My kids entered the public school system in 2013, and as a way to get involved, I joined the PTA. I took on various roles during my time there — restaurant coordinator, communications team lead, membership coordinator, social media manager, cash donor, and now the Vice President of the PTA.
Despite its reputation for dysfunction, I’ve been super lucky to work with brilliant and talented women (and even a few brave men who joined our ranks) over the years — from a marketing director at Comcast to copywriters, a PR specialist, and an accountant. Through many trials and errors, I discovered what works and what doesn’t when marketing nonprofits.
So without further ado, here’s what I learned about marketing nonprofits from the PTA.
Your donors and volunteers want to know their actions impact the organization and make the world a better place.
Let’s say your PTA raised money for a sensory hall at your school. There are several ways you can show the impact of their dollars and time at work.
- Post images on social media or in your email newsletter of the sensory hall and kids using it.
- Compare the dollar amount to the impact. For example, $500 buys enough supplies for one sensory hall.
- Recruit a teacher to tell the story of how it’s made a difference for her kids.
Check out this article by Amplifi for more ideas on how to show donors the impact of every donation.
Build a Sense of Community
Whether marketing the PTA or your nonprofit, it needs to be about more than just “show me the money.”
If you build a community around your nonprofit, it’ll create a larger donor pool for your organization over the long haul. This tactic is best done over time since it’s an ongoing process that requires consistency and patience.
Besides the obvious in-person events. You can start to build community by asking questions and engaging with your audience on social media. Show them the behind-the-scenes of what’s going on in your organization. We do this at the PTA by showing photos of our events or the money at work. Like the snack cart image below. A parent put it together as a welcome back gift to the teachers this year and was possible with donations to the PTA.
Are you building your following from scratch? Check out Fundrazr’s blog article on How Nonprofits Can Build Their Community from Scratch and Attract New Donors.
Give Them Options
Most people at the PTA want to be involved but sometimes don’t know where to start. Or they can feel overwhelmed—thinking you’re going to ask them to give up their evenings and weekends to volunteer or that extra $5 won’t go very far, so why bother?
Everyone can have an impact, and it doesn’t have to be one size fits all approach. Instead, show your volunteers and donors they can start small and where to start instead.
Start with a survey to see how your volunteer or donors prefer to interact with your nonprofit. It can be as simple as a one-question survey, like the one below.
After you’ve figured out your community’s preferred level of involvement, give them different options for levels of involvement or donations amounts.
For example, in the PTA, we offer what I like to call “gateway volunteer opportunities.” These are for the folks who still want to get their hands dirty but are a little leery of working with the PTA or don’t have a lot of time. Our restaurant coordinator position is a perfect “gateway opportunity.” This person coordinates restaurant fundraiser nights. It’s ideal because this role is minimal effort and gives someone new to the organization a feel for working with us.
Or, if their face gets all contorted when I mention volunteering, I tell them, “No worries, there’s plenty to do without officially joining or volunteering. You can still support the PTA by donating, whether it’s money or donating chips and dip to feed the teachers at conferences. We need it all.” And I thank them for whatever they’re able to do.
For those wanting to go whole hog out of the gate, we also offer the opportunity to chair a committee. This requires coordinating events and fundraisers typically and is a lot more involved.
So as you can see, there’s something for everyone in the PTA, depending on their comfort and commitment level.
Be Repetitive, Let Me Repeat That, Be Repetitive
Parents and teachers are busy, and inboxes overflow with messages, so you’re competing for valuable headspace. This means you need to deliver your message multiple ways and repeat it. These days instead of the rule of seven, it’s more like the rule of 21.
The school used to rely on a newsletter delivered once a month, and the occasional flyer sent home with kids at the end of the week. The problem was we weren’t communicating our message consistently and repeatedly. The flyer sat crumpled up at the bottom of their kid’s backpack. Or the email sat in their inbox.
You need to deliver your message regularly through email, direct mail, flyers, posters, and social media. We did this with our annual Jog-a-thon event. Promoting it on social media, sent multiple flyers home, writing blog posts, sending emails through the school and the PTA. We went from raising $10k the previous year to nearly $14k. That’s a 40% increase from the year prior!
On a larger scale, Charity Water does an exceptional job of digital marketing its mission and message. Read the entire case study from Digital Fire.
Get to the Heart of the Matter
Remember that elementary school teacher’s voice in your head repeating the 5Ws? Tell them the Who, what, where, when, and why.
The why is a biggie here. You want to appeal to your audience’s emotions and passions. What problems is your nonprofit solving? How can they be part of the solution?
And don’t forget the how — or your call to action. How do your volunteers get involved? How can they help? How do they donate? Give them easy-to-follow instructions on how they can help.
Don’t Forget to Say Thank You!
Your donors give you their hard-earned cash. Your volunteers donate their time. No matter how big or small their contribution, say thank you.
It can be as simply setting up an automated email when you receive an online donation. Or try sending a thank you note or email after an event to your volunteers.
We hope what we’ve learned over the years helps you and your nonprofit’s mission. Is there anything you would add? Let us know and comment below.
If you’re looking for more resources, from using AI in your fundraising efforts to major gift solutions to digital fundraising, we know a couple of guys. Check out our friends at Make Philanthropy Work.
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