Question: How to get members to read email newsletter?

We recently made our membership aware that we were going paperless to the extent that we could. Email addresses were collected, but the fear is that people are not actually reading it. I don’t want our fundraisers to suffer, but we do believe that if we do not make the switch cold turkey to email, it will never happen. Any suggestions on how to generate interest so that emails are read or the website is visited?

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Advice from PTO Today

Elly writes:

Elly thinks it’s great that your group is undertaking an effort to help your school reduce paper waste. But keep in mind that there are bound to be a few stragglers who are either intimidated by computers or perhaps don’t have reliable computer access at home, so they’re not likely to embrace your PTO’s quest for modernization. Elly says you should still plan to leave a limited number of printed copies of your PTO’s newsletter or notices at the school office, if possible. You might also offer parents the choice of receiving a paper copy so you don’t leave anyone out.

To ensure that you get email addresses for as many families as possible, Elly suggests asking the principal to put an “email address for PTO info” line on the student information forms that parents fill out each year before schools starts.

As far as how your group can get families to actually read your emails (and ultimately click over to your website), that will largely depend on the quality of information and how it’s being presented. Be sure the information in your emails is worth reading; don’t send 10 daily emails letting families know that “the 1,000 tubs of cookie dough from the fundraiser are going quick!” In short, provide information that parents will consider newsworthy: details for upcoming family events, meetings (PTO, district, etc.), school assemblies, field trips, standardized testing, volunteer opportunities, and so forth.

Elly does like the idea of weekly newsletters. Consider a catchy name, such as Friday 411 or Tuesday’s Tidbits, so families know the regular day on which they can expect to receive news from your group. Elly has found that readers also like photos, so think about including a “caught doing something good” feature or perhaps a Picture of the Week that shows a volunteer helping out or students enjoying a field trip courtesy of your PTO. And provide a link to your PTO’s website on every email.

Another way you might increase readership is to get the principal to piggyback onto your system; perhaps she could include a brief posting each week about administrative or district happenings? This might help your email newsletter gain credibility or authority, especially at the beginning. And one more thing about emails: Elly doesn’t recommend ever flagging your PTO’s routine news as “high priority”—no matter how desperate you are to find volunteers for the dunk tank!

Elly also has a few ideas to help your group get the word out about going paperless. If have got access to a school sign or marquee, consider displaying your PTO’s website address for one or two months with a brief message like “We’ve gone paperless!” You could air a message about your paper-free endeavor on a local TV station or run the information in the newspaper, too. That might help steer traffic to your PTO’s website.

Finally, don’t forget that nothing beats personal contact. Make interacting and connecting with parents, both in person and over the phone, part of your executive board’s paperless communication plans, as well.

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