Raise your hand if your group has discussed or implemented any or all of the following in an effort to get parents to show up to your monthly meetings. (C’mon—be honest).
Bribe the kids. Some version of a pizza party or kids’ prize for the class that has the most parents at the meeting.
Baby-sit ’em. Free baby-sitting in the school gym while parents meet in the cafeteria.
Bribe the parents. Door prizes, gift certificates for those who attend.
Kids’ performances. Third-grade art show one month. Fifth-grade music performance the next. Rinse. Repeat.
And now raise your other hand if any of these solutions worked so well that you’re now searching for an extra room for all the parents who just can’t get enough of your meetings.
I suspect there may be a lot of people with just one hand up. And if you’re like a lot of parent group leaders I run into, this never-ending quest to get parents to your meetings is a source of consternation. You discuss it. You strategize over it. You commiserate and throw up your hands.
My advice: Stop worrying about it.
Too many groups measure their success by measuring attendance at their meetings. If that’s you, then you’re measuring the wrong things. How’s the involvement and spirit at your school? How’s the community? Do you have successful family events? Are the kids learning within a caring and supportive environment? These are the questions that determine your success.
I’d gladly take low meeting attendance all year long in exchange for a series of successful family events. Similarly, if a mom or dad told me they could attend only one event this month, our meeting or our spaghetti supper, I’d encourage that parent to come eat some pasta and enjoy.
Why don’t average parents come to meetings? (By "average parents," I mean those who haven’t yet taken their involvement caffeine pills like you.) Answer: Your meetings are boring. And there’s not much you can do to change that. Sure, shorten your meetings and add life where you can, but your meetings are never going to be more exciting than a ball game or a movie or the next episode of American Idol. And they don’t need to be.
We have to think differently about meetings. If you get eight to 10 regulars now and you somehow get to 16 to 20, then you have a 100 percent increase in regular, core-level leaders for your group. That can be powerful. Think of all you could do with twice as many core volunteers. Instead of lamenting the fact that 90 percent of your parents still never come to meetings, celebrate the fact that you have more key folks to help you do even better work.
You won’t increase your meeting attendance with gimmicks and ever-louder pleas to parents. (Bright-orange paper, anyone?) Meeting attendance creeps up slowly as your group starts connecting and seeing success in broad ways. If you host more successful family events, for example, some small percentage of the attendees of those events will grow closer to your group and—eventually—move up to the “meeting attender” level.
And all those folks who never make the leap from spaghetti-eater to spaghetti-cooker? That’s OK. They’re connecting with the school. They’re becoming part of your community. They’re involved with their kids. And that’s what your success as a group is all about. No matter how many—or few—parents attend your meetings.