When music industry veteran Bryn Boughton sold her company Iris Distribution in 2012, her daughter was just about to enter kindergarten in an East Bay suburb of San Francisco, and she looked forward to having the time to get really involved with the school. “Right away I saw that there were some real needs there and I was overwhelmed,” she says. “I consider myself organized, and even I started dropping the ball. I saw that there was real time and effort being wasted by people who were otherwise highly motivated.”
Boughton became chair of her parent-teacher organization’s membership and communications committee, and saw firsthand what was working and what was failing pretty miserably. “I thought it was just a problem at our school, but I started asking around, and realized that was the story everywhere. No one was happy, everyone was frustrated.”
From this came the idea for Monday Envelope, a new all-in-one platform for communication and fundraising, tailored to the needs of PTO/PTAs and other parent groups. The app is named after the actual envelope sent home every week by her kids’ teachers, jam packed with notices and flyers to sign (and for kids to lose and parents to forget about). “Part of the problem is that people now have stainless steel refrigerators that you can’t use magnets on,” laughs Boughton–but it’s only half a joke. She says that hers and many parent organizations will half-heartedly turn to digital solutions, only to abandon them and go back to long email threads and paper, which backfires and creates more chaos and disconnection.
Monday Envelope’s whole mission is to simplify involvement, which Boughton says required two fundamental features: a web-based app that is viewable on all platforms and doesn’t require a separate download, and the ability to communicate with all group members whether or not they log on. “Other solutions fell apart if people didn’t log on,” says Boughton. “This system sends out a standard weekly email that highlights all of the required actions that are still outstanding. Everything is actionable. You get an email and you can see what needs to be paid for, volunteered for, signed. You can also see upcoming activities, and optionally sign up for a daily email. So group leaders won’t have to send additional communications.” Monday Envelope also allows group leaders to track actions even if they happen outside of the platform–for example, if someone sends an email asking to volunteer for an event, the group leader can manually add the name to the list being tracked on the app. Organizers can require RSVPs for activities, or not, and can collect payments for tickets or other donations.
Fundraising and payment collection are in fact key to Monday Envelope’s functionality, considering that parent groups raise $4 billion a year nationwide, at an average of $50,000 per school. “A lot of times people who aren’t in the thick of things see parents clubs as being supplementary to the schools,” says Boughton. “I thought my contribution would be towards music and field trips, but the reality is that parents clubs fund necessities at schools, like air conditioning units and soaps in bathrooms–and this is in an East Bay suburb, not a struggling system.”
Boughton says that parents groups are moving away from affiliation with the national advocacy group the Parent Teacher Association, because one of their primary missions is lobbying for financial support from the government, which in turn puts restrictions on school-based fundraisers. “Parents are moving into Parent Teacher Organizations or other independent nonprofits, which allows them to not have a cap on fundraisers,” says Boughton. “But the PTA did provide a lot of support in the way of training, materials, workshops, and conventions, and as an independent organization you don’t have that. Every year there’s a turnover of boards, and there’s not a lot of knowledge transfer,” which Monday Envelope aims to simplify.
Using a crowdfunding platform and Amazon Payments, Monday Envelope also helps parent groups navigate increased restrictions on the language around fundraising, often at the state level, which require organizations to present everything as strictly optional. “But the reality is that if people don’t contribute, the activity can’t happen,” says Boughton. “The organization needs to raise $200 but they can’t ask for it directly. So the platform enables you to collect funds while showing what the cost is and how close you are to the end goal. We have a crowdfunding platform built in so you can create a campaign for a generic fund or an item, and can have rewards, and it’s sharable socially. Because most groups are nonprofits, they create their own Amazon payment account so people contribute directly to them, so contributors get their tax credit and there’s no fee for the fundraiser.”
Monday Envelope launched in a closed beta last October with about a thousand users, with whom the company has been closely workshopping before entering a public beta later in May. Parents, teachers, and organizations can sign up on the platform’s website to be notified at launch. While the timing is designed to create awareness in advance of groups reconvening in the fall, Boughton says that she is also working over the summer with childcare centers that have interest in using the platform.
“There’s so much talk around the importance of parent engagement, so the platform enables you to be involved to the degree you want to be involved,” says Boughton. “Communication is not in your way anymore. The real goal eventually is to help increase engagement and bring more people into the fold and help facilitate the flow of funds into parents clubs–the current method is literally cash in envelopes.”
Boughton also envisions Monday Envelope helping to manage and increase the sources of local school funding. “There’s a pool of corporate money that really wants to get into schools, and right now it’s very fragmented. There are all these corporate programs you can sign up for: General Mills Box Tops, Target’s Red Card. Most of these companies have a mandate to give, and then of course they want to get in front of parents, and there’s no way to connect those dots. We have a longer-term goal of having this network of parents clubs that helps get this money into the schools in a way that’s much more efficient, and benefits both the brands and the clubs.”