A is for Asking. If you want people to participate, you must ask. The number one reason people cite for not volunteering: "Nobody asked."
B is for Black Hole. People are afraid that if they volunteer, they'll be sucked into a black hole of time commitment from which they can't escape. Let them know up front that your group is not a black hole. Then, make sure you honor their time constraints.
C is for Communication. Use a variety of communication tools (like PTO Today's Parent Express Email) to make sure your message gets through. Flyers and e-mails are good for communicating a date and time. Use your newsletter and Web site to let people know about your accomplishments. Invite local media to activities involving kids.
D is for Diversity. Reach out to all parents in your school, not just the ones who are easy to reach. Sponsor multicultural events. Translate parent group materials, if necessary. Organize transportation for those who need it. Your school, your group, and the kids all will benefit tremendously from broad-based parent involvement.
E is for Examine. Look closely at your activities to decide what's working and what isn't. Don't just do something because "that's what we've always done." New ideas can create new excitement for your group.
F is for Fun—don't forget about it! Some special people will dedicate their time and energy to a group because it's the right thing to do. Many, many more will participate if it's fun. Make sure your group has fun. You'll build involvement and fight burnout, too.
G is for Gradual. Introduce parents to participation in the PTO gradually. Parents who participate in family events are the most likely to become volunteers. Those who volunteer occasionally are the most likely to take on more responsibility, such as organizing an event. And those organizers are the most likely to become interested in serving as board members. Moving people from step to step takes the stress out of finding future leaders.
H is for Hour, the length to which you should limit meetings. People worry about time commitments. You have better ways for them to spend their volunteer time than at meetings, so don't hold meetings that go on all night. Use your committees to do the detail work. Limit general meetings to one hour, and limit business to finalizing the work of the committees.
I is for Invitation. The best way to get parents involved is to extend a personal invitation. People are most likely to take part in any group when they know someone who already does. Don't just send flyers home, then wonder why nobody "signed up." Create situations in which you can communicate with people one on one.
J is for Just. Don't use this word to describe your group. You are doing important work. You should know it, and others should, too. So don't think of your organization as "just a PTO." If you do, you'll have a much harder time getting others involved.
K is for Kudos. Awards, compliments, a simple thank-you. Always let people know that you appreciate their help, whether they just organized a smashing fundraiser or spent an hour selling tickets at the carnival.
L is for Leadership. Being a leader means looking beyond today. Does your group have long-term goals? How will you get there? If you want to get parents excited, share your vision and give them something to work toward.
M is for Marketing. Sing the praises of your parent group. Make sure people know what you do. When you donate an item to the school, put a plaque or sticker on it that gives you credit. When you raise money, make sure people know what it was able to buy for their kids. A little basic marketing goes a long way toward building your reputation with parents—and encouraging parent involvement.