How do we get more parents to our meetings?
It's the most common question by far we receive at PTO Today. There isn't even a close second. We ran one survey about key parent leader concerns, and after more than 600 responses, "Increasing Parent Involvement" received more votes than the five other options combined (everything from fundraising to running meetings to dealing with staff).
While getting parents to meetings shouldn't be the ultimate goal, we know that involving parents and connecting with the wider school community is the number one challenge of today's parent leaders.
Feel like just a few folks do all the work in your group? Frustrated when you can't find new volunteers—never mind new leaders? Tired of other parents running away (in fear of getting sucked into the volunteer black hole) when you walk down the hall? Ever hear talk that your PTO is a small clique—even though you would love to welcome more volunteers)?
We're here to help. Repeat after us: We will focus our efforts on connecting with our school community. Everything else stems from this single goal: the fundraising results, the arts and enrichment programs, the fun. Don't get us wrong; it's not simple. Change never is. But your efforts in aiming for improvement, even if your group isn't magically transformed overnight, will pay off in the long run.
With apologies to Stephen Covey, welcome to PTO Today's 7 Habits of Highly Effective Parent Groups.
1. We will redefine our group goals to focus on involvement and engagement.
Is maximizing your meeting attendance really your goal? Or is it creating a wide community that celebrates learning and creating an atmosphere that welcomes family involvement?
Imagine your average meeting: Call to order. Reading of old minutes. Reports from each committee, including discussions and brainstorms for upcoming events. Report from principal. New business (maybe a presentation from one gift-wrap rep or another). Check the watch—wow, its getting late! Thanks for coming. See you next month.
Worthwhile and valuable? Absolutely! Maybe even interesting for the few uber-volunteers who really get into their work. But are you really surprised that your meetings don't draw in the majority of parents like moths to a flame?
What if you reduced the business at monthly meetings and focused instead on family involvement? Couldn't that fundraising rep make his or her pitch just to the fundraising committee, and couldn't the fundraising committee be entrusted to make the candy vs. candle decision on its own? Wouldn't time-pressed families be more likely to make it out to school for a potluck supper and an art activity with the art teacher? You may find that you don't need a monthly general meeting at all or that you can hold a meeting to vote for new officers during a 15-minute break in the annual Family Reading Night.
People tend to think that parent involvement is when parents physically enter a school building, but in reality it's much more. Parent involvement is also attending a child's Halloween program or helping with homework. Your group could add hundreds of more items to that list, with meeting attendance as just one entry.
Get More Parents Involved
2. We will sell family involvement for what it is—a great benefit for families and children.
Marketing 101. Multiple choice question. Which of these is not a benefit listed or implied in a Volvo advertisement?
a. Your child will be safe.
b. You'll have plenty of room for family goodies.
c. You'll be comfortable and relaxed in luxury.
d. C'mon, please help our salesman earn a really nice commission.
Need more time? The answer is d. Volvo has learned well the key lessons of marketing and sales—folks buy after answering a very simple question: What's in it for me?
Parent groups, however, often wind up begging and pleading for involvement. Please come to our meeting. Please volunteer for the fair. And when the pleas aren't heeded, the conclusion is that those parents just don't care.