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Hosting a hotline.

Is it time to introduce your members to the public?

Could you tempt the public to call your members for advice? During its annual convention in New Orleans last March, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), Alexandria, Virginia, staged its third National Principals' Hotline. The hotline grew out of discussions with editors of USA TODAY (our first hotline sponsor) and Family Circle magazine on how to spark parent involvement in education.

NAESP achieved phenomenal results. Nearly 150 school principals answered 1,366 education-related calls. Volunteer principals representing every state staffed 10 telephone lines in two-hour shifts, averaging 15 minutes per call.

Organizing a hotline takes meticulous planning, dedicated volunteers, media commitment, and for a national effort like ours, about $10,000-$15,000 to cover expenses, not including association staff salaries. But that's a moderate price tag for a showcase public relations project publicized by Willard Scott of NBC's Today show, 244 newspapers in 45 states, and Family Circle magazine.

Essential elements

Before you launch into hotline planning, ask yourself several key questions.

What's your message? What topics are your members especially qualified to address that would be of interest to the general public?

Can you guarantee publicity? Try to reach an agreement with a reliable newspaper or radio or television station on hotline coverage, because you can't rely solely on news releases or public service announcements to get your message out. NAESP supplies each volunteer with personalized news releases for use by the local media and asks the entire membership of 26,000 principals to highlight the event in their school newsletters.

Can you attract dedicated volunteers? NAESP recruits members well in advance with a definite time slot and reminds them at least twice of their commitment. We also add one or two extra volunteers to each shift to be prepared for no-shows.

Can you arrange for dependable telephone service? A national hotline involves both local and long-distance telephone companies. The local service designates numbers for and installs rotating lines (when one number is busy, the call rotates to the next). The long-distance carrier provides your toll-free number.

Look to corporations, foundations, and media organizations for possible funding support. NAESP found World Book Educational Products to be a natural partner and used every opportunity possible to publicize the company name and logo.

Recruiting volunteers

Once you've decided the number of telephone lines and shifts, you'll know how many volunteers to recruit. Ask your board and chapters for recommendations. Create a master list of shifts and immediately assign a specific time for members who sign up.

Confirm with a letter that explains how to contact you in case of schedule changes. Right before the event, send another reminder to volunteers, repeating the shift, time, and location.

As volunteers arrive, greet them at a sign-in table. Brief them on how to answer calls, the approximate time limit, and what to say if they don't know the answer. It's also a good idea to provide them with a standard reply sheet.

Send formal thank-you letters from your president or chief executive to your sponsors, hotline staff, and volunteers.

Tally up the results of calls and report the findings in association publications and news releases. Encourage members to forward local newspaper articles.

Keeping good records will help you build support for future hotlines.

June C. Million is director of public information for the National Association of Elementary School Principals, Alexandria, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:organizing a hotline
Author:Million, June C.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:570
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