Forming and Building a Friends Group: A Primer

 

So, you’ve decided to get involved in your neighborhood public school?  GREAT!  Now what?  Here’s our set of tips for getting started and building your organization. 

 

Laying the groundwork

 

  • Talk with other neighborhood parents you know to gauge interest in forming a “Friends of” group to support your neighborhood school.  Once you have a group of interested people, schedule a meeting at someone’s house.  Set and distribute an agenda. Without one, it is easy to veer off into tangents. 

 

  • Your second meeting should be introducing your group to the school’s principal and asking to take a tour of the school! It is best that the school community hear about your group from your group. Otherwise, they may get the wrong idea about you and your intentions. It is easy to talk and theorize for hours unproductively about a school without even having been inside it. Your group will likely have a much better understanding of the school and its needs once having been inside and met with the administration, faculty, and staff.

 

  • Ask the principal how your group can support him or her and the school. Avoid telling (an invariably very hard working and dedicated) principal that you want to “help make the school better.”  You and your intrepid comrades are there to “offer support.”  Start with small steps, guided by the principal.

 

Launching the Friends Group

 

  • Common first steps of FO groups have been supply drives, teacher appreciation breakfasts during professional development days, and help with grantwriting. 

 

  • Another option may be to have a Supply Drive or Paper Drive Happy Hour at a neighborhood bar, where the “price” of admission is supplies and/or a ream of paper.  It is helpful to find a bar with a separate room so that the event can be family friendly – you will have much better attendance if people can bring their kids.  It is also helpful if the bar is willing to offer some kind of drink or food special that you can advertise, although this isn’t a deal-breaker.  After the event, contact the principal and tell him/her that you have supplies/paper that you would like to drop off at the school.  Showing up with supplies for their students can be a good ice-breaker, and show your commitment to the school.

 

Avoiding obstacles

 

  • If you do not know of other people who may be interested in forming a FO group, it may be advisable to meet with the principal first before you begin to advertise your intentions on social media and/or parent listserves.  Advertising your intentions more broadly risks the principal and school community finding out first about you and your nascent group from others instead of from you. 

 

  • What if the principal doesn’t seem to understand or be interested in partnering with your group?  Some principals whose schools have benefited from “Friends of” groups have offered to contact their reluctant colleagues and vouch for the helpfulness of such groups. To request this assistance, please contact FONE at info@philaFONE.org.

 

You’ve had a successful launch and started to build a relationship with your principal.  Now what?

 

  • Once you have gotten started, set a regular monthly meeting schedule and stick to it.  Even if you are not ready to establish a more formal structure for your group, it is helpful to designate a chair/leader or co-leaders, and to designate individuals responsible for various projects. 

 

  • Identify a group that might be willing to take your FO group under its umbrella, or serve as a “fiscal sponsor.”  Once you start raising funds, many people will want the tax deduction offered to groups with tax-exempt 501c3 status, but it takes a lot of time and some money to create a new 501c3. So find a sponsor.  Places to look for one include your local civic association or CDC (“registered community organization” aka RCO), or a local community based nonprofit.  Here are two useful links to find such groups near you:

    • City Planning Commission’s List of Registered Community Organizations

    • RCO map

 

 

How to get the word out about your group?

 

  • Careful! Word choice early on can define your group for a long time. Always remember to be positive and respectful towards the school. Your group’s priority should be seeking to understand the school community, and to help meet some of its needs - as THE SCHOOL defines them! There are already too many people trying to dictate to our neighborhood schools what they must do, how they need to improve, etc. Your group should not be one of them! 

 

  • Use tools like these to communicate and publicize:

    • Neighborhood Email Lists (Google Groups)  

    • Neighborhood weekly free press/blogs

    • Facebook – set up a page!  It’s fast, easy, and free.

 

  • Existing social networks/networking sites:

    • PennsyMoms

    • Kids South of Washington

    • PhillySchoolNews

    • EveryBlock Philly

    • NextDoor Philadelphia

 

Tips for posting an event on EveryBlock

  • Post event by location address to reach the most people. Otherwise have to 

  • select a single option (neighborhood, police district, district council, zip code etc.) 

  • and reach ONLY people following that single option.

  • Multiple images can be uploaded at the time of posting.

  • No post preview.

  • Can edit only 10 minutes after posting

  • No way to delete without contacting support.

 

Tips for posting an event on NextDoor

  • Allows you to provide the event address and select from a larger option of neighbors to post to.

  • No post preview.

    • Need to select one horizontal cover image to be uploaded.

    • Additional photos can be added after posting. 

    • Can edit continuously after posting

    • Can delete.

 

What organizational structure should your group have?

 

  • Even if your group is informal with no plans to seek non-profit or fiscal sponsor status, it is still advisable to form a “Steering Committee” with titles (President/Chair, Vice-President/Chair, Secretary, Treasurer). While small, early projects can be done collectively or ad-hoc, there need to be people “in-charge” of the boring things: organizing meetings, creating and sharing meeting minutes, fielding inquiries etc.

 

  • Any fiscal sponsor will probably require that you do this anyway so you can be accountable for money.

 

To learn more about organizational structure, tax-exemption, or for legal assistance:

 

 

 

Dealing with money…

 

  • Very soon, people are going to want to write you checks or donate money electronically! You are going to need a plan for how to deal with these funds.

 

  • If you’re going to become a 501(c)3 and offer tax deductible donations, you’re also going to need to plan for how you will file taxes and eventually might need to hire (and pay for!) an accountant.

 

  • Even if you do not think you will file for 501(c)3 at this time, any organization with its own bank account or that accepts funds should have a treasurer who will keep detailed records of all funds received (who gave, when, when deposited, donor-imposed restrictions/earmarks if any, copies of checks deposited, copies of deposit slips). The treasurer will need to reconcile bank accounts on a monthly basis, and be able to report the organization’s income and expenses, as well as what are the donor-imposed restrictions on spending them.

 

  • If you allow donors to earmark donations for a specific project (i.e. Greening, Music), you or your organization’s treasurer will need to have a system in place to keep track and make sure earmarked donations are spent appropriately.

 

  • Here are a few financial resources (for informational purposes ony, does not imply endorsement):

 

Resources on Nonprofit Governance and Best Practices

 

 

Resources for Seeking Grants

 

  • Philly Ed Grants – www.phillyedgrants.org

  • Regional Foundation Center - www.freelibrary.org/rfc/ - The Regional Foundation Center informs the local nonprofit sector through research, resources and referrals. The RFC houses Philadelphia’s largest publicly accessible collection of print and electronic resources on fundraising, nonprofit management, general philanthropy and institutional advancement. The RFC also provides free access to the Foundation Directory Online--the most comprehensive database of U.S. grant makers and their grants. Location: 2nd Floor, 1901 Vine Street, Social Science and History Department.  Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday, 9 a.m.to 7 p.m., first Saturday of each month, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone: 215-686-5423.

  • Pennsylvania Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development - http://phennd.org/. Weekly e--newsletter compiling local events, resources, national conferences, calls for proposals, grant, volunteer and job opportunities in the higher education and nonprofit sectors. Subscribe by emailing hillarya@phennd.org

  • Philadelphia Activities Fund. Small grants available through your District Councilperson to support programming for nonprofits. Cannot be used for staff. 

 

Information on working with a Fiscal Sponsor

 

 

General Resources:

 

 

We really could use a mentor… Help!

 

  • No worries, this is why FONE exists. Contact us at info@philaFONE.org and we will partner you with someone who’s done this before!

 

Thanks to Amara Rocker, Gail Tomassini, and Beth Dougherty for compiling this information.