Developing A More Effective Parent Organization For Your Private Independent School

Good morning all and a happy Friday!

We're officially into the first few days of fall. Don't get me wrong. I love the fall. It's the start of our hockey season and another year of hope that the Canucks will make it to the Holy Grail...the Stanley Cup. Here in Vancouver it feels like the switch has gone with our classic weather forecast of cloudy and overcast with the possibility of showers (although I could probably make the same forecast till next April!). For most of you, you're wrapping up your first month of the new school year and you're back in the saddle and the routines of running your school.

One of the routines that most schools overlook, but is critical to the culture and viability of your school, is the role your parent organization plays in your school. This volunteer group varies from school to school in regards to its contribution, function, and engagement. For some its contribution has been financial, for others it's fundraising. For others it workshops, speakers, and fun-raising. At new schools, they may even have a hand in day-to-day tasks.

Today, I'd like to provide another perspective on how you can enhance the role and contribution of your parent community to help make your school an even better place for students to learn and thrive.

Developing A More Effective Parent Organization

Parent organizations at private independent schools have become extremely varied just as the mission of schools have become more diverse to meet the needs of an ever changing community and demographics. Parent needs and families as a whole are continuously evolving in today's society. Consider the following developments:

  1. Parents have less time to volunteer as house-holds are made up of more dual-income and single-parent families.
  2. Parents are more demanding as they've had their children later in life and have higher standards and expectations.
  3. There's a generation of parents who've never attended private schools and the only model they know is the more political version of public schools.
  4. Parents that are available to volunteer may not always be the most suitable ones to serve.
  5. More diverse parent communities place more pressure of support for more complex parenting programs.
  6. Growth of more sophisticated non profits that create false expectations for other volunteer groups.
  7. Parents new to private schools have a false sense of entitlement and treat schools more like a country club than a place where they're fortunate to be a part of.

That being said, it's critical to engage and bond your parents to your school, to keep them informed, and involve them (and make them the best promoters of your school...think word-of-mouth marketing). However, many challenges arise including finding parents that are willing to take on volunteer leadership positions. As a starting point, here are some tips to consider:

1. Review The Purpose Of Your Parent Organization:

An effective parent organization should serve the school's best interests by supporting its mission and programs. You need to be clear about the expectations of your parent organization and its bylaws to ensure it doesn't have an adversarial role or any semblance of authority or political position / agenda to offset your board and staff. They should:

  • Raise funds in parallel with the school's development priorities.
  • Foster communication between parents and school.
  • Assist with special administrative and classroom needs on a volunteer basis.
  • Build positive school spirit.
  • Support other parents to develop their parenting skills.

2). Parent Organization Reports To Board:

The parent organization's purpose is to serve the school and their role needs to comply within this context. Hence, the board needs to ensure that this group promotes a positive image of the school. This can only be achieved if the group is part of the school rather than independent of the school. If they become separate they're more likely to become more independent, political, obstruct authority, work with cross purposes, and may even create legal/tax liabilities if they're allowed to establish their own bank accounts. The bylaws should also be reviewed and approved by the board (remember the Parent Association reports to the Board).

3). Board Attendance At Parent Organization Meetings:

The board and admin should actively monitor and support the parent group through board representation and support. Alternatively, placing a member of the parent organization on board committees (ex-officio) will groom them ("train them") as prospective trustees.

4). Coordinate Fundraising:

We all know it, poorly timed fundraising events by the parent group will nickel and dime your school and annoy everyone. It distracts from your primary development activities and in the end reduces parent contributions. It's been proven that an annual campaign is the most productive tool to raise funds for a school. It builds loyalty and momentum. To ensure that everyone is on the same page, you should ensure that:

  • The annual fund is your primary source of fundraising.
  • All fundraising activities are approved by the Board.
  • The Chair of the Parent Committee sits on the Development Committee.
  • Coordinate all fundraising around the annual campaign (unless you've a major capital campaign).
  • Develop a calendar by the Development Committee that includes all approved fundraising events. And all events are vetted by them.

5). Funds Raised By Parent Organization Belong To The School:

This is critical. These funds belong to the school not the agenda of a few individuals on the parent committee. You need to make this understand at the start and set-up an account number within the school's accounts. All funds raised are turned over to the school's business manager for separate bank accounts. Furthermore, disbursements of funds are done by the school. But make sure that parents are involved and informed during the process. This will promote transparency, loyalty, and harmony, and avoid controversy. Ask your staff what their wish list is and have the Head make a short-list and share this with the parent group. From this list, your parent group can make the final selection. And make sure you promote the purchases as coming from the parent committee's contribution and celebrate their successes and future efforts.

By encouraging and coordinating your parent organization, you will have a stronger and happier parent community, and more successful outcome. You will have more volunteers and a far happier school community that will positively impact your bottom line.
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