You float an idea on a homeschool email list or a Facebook group:
“I’m planning a field trip to Smith Historical Farm on the morning of April 10. I can get a group rate if we have 20 kids, and they’ll do special hands-on projects with the children.”
You give the details, and people say “count us in,” giving a headcount of 32 children for the field trip.
The day before the field trip, emails start flying with all the reasons people can’t be there. You go anyway, embarrassed to find that only 11 kids are there, and two of them are technically too young to participate. The Smith Historical Farm people are nice, but point out that you no longer qualify for the group rate, meaning that each family is now going to pay double what they expected.
The families who attend feel resentful at the unexpected cost, you feel unwilling to organize future events, and the Smith Historical Farm staff have supplies they didn’t need for people who didn’t show up – and not the greatest impression of homeschoolers.
What’s the solution?
Show me the money.
That’s right. If you’re organizing a formal activity for homeschoolers that involves a third party commitment (a museum, concert, class) the #1 most important thing to do is to get payment – or a substantial deposit – before you consider anyone committed to the event or class.
I have seen people who organize field trips complain that people do not take the commitment seriously when they say they’ll go. I have heard fellow-homeschoolers complain about no-shows affecting the cost and quality of outings they attend.
Over the years, I’ve organized events for homeschoolers in no less than six local homeschool groups and a couple of state-wide groups.
When I take people’s money, they show up.
Yes, it’s more trouble. You have to have a mechanism for taking money, a timeline for when it needs to get in your hands, and a refund or no-refund policy.
However, the benefits are worth it. Nearly everyone will show up, and if a few don’t, you have the money in hand to cover the cost of materials or their tickets.
This means that your third party will be happier with homeschoolers, and fellow-homeschoolers won’t feel let down by the no-shows.
Do all events need to be planned this way? No, they don’t. I have had success with park days, Not Back to School events, and parent meetings without charging money. For those, my strategy is to make sure at least one family that our family wants to spend time with will be there – and that it is someone I can count on. That way, even if turnout is low, the time that we invest in attending the event is rewarded with social time we’ll enjoy.
The other side of this, of course, is that new homeschoolers and young parents are sometimes unaware of how their absence or change in commitment affects other people. They may see the ability to change their minds as part of this “flexibility” of homeschooling we’re always talking about, without understanding that it has a negative impact on their homeschooling colleagues.
I’ve actually found that explaining why I’m getting money ahead of time is a great educational opportunity. If people ask about it, I can explain the impact of this problem on organizers, other homeschoolers, and the non-homeschooling third parties that are offering classes and events to our community.
Many outings can be planned without worrying about how many people will be there or if we will have critical mass for a good event. I love the ease of those activities.
And I do recognize that children get sick and situations change, and I respect those who attend what they commit to in every possible case, but occasionally find that they truly cannot participate in something they counted on. Sometimes people even have a run of these things, like when the flu runs through four kids and then work schedules you for overtime. I’m not talking to you.
For me, the problem is the more casual “count us in” followed by my coming to understand that the family actually double books all the time or misses nearly everything they sign up for. Even if families only do this about half the time, if you have a few of these in the same homeschool group, it pretty quickly leads to a problem.
In the homeschool world, sometimes we resist operating in a business-like way, but I’ve found that clarity and dollars reduce hard feelings and improve events.So if you’re planning something that could affect the reputation of homeschooling or the experience of many homeschoolers, take money in advance.
Then, if I sign up, I’ll be there.