyone.
By the first day of school they had 98% of their students included in their Membership Toolkit database; their membership, sales, and donations exceeded previous years. And parents loved the convenience of being able to do everything online without having to stand in lines at school. It was a huge success.
We have shared Angela’s story with several schools and every time a school follows her plan they have similar success. She did two things: she had a Communication Plan and she kept it simple for parents – they had one call to action.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
The key to your success is to communicate. If you plan to launch your new online sales and registration process over the summer, begin telling your parents about the “new” back-to-school process before school lets out for the summer. Your communication plan should include all of the communication channels available to you.
- eNews from your Principal
- eNews from your parent organization
- electronic newsletter
- school marquee
- carpool sign
The easiest way to communicate with parents is through email. Do you have a list of email addresses? If you are using Membership Toolkit, upload your list into your Membership Toolkit Newsletter Tool to stay connected with your parents prior to registration.
Plan to present your parents with information about your online registration a minimum of 6 times. Research shows that for people to react to an offering, they need to see it an average of 6 times before they take action.
Keep It Simple
One of the advantages to going online is that parents do not have to fill out all of that repetitive paperwork. Your PTA/PTO is making it easier for your volunteers AND parents. Keep your instructions simple. Your goal is to get parents to your online site.
If it takes more than 2 sentences to get parents started – you need a new system!
Celebrate Your Successes
As you make the transition, do not forget to say thanks. Going paperless means there is less work for your volunteers, less paperwork for parents to complete, saves your organization money on copy costs and mailing, and it is great for our environment. Celebrate when your organization reaches a fundraising goal or a volunteer goal. There may be a parent who doesn’t like change. If they can see the benefits and victories for your organization, there is a good chance the change will be easier for them to accept.
Allow For Exceptions
Do not assume that all of your families have the option of using online resources. We encourage all of our organizations to be flexible as needed. Include information on whom parents can call if they are unable to use your online software. It is rare that they do not have access to the internet. More often it is because they do not have a credit card or debit card to complete the purchase. Many families rely on their mobile device for access to the internet so be sure to choose software that is mobile friendly.
We have never had a school or parent organization tell us that they regretted going paperless! With the right tools we are confident you will love your Paperless PTO, PTA, or Booster Club.