Reading time: 24 minutes

Your First Guide on Starting a Parent Notification System in the School

By:
Published: Sep 30, 2021

Employing a parent notification system can ensure all your communications are streamlined and timely. When done manually, it can demand substantial effort. But, automate the process, and you’ve reduced your staffers’ work considerably while still reaping the benefits.

A school messaging system and an automated calling system for schools designed around the needs and benefits of parents can:

  • Keep parents in the loop about updates and developments.
  • Send emergency alerts promptly.
  • Broadcast events and collect responses.
  • Automate regular notifications such as exam dates, results, and more. 

Moreover, an automated parent notification system does this without burning a hole in your budget. If a support text message can cost between $1-5, automation can bring it down to 25 cents!

But, we might be getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning of what a parent notification system is and build upon how you can adopt it for your school.

What is a parent alert?

A parent alert is a text or call notification that goes out in bulk to your contacts. Schools employ such methods to ensure no delay in delivering the message to parents.

First, let’s consider texts. Say your K-12 school has about 650 students. It can take anywhere between 10-30 minutes to create a group or broadcast list manually. This depends on the length of the list and also on the speed of the person in charge. We haven’t even considered the obstacle posed by your tool (like group strength limits).

But, by employing an automated school text alert system with a long code, you can send one message per second without any manual interference. That means 60 texts every minute- Your entire parents’ list will receive your text within 12 minutes! Go a step further, rent a dedicated shortcode and you can send 100 texts every second!

Now, let’s talk about a call notification campaign. I don’t really have to make a case about time, effort, and costs for manually dialing hundreds of contacts. Your admin staff is familiar with the dropped calls, no answers, and other barriers.

An automated calling system for schools eliminates that with two tools:

  • Auto dialers: These systems consider the number of active agents and call contacts ahead of time. They weed out bad numbers and unanswered calls, connecting only answered ones with agents. 
  • Voice broadcasts are much like bulk text messages, except they send out a recorded message to all selected contacts. Since these broadcasts go out simultaneously, schools ensure parents are notified in time.

Glossary: 

  • Longcode: A 10-digit rented or validated number used to send your text broadcasts or personal messages.
  • Shortcode: A 5 or 6-digit rented number that people can text to opt-in to your messages and can be used to send text broadcasts.
  • Dedicated shortcode: A shortcode that has been approved by a carrier and is exclusive only for your use (i.e., no other company or organization will share this number).
  • Auto dialers: An automated system where you upload contact lists, set rules for dialing rates and actions after a call, and the system runs the numbers for you. This helps campaigns run much faster and reduces error risks.

Call Dispositions: Rules for the auto-dialing system to take actions for each outcome of a call. E.g., “retry” for a machine answer or “add to Do Not Contact list” for a bad number.

How to start a parent notification system

To ensure your school starts the parent notification system on the right footing, you must be prepared with the following documentation and devices:

Tacit or explicit permission from parents

Establishing an automated texting or calling system for schools requires you to get prior permission from your audience, i.e., parents. Since you are a school, there’s a certain guarantee that the parents are not complete strangers. Hence, tacit permission may be viable.

However, we recommend you get explicit permission from parents to contact them. This can be done in various ways:

  • Collect numbers and due permissions during the admissions or annual enrollment process.
  • Establish an SMS opt-in method where parents text in a keyword to your rented/validated number to signify interest.
  • Send manual texts, emails, or make calls to inform parents that you have added them to your communication lists (this is, of course, assuming you have collected their contact details). Make sure you give an easy way to opt out.
  • Add a landing page on your website clarifying details about your parent notification system. 

Eudora School’s website is an excellent example of the landing page information method:

parent-notification-system-contact-permission-eudora-schools
Image Source: Eudora Schools.

Image Source: Eudora Schools.

A segmented contact list

It is very important for school notification systems to categorize parents’ contact numbers and details into the classes their students are in, the type of communication they expect or such segments as may be relevant to your school.

These segments help you pick out phonebooks (aka contact lists) from your master list for each broadcast or personal text you send out. It allows communications to stay relevant while also reducing your costs.

For instance, say your 8th-grade results are out and you send a broadcast to all 650 contacts from your school (assuming one parent contact for each student). A text broadcast will cost you about $30. Instead, segment the list by classes and say you have 25 students in class 8; your cost automatically falls by 96.17%!

At the same time, you wouldn’t risk sending irrelevant updates to parents whose children are not in class 8, preventing them from opting out.

Communication tools that offer texting and calling solutions

If you’re switching to a parent notification system that covers both speed and visibility/engagement aspects of communication, you must look towards texting and calling. While the former has a 98% open rate, the latter is pertinent for open-ended conversations.

And to ensure a free flow of data between these communication methods, you must try to get a school notification system that offers tools for both.

Enter CallHub.

We integrate with many CRMs, including Salesforce and Blackbaud. If you don’t find your CRM on our app directory, you can use Zapier to connect it.

With this 2-way integration, your calling and texting campaigns always stay informed of the latest updates. You can curate your broadcasts accordingly.

For instance, say a parent opts-in in the last months of the academic year, and you add them to the segment for class 8. After the year is over, and the annual enrollment is done, you can update tags, and the parent will get updated to the class 9 category.

You received the initial information over text, but thanks to our seamless integrations and tools, you could safely conduct conversations over the phone and update your list automatically to continue the following year.

parent-notification-system-text-calling-journey

Agents trained to use the system

The parent notification system will serve to update parents in normal circumstances but also during emergencies. It is mainly for this latter reason that you must train your staffers in using the system and offer them time to get familiar with it.

Such training will also enhance the campaign set up in ordinary circumstances.

The training must include:

  • A walk-through and individual testing of each product.
  • An understanding of the features and their benefits.
  • A thorough understanding of the workflow.
  • Alternate ways to approach and solve use cases (e.g., sending texts to contacts who didn’t answer calls).

An event calendar

Your parent notification system will include everything from school news and event invites to school closing text alerts. An event calendar will help you sort out the planned events and notifications (e.g., holidays) at the beginning of the academic year.

This way, your staffers can take time at the start of every month and schedule campaigns. The ad-hoc ones can be accommodated as and when they come.

Your event calendar must include: 

  • A schedule of school events and details on what classes will be off and what classes will participate in them.
  • Holidays.
  • Exam schedules. 
  • Other planned days when parents must be notified.

Using a text parent notification system

CallHub’s text school notification system offers two tools: Mass texting (or text broadcasts) and peer-to-peer texts (P2P texts). Let’s look at how to use them:

Text broadcasts

As the name suggests, text broadcasts are messages that go to a large group of people simultaneously. The intention is either for the recipient to just read the message or take actions like clicking on a link or replying with prompted close-ended messages.

You can set up a text broadcast campaign on CallHub with the following steps:

  1. Log in to your account and click “Create” under text broadcast.
  2. Targeting: Add an identifiable and unique campaign name. 
  3. Select your phonebook(s). Choose from a rented or a validated number.
  4. You can set a sender name too. In these cases, the recipient will only see the name and not the number. They will be able to reply but can’t get back to you over a call or a fresh text.
  5. Script: Draft your message. Use merge tags such as {first_name} to personalize it automatically.
  6. Settings: If you expect responses, add an email ID where we can send you those. You can also add the number of retries and time between each for failed attempts.
  7. Preview and Schedule: Schedule the time and days when your broadcasts go out. We have enabled timezone settings for further convenience.
parent-notification-system-text-broadcast-mockup

The “first_name” tag will be replaced with the contact’s First Name as saved on your phonebook.

P2P texts 

Peer-to-peer texts are personal texts between your school and parents– but automated and optimized to make them scalable. 

Our tools offer pre-drafted replies, agent assignments, and more to enable you to have personal conversations with multiple parents without any hassle. Here’s how to set up a campaign:

  1. Sign in to your account and click on “Create” under Peer to Peer Texting.
  2. Script: Add an identifiable campaign name. Add the initial text (typically a question or a survey to prompt people to reply). You can choose between text, numeric or multi-choice questions. The manager can choose to send this text automatically (text goes out like a broadcast), but the default settings mandate agents to send the text when they are active on the campaign.
  3. Add saved replies for expected responses (e.g., answers, doubts, or queries). This step is optional but helps agents send faster, more uniform responses.
  4. Targeting: Pick your phonebook(s) and rent a number.
  5. Agents: Add an onboarding brief or instructions. Assign agents by the team, individually or automatically.
  6. Schedule: Schedule the campaign by date and active days and hours. You are set!  

Using a voice parent notification system

Voice broadcasts and automated dialers can uplift a parent notification system when you either want to send urgent voice recordings or need to have a long conversation with parents (e.g., when compelling them to donate to your event).

CallHub has tools for both.

Voice broadcasts

Much like text broadcasts, voice broadcasts aim to reach a large group of people quickly and without the intention of receiving replies. You can set up such a campaign on CallHub in seven easy steps:

  1. Log in to your account and go to “Media”. Upload or record audio. If you want to go for text-to-speech, log in to your account and skip to step 2.
  2. Go to the dashboard and click “create” under Voice Broadcast.
  3. Sounds: Choose your uploaded/recorded audio OR type in a script for text-to-speech audio.
  4. Add “Transfer” rules complete with the number (from 0-9) that triggers the transfer, the audio that plays, and the phone number it reaches.
parent-notification-system-voice-broadcast-settings
  1. Contacts: Select your target phonebook(s).
  2. Settings: Check the caller ID, retry attempt settings and add an identifiable campaign name.
  3. Schedule: Schedule the dates and times when the broadcast goes out. Done!

Autodialers 

An autodialer is a system where you upload (or build) a list of contacts, set up a calling campaign, and assign agents; the system automatically dials numbers according to your settings. Such a system can go through your contacts up to 10X faster without compromising on the talk time.

Essentially, the system will do the boring and unproductive tasks of dialing numbers and skipping through unanswered calls, allowing agents to focus only on the talking part. Follow these steps to set up an auto dialing campaign on CallHub:

  1. Log in to your CallHub account and click on “Create” under Call Center.
  2. Script: Add an identifiable campaign name. Add a script for agents to follow, including a short brief and questions to ask.
  3. Set call dispositions for each outcome of a call.
  4. You have the option of setting follow-ups texts (manual or preset).
  5. Add tags that agents can choose from after every call. 
  6. Targeting: Select desired phonebook(s), your caller ID, and the outbound dialer.
  7. Agents: Select the agent(s) or team(s) that will participate in this campaign.
  8. You can set the rules for whether the calls will be recorded and if agents should add notes after every call at this stage.
  9. Schedule: Schedule your campaign by start and end date and days and times when it will be active.     

Common features that uplift your school notification systems

We went through an overview of how to set up a parent notification system. But, if your school wants to run an efficient campaign, your communication tools must offer features that uplift every text or call without demanding additional manual efforts.

Specifically, it must have the following features:

Merge tags

Merge tags are personalization tools that add unique value against every contact in your texts or calling scripts. One of the most commonly used merge tags is {first_name}. When a campaign manager adds this placeholder tag to the script, the system replaces it with the unique value set against each contact in your phonebook. For instance, I will get the text with “Tanvi” replacing {first_name}.  

Validated numbers

CallHub validates a number when you create your account by sending an OTP to it. You can choose this number in your texting and calling campaigns as your caller ID. Parents can save this number when you send the first text or make the first call. This ensures that they identify your notifications and can also get back to you over the number.

Scheduling of campaigns

Your parent notification system will include messages, updates, and reminders that are planned (days or even months) in advance. If you choose our Lite plan, you will not be charged before the texts go out– even if you schedule a campaign months before launch day! 

A system that allows you to schedule campaigns ahead of time prevents you from scurrying at the eleventh hour.

Ability to receive responses

A school notification system may expect parents to reply or to reach out outside of campaign schedules. Thus, your tool must display your number(s) on the recipients’ phone and allow them to respond, save and call/text back.

CRM integrations

Efficient campaigns are those that save every newly acquired information and utilize them in future campaigns. A CRM integration is a must to enable this. CallHub syncs with several such databases (and if we don’t yet integrate with yours, you can always use Zapier to connect it).

Ability to tag contacts 

Say you are running a campaign asking parents to contribute to a prom event. Some say they will install stalls; others are happy to participate as chaperones. Some say they, unfortunately, can’t participate. You tag them according to responses after your call, enabling you to segment lists faster the next time around. 

Now, when it’s time to send over a text about their duties, you use these tags to send separate messages to each group! 

List cleaning plug-ins

A school’s contact list will update every year. Students will advance to the next class, one batch will pass out, and one will enroll fresh. So will the list of parents.

Your parent notification system must allow you to clean lists regularly and without hassle. It must have relevant plug-ins as well as manual cleaning options. Read here to know how you can easily clean lists on CallHub: Marie Kondo-ing Your Phonebook: How to Clean an Existing Contact List.  

Automated follow-ups

No matter how high quality your list is, it’s unlikely that all recipients will answer calls or respond to texts on time. For that, you need follow-ups or nudges.

School notification systems like CallHub have automated text follow-up options on calling and texting campaigns. Enable them to nudge contacts to take the desired action. We also have a Callback disposition on auto-dialers, so you don’t miss out on trying a number again after some time.

Multiple ways to build contact lists

You are most likely to have a comprehensive list of parents’ contact information at the annual enrollment stage. You can directly upload them to a parent notification system like CallHub and inform them about the expected communications by manual texts, calls or on your website.

However, there are instances such as events or building a separate list for a particular use case. You only want interested parents in these lists. In such cases, you can ask them to voluntarily opt-in via SMS. A good communication tool will allow you to build lists in both ways.

The way forward

We hope this post helped you navigate the use cases and best practices to adopt a parent notification system for your school. CallHub is designed to serve educational institutions in their text and calling communications. While you’re here, why not give us a try? Sign up here; no credit card required! 

Feature image source: NeONBRAND/Unsplash.

Enjoying my work? Share this article!