Tuesday, February 21, 2017

How to Get Parents More Involved in School Fundraising

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It’s no secret that between the fundraisers, open houses, teacher appreciation weeks, and many more projects, Parent Teacher Organizations/Associations (PTAs and PTOs) are extremely busy and essential to any school.

For parents and teachers alike, it’s rewarding to engage other parents to help the school and make an impact, but these endeavors are run largely on volunteer power. Whether your school is a large bustling public school or an intimate parochial school, it can often be challenging to find enough volunteers to pull off your PTO/PTA’s plans.

Step 1: Organize Your Group
You most likely have your President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary. But think about which other roles would be helpful to fill. Do you have a volunteer coordinator who can manage the sign-ups and communications? Do you need specific volunteers to be a chair for each major effort?

Splitting out your yearly events and assigning a chair (and possibly co-chair) to each one will not only take the pressure off the whole of the group but will empower that person to put their stamp on the effort. Disagreements about how to run that event or project? It goes to the chair in charge. Next item!

Step 2: Make Signing Up Terribly Easy
Communicate electronically and use online sign-up websites like SignUp Genius, Volunteer Signup.org, or iVolunteer. Make it clear what the project is, what your goals are, and the commitment it requires and then let people sign themselves up. As slots fill, the remaining needed times are easily seen. Volunteers have the option to leave notes, sign up for several slots, change their sign-up, and can have the commitment automatically put on their calendar. Easy-peasy!

Step 3: Give Potential Volunteers Options
A common complaint among non-volunteering parents is that there aren’t any options that fit their schedule or their lifestyle. It is essential to break up needs into smaller or online options for those who work, those with little ones at home, or those who would rather help out on their own schedule.

Examples include:
  • Preparing materials for an upcoming craft
  • Being the email liaison (an electronic responsibility)
  • Soliciting support from your place of business—whether financial or in-kind
  • Drafting or organizing a newsletter
  • Graphic design volunteer hours
  • Chairing an evening event after work hours

No matter what someone contributes, it makes a positive impact.

Step 4: Make Meetings Fun and Meaningful
Nothing steers people away faster than the thought of boring, endless meetings. Organize a well-planned agenda, decide what you need to accomplish, and move on. Bring in coffee, treats, and allow some time for chit-chat, but be respectful of everyone’s time by moving through your agenda items. Some organizations choose to meet in the evening to accommodate working parents, and some meet for happy hour or dinner to balance the social with the business. Poll your group, find the best time and place, and have fun!

Step 5: Reach Working Parents
Naturally, you want to reach all parents so they can be an active part of your children’s school. Plan meetings during the evening and give plenty of options for volunteer opportunities outside of work hours so that working moms and dads can give their input and support. If daytime volunteering comes up in the classrooms, give people plenty of notice so that working parents can take time off or arrange schedules as needed.

Step 6: Offer Childcare
Just as working parents find it difficult to volunteer, sometimes stay-at-home parents find it hard to volunteer if they have toddlers or babies at home. Try offering on-site childcare during meetings or event prep time so that these parents can get involved without worrying about a toddler’s needs at that moment. Some schools use one of the preschool rooms or a church nursery to accommodate the little siblings, which can be staffed by a school staff member, another parent, or a certified teen babysitter(s) looking for experience.

Step 7: Reach out to Grandparents
Grandparents and other family members are an untapped resource! Especially if they are available during the day, these doting volunteers can offer help as well as advice and perspective on your projects.

Send out an email to existing parents that they can forward to other family members, inviting them to sign up to be on a volunteer newsletter list, or asking them to email the volunteer coordinator if they’d like to make a difference at the school. You may even find some retired teachers, nurses, artists, or fundraising professionals who could offer special insight into your school efforts!

With today’s busy schedules, finding volunteers can be a constant challenge. Making sure the experience is fun, impactful, and respectful of all types of parents is the key to maintaining support from your volunteers. Follow Gifts ‘N Things on Facebook for more tips and tricks. Best of luck!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Keep the Momentum of Generosity Going!

December is a time for giving and remembering those who are less fortunate. But why should we teach our kids to only think about others during one month of the year? Let’s keep the momentum going and find ways to make generosity one of the values we teach and model for the next generation. Here are 4 ways to promote philanthropy in your community.

Make a Community Involvement Calendar
There are countless ways that kids can get involved within the community to make a positive difference. Ask around, brainstorm some ideas, and sit down with your kids to plan out monthly experiences helping others. Call it “Giving Back Weekend” or “Spread the Joy Days” or “Make the World Better Time.” Integrating these experiences into your routine will not only teach children that they can make a positive impact on the world, but that this is something worth doing on a regular basis.

Ideas could include picking up trash, running a food drive, donating to a shelter, packing meals to be shipped overseas, or adopting your own sponsor child in need that your kids can be pen pals with. (It’s a good idea to check with organizations first—to find out what their needs are, how you can be of help, and any age requirements.)

Do Something as a Class, Troop, Pack, or Neighborhood
For more impact and some fun times with friends, organize volunteering opportunities for groups. Whether it’s a scouting group, class, neighborhood, or extended family, more people means more help where it’s needed and some very impactful memories for your children. According to ServiceLeader.org, “Volunteering is the perfect way for children to be welcomed as productive, active members of a community…[It] promotes healthy lifestyle and choices, enhances development, teaches life skills, improves the community, and encourages a lifelong service ethic.”

Point Out and Model Generosity in Our Words
Part of being generous is not only in service projects, but in our daily lives and how we speak to (or about) other people.  Generosity begins with kindness, empathy, and love, and spreading those feelings around! When someone pulls out a stereotype or jumps to a conclusion about someone else, let your kids see you challenge it. When an adult shows patience or empathy to strangers, point it out to your kids. Watch the words and tones that you use as well. Whenever children share of their own accord, help someone else when others wouldn’t, or spread kindness in their own way, acknowledge that action and the emotions it probably caused.

Ask the Kids!
Ask children what they’d like to do to make the world a little bit better. Leave it open ended and let them think about it a bit. You may be surprised (and inspired) by their ideas. Letting them lead the way also empowers them to know they have good ideas, and their ideas can make a difference. Check out this example of children collecting items for the homeless.
Take for example our recent Holiday Free Shop in Allentown, PA. Just like all of our Lil’ Shoppers Shoppes, children can come in to find gifts for loved ones for the holidays. Normally most of the gifts are less than $3, but this annual event was free for disadvantaged kids to be able to shop comfortably for their parents and families. They even got some wrapping done, and it’s obvious that kids love to give!

Here’s to raising a generation of generosity!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Teaching Children The Joy Of Giving

The season of giving is upon us and children everywhere have an opportunity to express their generosity towards others. A great way to do that is with Gifts 'N Things. If your child is lucky, their school will be hosting a Lil Shopper's Shoppe where they can pick out inexpensive gifts to give their loved ones. This is a fundraiser for the school designed to help children discover the joy of giving.

At Lil Shopper's Shoppe, 85% of our gifts are $5.00 and under. Children can afford and understand how to purchase and give a gift even at a young age. This is a great opportunity for kids, beneficial to their understanding of generosity as well as how money works.
If your child's school is not hosting a Lil Shopper's Shoppe this holiday season, you can teach them the joy of giving in other ways, as well. To a kid, receiving presents is a huge focus of Christmas. Teach generosity by suggesting your child volunteer for Toys for Tots. Your child could give a toy in this program or help wrap and send out toys to other local kids.

Another great way to teach children the joy of giving is a giving tree. Many churches and some schools have a giving tree where you choose a family or child in need of toys, clothes, or other items and fulfill that need, placing the purchased item under the tree. This helps your child understand some people do not have the means necessary to celebrate Christmas receiving new toys the way they do.

Other ideas for volunteering and giving back this season include serving at a soup kitchen, donating to a coat drive, and volunteering at a food shelf. The holiday season is the perfect time to teach children the joy of giving. Consider some way you can have that meaningful impact in a child's life today.

On Monday, December 19th, we will hold our annual free holiday shop at New Bethany Church in Allentown, PA. The church's soup kitchen serves the poorest families in Allentown. They will hold a Christmas dinner on Sunday  the 18th, give gifts to the children, then invite them back on Monday for our holiday shop to pick out gifts for their families (and a little something for themselves as well).

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Autumn Activities for the Family

Autumn is the perfect time for making memories with your family. From engaging outdoor adventures to creating beautiful fall crafts, there’s no shortage of fun to be had this season. Take a look at some of our ideas for some fun autumn activities for the whole family:

Get Outside
Now that it’s the peak of autumn, it’s the perfect time to take your family for an outdoor adventure. Go on a nature walk and encourage your kids to take up a curiosity and passion for the outdoors. One great way to do is to bird watch. Encourage your kids to spot and identify as many birds as they can. Continue this curiosity at home by building a birdhouse or bird feeder together.

Collect Leaves
Another great way to encourage their interest in nature can be through leaf collecting. Encourage them to collect leaves throughout the season, identify which trees they come from, and write that information down in a leaf log. Preserve their favorite leaves between contact paper and show them how to make fun leaf rubbings, prints, and stamps.

Go Camping
Fall can be a wonderful time to go camping. Just pack your car with some vital supplies, and find the perfect setting to pitch your tent under some stunning fall foliage. Take this opportunity to make some wonderful memories. Teach them to set up a tent, build a campfire, how to fish and catch dinner, and how to roast the perfect marshmallow. Now that the days are shorter, it’s also the perfect time to stargaze. Grab a stargazing scavenger hunt (like this one) and start planning your trip.

Staple Fall Activities
If you haven’t already, treat your family to a classic fall weekend. Go apple picking and pumpkin carving, and bake delicious treats from your harvest. Explore a corn maze, fall festival, or haunted house for a thrilling weekend adventure.

Fall Crafts
Autumn is also the perfect time for crafting. Just make some hot cocoa or apple cider, light some pumpkin scented candles, and engage in an afternoon of arts and crafts with your family. Knit some new hats and scarves with older kids for when the temperature dips even lower. Have the whole family decorate the house with fun Halloween and Thanksgiving crafts.

Here are some more ideas for fall crafts:
  • Collect some leaves, pinecones, and fabric to make a new front-door wreath
  • Paint pumpkins for the front porch
  • Make homemade Halloween costumes
  • Paint some mugs with your favorite fall themes and colors
  • Explore Pinterest for adorable ideas like Pumpkin Apple Stamps, DIY Twig Candles, or an Autumn Handprint Tree

Bonding with some different autumn activities will help you reconnect as a family from your busy fall schedules, while time spent outdoors hiking, camping, and exploring your community will revitalize you.

With an abundance of fun and adventure left to be had this season, start making wonderful memories that will last you a lifetime today. For more ways to celebrate the season and to start celebrating the holidays early, visit Gifts ‘N Things today.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Asking For Donations Safely and Effectively

With the school session upon us, many parents are reminded that fundraisers are an integral part of the year. Whether your kids need to raise money for new sports equipment, uniforms, transportation costs, or supplies, fundraising is important to many school programs. Parents, however, tend to dread the fundraising season because they fear having to ask friends and family for donations—much less strangers. Here are a few tips to help ease you through your school’s fundraiser and make the fundraising experience more fun for you, your children, and your potential donors:

Do Your Research
When it comes to family and friends, it is rather easy to know what interests them. Focus on items that you know they will be using and will be interested in. If your brother or sister isn’t very adventurous, help your child steer their eye towards something for the home. If your aunt and uncle love cooking and baking, show them the newest kitchen gadgets that will make their time in the kitchen easier and more fun.

Image by arrathoonlaa via Flickr

Practice Makes Perfect
As with any presentation, it is important to know what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it–especially if your kids are the ones presenting. Sit down with your children and have them rehearse their presentation while pretending that you are their audience. Fumbling over words and phrases will distract your potential donor, while a well-spoken delivery may just snag an extra donation or two. Let them know that a few mistakes are okay and that confidence will go a long way.

Make It Fun
While your delivery may be well rehearsed, it shouldn’t sound like an automatic proposal. Switch up your delivery method to keep the mood light with smiling, involved parties, or throw in a joke or two to break the ice with more walled off individuals.
Image by Mike G via Flickr
Involve The Donor
If you notice that the donor is eyeing up a particular product, ask them what their opinion is on that item and LISTEN. People often want to have their voices heard and this is especially true when in a sales pitch. Find a common ground on items and ask them to speak their mind. This is an important lesson to teach your child not just to successfully fundraise, but to become better communicators.

Asking for money from friends and family is not often easy. Asking for money from strangers can be downright uncomfortable, but if you and your child follow these steps you might find that some of the stress is lifted and fundraising is more fun. Your child may even come home with a few extra prizes because of their success!

Look to Gifts ‘N Things for your next fundraising program. We have many different programs to choose from, you’re bound to find one that fits your needs.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Gifts to Give Your Child's Teacher for Back to School.

Teachers are some of the most underappreciated people on the planet.

They work hard to make sure our children’s education is always top-notch and push them to become better people day in and day out. Every now and then, teachers deserve some recognition.

It’s always good to start off on the right foot with your child’s new teacher, so getting them a gift is never a bad idea. Some of the gifts could be a simple craft project that you and your child did or other practical options that you can just purchase.

Here are 10 ideas that you can consider:

  1. A gift card. It’s simple and you don’t have to work too hard on this one. Teachers can always use $10 to a coffee shop or a nice $20 gift certificate to one of the nicer restaurants in town.
  2. School supplies. Teachers can always use some extra pens, a stapler here or there or some colorful Post-It notes to help them out during the year. Teachers usually have to buy their own supplies, so getting them this simple gift will help them save money out of their own pocketbook.
  3. Homemade Cookies. If you want to get to a teacher’s heart right off the bat, give them some junk food. What teacher wouldn’t turn down a fresh box of chocolate chip cookies? Besides, teachers never get enough time to eat during the day. They’re lucky if they get 15 minutes for a lunch break. A box of chocolates would also work!
  4. Supply Cup or Jar. Teachers always need places to store pens or other school supplies. If you can get them a crafty cup to hold their pens, they would be very grateful. Your kids can help personalize it by painting or decorating it to add a special touch.
  5. A photo album. This is a little retro, but some people still like to keep their photos in albums. This keepsake will help teachers keep track of photos with each class that they teach. What teacher wouldn’t love that?
  6. A plant. Putting a simple seedling in a cup or pot would be a special gift from your child to their teacher. They can both watch the plant grow over time and help take care of it together.
  7. A bulletin board. Teachers have to fill out endless amounts of paperwork and have to keep track of everything that is going on in their personal lives at the same time. A bulletin board is a simple thing to give them to keep track of everything that is going on at school and at home.
  8. A tote bag. Bringing in loads of items to school every day is the norm for educators. A simple bag or tote bag that will help them carry their supplies would be more than welcomed.
  9. A water bottle. Staying refreshed during the day is something that teachers don’t always think about. They go from class to class and forget to eat and drink during the day. Having a water bottle in front of them will be good for their health and remind them to stay hydrated.
  10. A good book. Endless grading and research go into teaching lesson plans every day. Teachers can always use a break from reality. So, why not give them a good book to read on the weekends? They will appreciate the thought that went into buying something a little more personal.

Monday, August 15, 2016

How to Get Your Kids Ready for the School Year

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Now that the summer is nearing its end, it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming school year. It may seem early for some families to start getting ready for school, but it’s worth it to help your kids prepare and look forward to their best year yet! Before summer comes to an end, take a peek at this list on how to get your kids ready for the school year:

Shop Wisely
Getting back to school can seem like it costs a small fortune. Look around the house for items that you can reuse, such as pencils, backpacks, and calculators, and take a look in the closet with your kids before purchasing a new wardrobe. You can also host a school supply swap with other parents and shop thrift stores for excellent deals on back-to-school goods.

Set Expectations
With busy schedules and new friends, it can be easy to lose focus and fall off track. Help your child set expectations for academics, family time, and chores. Encourage healthy behaviors; help them define and prioritize the important things, and remind them of their expectations regularly. It may also help to teach them to use a planner or set up a chore chart.

Rethink Study Habits
Implementing consistent study habits will set your kids up to be future scholars. Encourage healthy reading, studying, and work habits. Encourage them to always ask questions. It can also help to set up a study nook for them with all the necessary school supplies. This can help them focus and take pride in their work, as well as provide a dependable place for them to study.

Start a Normal Sleeping Schedule
Sleep is an important part of living a healthy, happy, and energized life. If your child’s sleep schedule (or yours, for that matter) was thrown off by the summer, start sending them to bed at an appropriate time and getting them out of bed earlier at least a week before school starts. Giving them time to adjust will make the transition run much more smoothly.

Encourage Healthy Behaviors
In addition to sleep, encourage healthy behaviors for your kids. Get them in the habits of eating a healthy and nutritious diet. Make sure they get in some physical activity every day. Promote respect, open-mindedness, and healthy ways of dealing with emotions and the emotions of others.

Open the Lines of Communication
As exciting as the school year is for kids, there will always be certain challenges that your kids may face. Between bullying, learning challenges, and busy schedules, maintain open and honest lines of communication. Remind them that they can come to you for anything. This can encourage them and help build their confidence before they dive into the new school year.  
It’s never too early thinking about school and all the fun, educational, and exciting things your kids will get to look forward to this year! And if you are looking for more ways to prepare and celebrate the new school year, visit Gifts ’N Things for more information.