After a busy school year, PTO leaders deserve a break in the summer; however, there’s one event you should consider organizing before school starts: an officer retreat. Gathering leaders over the break can help keep your incoming board members interested and informed. A summer retreat is an opportunity for everyone to think about their positions for the next school year. Here’s what I’ve learned from holding officer retreats for my group during my term as president.

Choose the Right Date

To encourage maximum attendance, it’s important to get the date right. I’ve always held the retreat two weeks before school starts, when many of us have finished our vacations and are home prepping for school to begin. Holding it during this window also makes a summer retreat a great way for new and returning board members to connect.

You could take an informal email poll of two to three options to see which one works best. At our last retreat, we weren’t able to find a date that the new vice president could make and unfortunately we had to hold the retreat without her. While not ideal, use your judgment as to what works best. The key is to share the date early and often, so it doesn’t slip off people’s radar. Consider sending an email every few weeks with news to your officers and a reminder to save the date!

As you get closer to the big day, you could suggest tips for each member to consider. As our board positions were filled, I asked new and departing volunteers to get in touch and talk about the details of the role. For example, the incoming treasurer should review the financial statements and talk about transition with the outgoing officer. If these conversations take place before the retreat, everyone is ready to dive in when the group meets.

Make It Fun

Consider the location when planning your retreat. Keep it out of the school or library, if possible; a member’s home or a local gathering spot are good options. We held our first gathering at a favorite restaurant with an outdoor seating area. Because we kept our meeting short and at a convenient place, we had a great turnout. A bonus was that after business was done, many members stuck around and continued to catch up.

The retreat doesn’t have to be long to be effective. Keep in mind busy schedules and how precious summertime is. Our retreat was set for two hours, and we stuck to it.

Do Some Advance Prep

Remember to distribute relevant documents such as contact sheets, calendars, and financial statements. Consider emailing them in advance and handing out printed copies at the retreat.

Also, even if your bylaws might not be up for renewal, share and review them to ensure that everyone has read them and will use them as guidelines throughout the year.

Chances are the incoming board is comprised of a mix of new and returning members, with varying levels of experience and familiarity with each other. In the invite, explain the goals of the retreat: to get to know each other, learn about the parent group’s operations, and plan for the upcoming school year.

At our last retreat, I suggested an icebreaker in which volunteers introduced themselves and shared their personal goals for joining the board. By making these conversations casual, I hoped to set the tone for the group and our meetings: informational yet informal, friendly, and cooperative. One PTA in North Dakota interviewed board members via email before the summer retreat and sent a newsletter with bios so everyone could learn about who they would be working with.

Stick to an Agenda

To make the most of the time, run your retreat like a meeting, with an agenda prepared in advance. Consider asking for input from the officers as to what they hope to discuss. You should review past activities, create a calendar of events for the year, and further develop the new budget, if possible. Also review duties of each position again to help educate board members on the expectations of their position.

The retreat is also a good time to discuss any unfinished business from last year. Sharing problems with the officers and involving them with solutions helps get them interested and invested in the parent group from the start.

It’s also helpful to leave room for new ideas. This is where our group discovered one of our best teacher appreciation initiatives. A volunteer who was a newcomer to our school suggested that we use some of our teacher appreciation budget to provide lunch or dinner on conference days. This was well-received by the board and the school, and was a great result of the summer event.

Finally, don't forget to remind everyone why they are all at the retreat—to get to know each other and have fun!