By Dr. Charles T. Menghini
School music booster organizations can be a tremendous asset to a school music program. These groups can also become a director’s worst nightmare. Booster organizations, like any group or business, must be well-planned and organized. They will need time to mature and find their niche. Booster organizations can run the gamut of size and scope. While some raise hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and are highly structured, others are less formal but are there to lend a helping hand. Here are some things to consider if you are thinking about starting a music booster organization.
Parent Booster Fundamentals
Parents are there to support their child. This is the fundamental thing to remember. Parents will help as long as they can see how it benefits their child. That is why parents usually stop attending your performances when their student is no longer in your program.
Share with parents what their child will gain by participating in band or orchestra. It is important for the director to have a clear vision of the importance of music in the school curriculum. Inform parents how music helps develop the total child and what students learn in band or orchestra that cannot be learned in any other classroom in the school. Communicate this information early and often.
Inform parents as to the role of the teacher, student and parent. Create a list of expectations. As a teacher, this is what you can expect from me. This is what is expected of our students, and this is what should be the role of the parent.
Communicate with parents about activities and events. In this day and age of too much information, it is easy for important activities and events to get overlooked. Upcoming activities and events must be communicated regularly and in various ways. Communication must go beyond the beginning of the year handbook and the school website.
Encourage parents to attend and participate. Let them know their involvement plays a big part in the experience their child will have as a member of the program. Create small jobs, ways that parents can assist. Give them clear guidelines and instructions and express appreciation for their interest and involvement every step along the way.
Recognize parents in front of their children. Parents like attention too. The sweetest words anyone hears is when their name is mentioned in a positive way. Thanking Mrs. Johnson for serving as a chaperone and Mr. Davis for helping haul equipment goes a long way.
Thank parents in a variety of ways. Never underestimate the power of a hand-written thank you note or a phone call that expresses your appreciation. Handing a parent a piece of candy with a smile and a thank you is also something they will remember. Of course, having the coffee pot on and bringing some donuts or treats for parents to enjoy is another way to express thanks.
Parent Booster Organizations
Starting a parent booster group without an immediate need or well-defined purpose that goes beyond raising money can be difficult. Before having any meeting, be sure you have the support of your school administration. In many cases they can offer suggestions or advice in order to avoid later problems. Ask if an administrator would be willing to attend the first meeting.
Begin by setting a date for the first meeting. Set the date four to six weeks in advance to allow ample time for people to plan. If possible, send a letter by mail to all parents informing them of the meeting date, time and location. Communicate why you want to start a booster organization. Be as specific as possible and encourage their attendance.
As the date nears, continue to inform parents of the meeting date, time and location and keep encouraging people to attend. Provide notices for students to take home, send emails, contact a few parents who you think might be interested and ask them to help spread the word. If you have a local newspaper or shopper, write a short article about the meeting for publication.
Planning for the first meeting should include making a list of every activity through the end of the school year. Include in this list all performances, festivals, special events and fundraisers. Identify ways parents could assist with each of the activities.
Ways Boosters Can Help
Manpower The manpower boosters can offer is priceless. Chaperoning, hauling equipment, setting up the stage for concerts, assisting with uniform distribution, care, and maintenance, audio-visual and photography assistance for concerts and performances, providing refreshments and post-event receptions and assisting with communications among parents and within the community are only some of the ways parents can assist. In every case it is important to cover in as much detail what is expected and what is not expected of them.
When chaperones are involved in an event, have a short meeting with chaperones and students present to outline student behavior expectations as well as the consequences if those expectations are not met. The job of the chaperone is to help ensure student safety and not act as disciplinarian. Chaperones are the director’s eyes and ears when they are not present.
While traveling with school groups, it is a good idea for the director to be on the last bus or in a car behind the buses. If a student is misbehaving, instruct chaperones to politely ask them to correct their behavior. If the problem persists, have the chaperone ask the bus driver to pull to a safe spot (shoulder of the road, exit ramp) so the director or school employee in charge can handle the situation.
Booster manpower can also assist by helping prevent the loss of instruction time. Having a parent collect paperwork or assist with other clerical duties allows the director to focus their attention on student learning.
Fundraising Booster organizations should supplement and not replace a school district’s financial responsibility to have a music program. School districts have financial obligations to provide, at the very least, a teacher, facilities, equipment, supplies, and funds to ensure day-to-day operations. There is a wide range as to what this level of support looks like, but it must be present.
When it comes to raising and spending money, boosters should focus on enrichment projects and activities. Examples include financial support for clinicians, commissioning music, taking educational or performance trips, annual banquets, scholarships for music lessons and summer music camps. There is no shortage of ways boosters can financially support the program. Even purchasing a specialty instrument or piece of equipment is within the range of possibility, but music booster organizations should not regularly purchase instruments and equipment that should be the responsibility of the school district.
Before starting a booster group, have a discussion with school administration about what role the boosters should have in the financial support of the program. Work to find common ground on all fronts and develop policies that will guide future decisions.
The First Meeting
You will want to create an agenda for the first meeting that includes the following:
- Welcome – Call to order. Begin by thanking everyone who is in attendance.
- Introductions – Introduce yourself and give a short background of your experience. Next, introduce all other faculty members and administrators present. You may want to have all parents introduce themselves as well.
- Opening Remarks – Briefly speak about the idea to create a booster group and why you want to do so. In general, talk about how this organization can be of help to their children’s experience. (Remember, parents are there to support their child.)
- Calendar of Events – Distribute the calendar that you prepared prior to the meeting. Explain that you have provided a list of all of the activities currently scheduled and have identified some ways in which parents can help. If possible, briefly describe each of the various jobs listed. Give parents a few minutes to read and digest the information.
- Questions – Be ready for an onslaught of questions. When someone asks a question, repeat it so that everyone in the room hears the question. Answer honestly and to the best of your ability. If a decision has not yet been made, or if you do not know, tell them that a decision has not been made or that you do not have the answer but will find out and let them know. For instance, if a parent asks, “Will this group meet monthly?” Simply respond, “At this point it has not been decided. Tonight, we are having this meeting to determine whether we want to start a booster group or not. Once that decision is made we will schedule meetings as necessary.”
- Leadership – Once you have all the questions answered, ask for three to five volunteers to help you plan and develop the organization. It is best to have an odd number so when there is a difference of opinion, you have a majority rule. Ask these folks to meet immediately after the meeting. Set a date and time to get together to plan the next steps.
- Survey – Distribute a survey that lists the various jobs found in the calendar of events. Be sure to have them write their name on it and ask them to indicate how they would be willing to help. Leave a space for additional ideas or questions. Some parents may not want to ask a question publicly and prefer you to answer it in private. Finally, ask for their preferred method of and time to contact them.
- Adjournment – Be sure to express your appreciation to all in attendance as they will comprise your core group and will help with the recruitment of other parents. Let them know that you will keep them informed as the group develops.
- Reception – Have a pot of coffee, some cider and donuts, cookies, cupcakes, bottles of water, cans of soda, etc. This will give you some time to interact and lets the parents get to know each other.
Following the meeting you will want to communicate with all parents. You will want to thank all the parents who attended the meeting and provide an overview of things that were discussed at the meeting. For the parents who did not attend the meeting, assume they had another commitment and include in their communication both the calendar of events and the survey that was distributed at the meeting. Ask them to return the survey at their earliest convenience.
Send a special message to those parents who volunteered to serve on the leadership team thanking them for their interest. Remind them of the date, time and place where they agreed to meet.
Meet with Leadership
When you meet with your leadership team, begin by once again thanking them for their interest and time. Have each one share their thoughts about the first parent meeting. Review the surveys that were collected and read any comments or questions that were submitted.
As this meeting progresses you be able to determine which of these parents may be best suited to be the leader or spokesperson. This can also be a time to decide if you want to have organizational officers. If so, begin to assemble a slate of candidates (usually from these volunteers) to be elected by the parents at a future meeting. You can also communicate with all parents and ask anyone who might be interested in being considered to be an officer to let you know.
Finally, determine what the next steps will be for the booster group. Consider having the leadership team begin drafting a constitution and set of by laws to help guide and govern the organization. You will also want to set a date and time for the leadership team to begin planning the agenda and action items for the next parent meeting.
Start slow, be patient and be persistent. Take care of those parents as they can play a major role in the success of your program. Remember, their bottom line is their child. If you make sure that your efforts are in the best interests of their children, the parents will follow.