Communicating effectively with the school community

By Alexandria Utting

Do you know exactly what your school’s P&C Committee does?

Chances are you probably don’t says Marie-Claire Grady, a woman who has been working hard at getting Cooparoo State School’s P&C Committee’s message heard.

As both the Managing Director of her company at 3rdView Consulting and a mum of two, it’s hardly surprising Marie-Claire is good at communicating. Before becoming involved, “I didn’t have any idea” what a P&C Committee actually did.

“Traditionally P&C committees don’t engage particularly well with the school community,” Marie-Claire acknowledged.

After taking on the role of secretary last August, Marie-Claire has seen the committee grow in members and engage with the school community, simply by changing the way it tells parents about what’s going on.

By developing a customer strategy for the P&C, just as she does in her everyday communications work, Marie-Claire has created a relationship with the school community not dissimilar to those she develops for her clients.

“The more open and transparent a P&C is with the school community, the more likely they are to engage with them.”

“From the start, we have always been open about what we were going to talk about at meetings; particularly if there was anything controversial,” she replied.

Marie-Claire mentioned there is often a mentality in P&C’s about not telling the community about a change for fear they won’t like it, and don’t want to rock the boat.

She suggests a better communication strategy is to get parents in a room and understand why they don’t like something and get their input on ways to fix it.

Five ways to get your P&C’s message heard:

1. Be open and transparent.

“That is my biggest tip,” responded Marie-Claire.

Sometimes it’s hard to hear you’re doing something wrong, but it’s important to make sure you know, so you can combat those problems.

2. Newsletter is number one.

“It’s critical to put something in the newsletter every single week.”

Elect someone to keep track of deadlines and ensure there is a stream of information going into the school community.

3. Be clear about where the funding is going.

“Tell parents, if you’re wondering why we’re raising money, please come and say what you want us to raise it for.”

4. Focus on the ways funding will impact kids.

Don’t just tell the community the P&C is buying books.
Treat parents like a customer and show them the results of the product, rather than just the product itself.

“Giving our children more interesting things to read is much more exciting for parents than just telling them the P & C is buying books.”

5. Find a balance with communication.

“Send too many emails and people just switch off, send too little and they don’t engage,” Marie-Claire said.

Try using a Facebook page to engage parents and get them excited about events and fundraising initiatives.

Who gives? What the stats say about giving time and money

Australia is no longer the world’s most charitable nation. What can fundraisers learn from the latest World Giving Index statistics?

The Charities Aid Foundation’s crunch of Gallup WorldView World Poll statistics puts US and Ireland ahead of Australia for giving time and money to a cause, or helping a stranger.

Australians haven’t become stingy—but the slip to 3rd place does suggest fundraisers need to better understand who is giving, who is not, and why.

Key World Giving Index 2011 findings for Australia are:

  • 71% give money for a cause
  • 34% volunteer
  • 68% will help a stranger
  • Women (75%) in Australia are more likely to make a cash donation —or buy something for a cause—than men
  • More women (39%) than men (33%) give their time
  • The 50+ age group are the most giving in terms of money (77%)
  • Australia’s youth—15 to 24 year olds—are big on helping strangers
  • The 25-34 year age group are least likely to volunteer.

Knowing this can inform—even boost—your fundraising efforts:

  • Focus on why you’re fundraising. How does your ‘specific’ fundraising goal translate to a ‘cause’ related goal that could have broader appeal. Read about SMART goal setting for fundraising (page 10 of our Essentials of Fundraising ebook).
  • Women are more likely to spend so direct your marketing approach to items that will appeal to them. Use your network of contacts to place direct sale products (like chocolates) or catalogues in lunchrooms or offices with high female staff numbers.
  • Carefully consider your demographics when choosing a suitable fundraiser. Single income households with a number of children often have tight budgets. Change where the spend happens.
  • Fundraising can be a volunteer hungry activity. Think creatively to encourage all ages. For example:

– Micro-tasking may appeal to time-poor 25-34 year olds.
– Teenagers and young adults are keen to help strangers. Welcome the energy and enthusiasm of youth!
– Virtual volunteering could be an easy way to get people involved.
– Older Australians may not have a direct link to your group but may still want to lend a hand. Does your organisation          have a ‘grands’ program, introducing grandparents, through their grandkids, to what you do?

Not all nations ‘give’ as generously as Australians. If your community has a high migrant population, the World Giving Index 2011 can help you understand their cultural approach to giving time and money.

What a P&C really does

Parents who cringe at the very mention of the term ‘P&C’ probably have never been to a meeting. Find out what the P&C really does.

Most schools have a parent representative body, commonly called Parents and Citizens (P&C) Association in state schools (non-government schools may call theirs a Parents and Friends Association).

The P&C is the voice of the parents. It’s at P&C meetings that decisions affecting your child at school are made.

P&C meetings are usually held once a month. Any parent or guardian can attend.

P&C associations are a great way to:

  • get the inside story on what’s really happening in the school (not the gossip). The principal usually is available to answer questions and teachers sometimes attend too
  • influence school policy (want to change the uniform? Lobby through the P&C)
  • have a say in the development of school activities such as excursions and camps and curriculum
  • guide school management in its financial planning by helping prioritise the resource wish-list
  • contribute to the school’s resources through various fundraising projects
  • meet other parents

Schools have their own budgets —but invariably they need more than the budget allows. That’s where the P&C becomes a really valuable partner.

P&Cs often run or manage services like tuckshops (or canteens), uniform shops or after school care/vacation care.

Some school P&Cs have special interest sub-committees that focus on, for example, a sport or the music program or the school grounds.

Fundraising is an exciting way in which to help your school get much-wanted additional resources—from extra library books to a shade cloth over a play area, new tuckshop kitchen; even a new swimming pool.

P&C fundraising can take many forms from product drives to special event stalls (for Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day, for example) and social events—for students (like school discos), parents (such as casino nights or wine tastings) and families (like trivia nights and BBQs). P&Cs are also the driving force behind big community events like fetes or carnivals.

Search the Fundraising Directory’s suggestions of ways to make money and read our free ebook, The Essentials of Fundraising: 22 lessons for A+ results.

All money raised by a P&C must be used for the benefit of the school. But as a P&C member, you get to vote on how funds are used—and ultimately, that can only benefit your child too.

Virtual Volunteering

Schools are constantly in need of assistance. Parent Associations and other groups are an important part of schools as a way to raise funds, provide important materials, and valuable resources for students. But, unfortunately many of us do not have the available time needed to help out because of the hectic family schedule.  So how can you be of assistance?

Providing extra money is one way to help out. However with the current economy or your own financial situation, that might not be a possibility. Another often-overlooked option is providing assistance remotely by becoming a virtual volunteer.

How can you help?

Some programs are actively looking for people to fill certain roles that can be done from home. Other times you will be presenting an original idea. The best place to start is by talking to the people who organize events and run associations. As they will often assign tasks it will be up to them to fit you into the list of things that need to be done. Here are a few examples of things you could volunteer for:

  • Data Entry – Many schools need assistance with maintaining records and keeping things up to date. With current technology it is a simple matter to perform some of these duties remotely.
  • Bookkeeping – While some schools have people responsible for this function, other schools or associations use volunteers to assist them.
  • Sponsorship Research – Finding businesses and individuals to sponsor events as well as donate time and materials for fundraisers involves a lot of phone calls which can easily be done remotely.
  • Grant Applications – The application process is something that can be done from home quite easily and is always in demand. Grants are a wonderful way to raise funds for schools.
  • Research – Sometimes being able to research an idea or requirement can be a useful way to volunteer your time. Looking into different fundraising opportunities and providing reports on findings is a good example.

Working Together

Another option is to partner with someone else to help with events and activities. While you almost always need someone on hand to organise and set-up and event, there are many aspects of planning and preparation that can be done remotely. Working in tandem can be an effective way to help out.

  • Arranging Field Trips – Confirming dates and reservations along with arranging with transportation needs.
  • Organising Mixers and Events – Reserving locations and handling invitations and confirmations.

Being a virtual volunteer is a wonderful way to help out. Not only is it a way to participate, but it can easily be fit into a busy schedule. Even a little bit of help can go a long way so why not see what you can do to lend a hand.

Handmade to sell

It used to be easy to set up a fundraising stall – just bake some lemon slices, roll out the chocolate crackles and the honey joys and watch the money come in. Today, with stringent rules in relation to food labelling and handling, a stall selling hand made and sewn items can be an easier option to set up and run.

For sewers, small-scale projects can be a breeze. Off-cuts from bigger projects can be used effectively to create great products, or small lengths of gorgeous fabrics can be purchased to create a few ‘limited edition’ items.

Spotlight’s Get Creative Studio doyen, Kaye Wolf, is a dab hand at such projects; she creates them daily in her job working for Spotlight’s own magazine, GET CREATIVE QUARTERLY, as well as supplying projects for the craft pages of mainstream magazines.

“I think the best thing is to concentrate on simple, well made items when it comes to fundraising,” says Kaye.  “I like things like easy fabric or felt brooches using scraps of fabric. Small amounts of fat quarters which you can get from the quilting department are great for these too.”

A stall selling handmade items is an excellent idea in a time when it’s become cool to love knitting, sewing, recycling and personalising. Ideas in this area include turning denim jeans into great denim mags, adding emblems and embroidery to t-shirts, pillows or handtowels, and revamping old dresses by changing hemlines, necklines and more.

For fundraising events you can look at making shopping bags and totes, made even easier because there are plenty of free bag patterns on the Internet. In fact, you can download a free PDF from Get Creative’s own Facebook page. HINT: The Net is also a source of patterns for gorgeous, retro aprons and the like.

Kaye Wolf also likes beaded jewellery and bracelets with little charms for these events … although you could also put kits together for children to make their own jewellery as a gift for someone.

“Crochet is great too,” says Kaye, “because it’s a lot quicker than knitting and you get good, fast results. Consider making small items – little creatures or crocheted jewellery – or even market shopping bags.

“I think handmade items for school supplies are cool – pencil cases, art smocks, library bags and sports swimming bags – these can be highly personalised to the user, featuring favourite cartoon characters, flowers, colours etc. I’d go for small simple items in great eye catching fabrics as well as things like mobile phone cases, journal covers, pen caddies.”

Other cool ideas you see around currently involve covering picture frames with fabrics or covering notebook covers. There are products that allow you to print photographs onto fabrics for the highly creative and, for those with nimble fingers, hand decorated headwear – from simple headbands and combs to full blown fascinators – is really appealing. Hat basics tend to be on sale at places like Spotlight so you can just buy the ribbons, feathers, beads etc. Imagination is one of the only limitations.

TIP: Talk up the makers!

Create gorgeous handmade swing tags (just on the back of old greeting cards, playing cards or the like) with a note about which ‘artist’ – from your school, church or community group made the item on sale.

Silent Fundraising

Fundraising may not be the easiest job in the world but it’s an activity that schools are increasingly relying on to fund the purchase of essential resources and infrastructure for schools and students. With this comes greater dependence on the parent community to come up with fundraising ideas, to organise fundraising events and to support events both physically and financially.

However, for many parents volunteering time and money to support school fundraising initiatives isn’t always an option, so schools need to have fundraising programs in place that don’t require parents’ time or money. One emerging option for schools is to engage in silent fundraising, activities that can deliver money to schools without parents having to be asked to outlay their time or cash.

Mother of three young children, Katrina McCarter, has been actively involved in the Parents & Citizen’s Committee at her local school in Perth running the schools movie fundraiser. To Katrina, whilst the movie events were always well attended and a great social get together for school families, she felt frustrated by the level of financial return it delivered for the amount of effort involved.

“If we wanted to purchase one smartboard we would have had to run seven movie fundraisers,” she said. “I felt there had to be a smarter way to raise money, especially one where we weren’t always asking parents for money.”

Recognising this led Katrina to launch the online group buying website Bubbler Deals, designed to help primary schools and playgroups raise funds simply by earning a percentage of sales of goods and services that parents would normally purchase elsewhere.

Bubbler Deals donate 5% of sales back to the primary school or playgroup nominated by the purchaser when they make their first purchase. Then, whenever that person purchases anything else through the website, Bubbler sends 5% of their purchases to their school or playgroup each quarter. Then, the more a school promotes and uses the service, the more funds they can raise.

Silent fundraising is a great addition to a schools fundraising calendar, one that works well alongside other common fundraising initiatives. It can help build a school’s community as well as reduce some of the pressure on the parent committee to meet their fundraising budgets.

To find out more about Bubbler Deals click here

Turning Kids’ Art into Fundraising Dollars

Children have a remarkable capacity for being creative, so much so, that if you asked many parents, at one time or another they had a very brief flash where they dream of their child as the next Picasso, Rembrandt or Whitely.

Our enthusiasm for our children’s creative works has led to a growing popularity for using companies that turn children’s drawing, sketches or photos into keepsakes such as bags, tea towels and calendars as a means of fundraising.

Gareth Scarfe, from Crazy Camel Fundraising, a company that turns children’s artwork or photographs into professionally printed calendars, greeting cards and diaries, believes they are increasingly popular because they are a unique and personal gift that parents and relatives can cherish. They’re a popular gift for birthdays and anniversarys, and particularly popular at Christmas time.

Turning children’s artwork into calendars and cards is just the beginning, there’s also the ever-popular option of using children’s drawings, sketches or handprints to create practical products like tea towels, bags or aprons.  Emma Glynn, from Expressions, says that customised printed tea towels and aprons are ideal keepsakes, and a great option for fundraising for worthwhile causes, because they are so unique.

“We recently worked with a group raisingmoney for a hospital in Africa. The design contained wonderful pictures by female patients, many of whom had never held a pen before. The group originally ordered 1,500, then, a few months later we had a reorder for another 1,000,which was a special keepsake for the women and a fantastic fundraiser for the charity.”

For those looking for something even more durable, melamine plates have been popular in Australia for many years, and can be decorated with photos or drawings, and even hand or footprints. Toby Griffin, from Pictureproducts, believes that it is the durability of the product that accounts for much of its popularity.

“We hear countless stories of Pictureplates still being in use while the original artist’s children are at school making plates of their own. It’s truly heartwarming to know that the products we make are not cheap throwaways, but will become long-term mementos treasured by families.”

So whether you choose to agree with Picasso or not – that every child is an artist– you should consider including one or more of the above options in your fundraising calendar. They’re always popular with parents and relatives, they’re profitable ideas for community and school fundraisers, but more importantly, they make our children feel precious and treasured!

What you can expect from fundraising suppliers

Do you sometimes wish a genie could make your fundraiser’s administrative tasks simpler? Ask the right questions when choosing your fundraising supplier and—hey presto—you might just find your wish has come true!

Increasingly fundraising suppliers see the advantage of providing more than just product to fundraisers.

Typically the support comes in the form of:

  • promotional collateral
  • telephone support and advice
  • administrative systems

It is to their benefit really: the more helpful and easier fundraising suppliers can make your task, the more likely you are to turn to them again.

So ask upfront: what supports do you provide to help our group’s sales succeed?

Promoting products

Presentation counts when relying on sales via brochures and order forms. Ask whether order forms are supplied free, or need to be copied (a cost for you).

Order forms that are in full colour, professionally created with high resolution photos of the products will create more interest and therefore increase sales, which in turn results in greater profits for your group.

Some fundraising suppliers also provide promotional posters with professionally designed pizzazz (another job your fundraising team won’t have to do!). For the promotion and sales side of things Crazy Camel provide parent order forms, posters for display at school, as well as teacher checklists to help keep things organised.

Telephone support and advice

The Fundraising Handover sheet is a valuable reference tool but not every group has such useful background information on past fundraising efforts.

Being able to talk to someone with experience can be handy too.

Websites try to offer as much information as possible, but it is always nice to be able to talk to someone and get to the heart of any uncertainty that you may have, before, during and as you’re about to finalise the fundraising drive.

“We’re always happy to help with any questions about the process, give tips for artworks or just bounce around ideas about how to do artwork and display it to parents,” adds Gareth Scarfe from popular card, diary and calendar creators, Crazy Camel.

TIP: Some fundraising suppliers have FREECALL numbers; others supply a 1300 number. These can add up to considerable phone savings for you during your fundraising campaign.

Keeping administration in order

“Fundraising organisers should look for well-established companies that put time into customer service and have developed clear and effective systems to make the fundraising process as smooth as possible. We also provide an index sheet when the order is returned showing a thumbnail sized picture of each artwork with the child’s name and detailing what has been made from each artwork. This helps immensely with distribution of the order, and is particularly important with products where each item is personalised,” advises Gareth from Crazy Camel.

Increasingly, fundraising providers include easy-to-use tally sheets to keep track of orders.

Some websites provide specially-developed tally software which automatically calculates orders.

Then there are specific ‘added extras’, based on your suppliers’ experience and understanding of your need to keep outgoings down to maximise your profit margin. Take Gareth Scarfe’s approach as an example: “Crazy Camel supplies art paper for the children to draw upon, art ideas and lesson plans”.

Never be afraid to ask “what more can you do for us?” Your genie could be waiting to realise your fundraising dream.