There’s always lots to do in a Parent Club – planning and running events and meetings, keeping lists of volunteers, promoting your activities and communicating with members. You may also do some or all of these things at work, assisted by technology such as collaboration tools, shared documents and calendars, graphic design software and databases. However Parent Clubs generally have little or no budget for these services – so are there free or cheap alternatives to keep your club running smoothly without the big expense? We set out to answer this question…
It’s great to have an email address for the club, so parents can contact you easily and so you can conduct business with outside agencies e.g. hire companies, fundraising suppliers. However you probably don’t want to give out your personal email address, and what happens once you move on from the school? For this reason many clubs create their own email address.
There are many providers of free email accounts. Among the most popular are:
Make sure that at least 2 people have the login, so the address can be maintained even if roles change or someone leaves the school.
Communication within the club & school community
When you’re organising events and projects, you’ll always need communication within the group – whether it’s a call-out for volunteers, circulating minutes or sharing ideas. Here are a couple of ways to do it:
Email gives a written record of your communications, allows for attachments, and everyone (we think!) already has it, so nobody needs to sign up to yet another online service.
Email groups are generally set up for 2-way communication, i.e. situations where you want to have ongoing back-and-forth communication within a small group. They are ideal for committees and working groups. If you want to send out information to a larger group and it’s mostly 1-way communication (e.g. alerting the school community to a new event or activity), a bulk email provider might be better – see below.
Mailchimp is a popular bulk email service that offers a free plan suitable for most Parent Clubs. You can create a subscription form for a web page or social media, so that parents can sign themselves up for emails and you don’t have to do it. Mailchimp provides email templates for professional-looking email formatting, and recipient groups so you can target emails to different groups if you need to. A Mailchimp free account can have up to 500 subscribers and 1,000 email sends per month. You can only have one user with a free account, so it’s difficult to share the work around – try to find just one volunteer to look after the Mailchimp account.
Whether it’s posters, flyers or an appealing message for social media or the school newsletter, clubs will often want to create graphic artwork to promote events and activities. Some clubs are lucky enough to have a member with the skills and software to do it, but if not, you can still do a great job and maybe pick up some skills along the way – try these online services:
- Canva – with a free account you can create documents and images. There are lots of templates for flyers, reports, invitations etc. Technical skills are not needed.
- Photopea – Modelled on Photoshop, Photopea is focused on image processing rather than creating documents. Very useful if you have photos to crop/enhance, or you want to make a photo-montage. The free version works fine but carries ads.
- Picsart Free account provides photo and video editing tools.
- Fotor Photo processing and document creation. Free account provides basic tools. Pro version is about $5 per month and provides advanced tools and templates.
You may wish to have a Parent Club website so all your information can be presented in one online space. In some ways the best option is to ask the school to set up a Parent Club page on the school website. It’s easy for parents to find and you don’t have to set up your own site. If the school website administrator is willing to do updates to the page when you need them, this is a great option.
See our article on making the best use of the school website.
If that is not a workable option at your school, you may want to set up your own website. Here are some free/cheap options:
- Use a Facebook page. If you mostly need to post news and current updates, you might find Facebook is enough
- Google Sites. You can set up a free website with Google Sites. By default it will have a generic web address e.g. https://sites.google.com/yourparentclub, but you can link it to your own domain if you have one e.g. yourparentclub.org.au. Technical skills are not required, you can choose from templates to create your site.
- WordPress.com You can set up a free website on WordPress. There are limitations and the site will carry ads. Technical skills are not required, you can choose from templates to create your site.
Shared online folders
You may find there are many documents you need access to – logos and artwork, meeting minutes, policy documents, names and contact details. If these are all sitting on your computer, or someone else’s, things can get very difficult and you’ll be constantly chasing documents and wondering if you have the correct version. That’s where a shared online folder comes in very handy – upload the documents, give access to the right people, and things get much simpler. Some services give you shared documents so you can collaborate on creating and editing a document.
Here are a couple of free online shared folder services:
Sharing and engagement
An interesting tool for online sharing and engagement is Padlet. You can ask a question, invite comments or personal introductions, and then send the link out to as many people as you like. Participants post their responses (which may include images), which appear as ‘cards’ on the screen for all to view. Users can comment on each other’s cards. It’s about sharing ideas, brainstorming, getting to know others and creating something together. The free version is limited to only a few screens but is enough to get you started, and even the paid version should be affordable. This is also a great tool for schools with ‘scattered’ communities to engage with parents and carers online, in a way that’s accessible and fun.
You may want to gather information from your school community – what do parents at your school think about a particular issue, who can volunteer for an event, what skills do parents have that they can offer to the Parent Club? An online form can be a handy way to gather this information quickly and easily. You can design your questions, share a link to the form and have all the information gathered into a convenient online spreadsheet.
Online forms are available free from:
The free versions of these online services may have limitations, but they should provide all the services a Parent Club will need.
Planning and collaboration
So far, the best free plan we’ve found is the one offered by Miro. It offers timelines, project planning, mindmaps, workflows and many other collaboration tools. You can work together on a task in real time, i.e. you see what the other team members are doing as they do it.
Some other project management/collaboration tools such as Monday.com, Asana and Notion offer free plans, but you may find they are too limited for Parent Club use, (Please let us know if you find otherwise!)
Having an online calendar that you can share around can be a handy planning tool. Your members and school community can see your Parent Club meetings and events without having to search for a document or keep asking for dates.
The best option for a free calendar you can share online seems to be Google Calendar. This is available if you have a Google Account.
You may need to sell tickets for an event in advance. Sometimes you need to know how many people are coming to your event, even if it’s free. An online ticketing service is the way to go. You can even use these services as a convenient way to collect money up-front for a fundraiser if you are selling items – put your price(s) in, make the ‘event’ date the pickup date for the goods, then people just show their ‘ticket’ and pick up the goods.
Online ticketing services
- Ticketebo – Melbourne-based company providing customer service via phone and email. Booking fee is 3.85% (minimum $1). Free for free events.
- Trybooking – Online-only service. 2.5% booking fee plus 50c per ticket. Free for free events.
- Eventbrite Online-only service. 5.35% booking fee plus $1.19 per ticket.
The most convenient solution for many of these services appears to be Google. With a Google Account, you will have access to many of the services listed on this page: Gmail, Google Groups, Google Calendar, Google Sites, Google Forms.
Passwords and access
Whatever solution you choose, be aware of who has access to what. Some items you will probably want to make public (e.g. website, calendar) but you will probably want to restrict shared documents to a limited group of people.
Make sure that more than one person has the administrator password for whatever accounts you use. You don’t want to lose access to vital files because the person with the password goes on holiday/leaves the school, etc.
You may find that security measures make it difficult for admin duties to be shared – sometimes you need to get past 2-factor authentication (i.e. a verification code being sent to a phone), so this may need to be co-ordinated. Make sure access is handed over before the person with admin rights moves on from the school.
Help us improve this page
With the ongoing proliferation of online services, this page is probably just scratching the surface of what’s available!
Please help us keep improving this resource – if you have found a useful online service for your Parent Club, let us know and we’ll add it to this page, so other clubs can benefit. Also let us know if you’ve had good – or bad – experiences with the online services mentioned on this page. Contact our Communications Officer Alan Davies via email or call him on 0401 357 454.