“How do we get more parents to come to our meetings?”

It must be the most common question we get here at PTO Today, and one of the most frustrating challenges for parent group leaders every­where. In schools of 300 or 500 families, some groups are lucky to get 12 or 15 parents to a meeting. Wouldn’t you love to have to find more chairs or move your meeting to a larger room because of high turn­out? Alas, that’s almost never the case. And I’m here to tell you that it probably never will be—at least for your average monthly PTO meeting.

And that’s OK.

Seriously, I hope you will stop worrying so much about meeting attendance. When measuring the effectiveness of a parent group, “number of parents who attend our meetings” is way behind things like building real involvement, creating community at school, serving teachers, providing resources and activities for students, and a host of other important functions.

Question: Would you rather have

a) meeting attendance double from 10 to 20, or
b) attendance at your spaghetti supper double from 50 to 100?

Nearly every parent group leader I know would choose “b” in a heartbeat.

Are there ways to increase attendance? Yes. Make meetings shorter. Make sure fun and community are a big part of your group. Serve your members rather than being perceived as always asking for service. But meeting attendance really grows only when you grow the number of people who get truly connected to your group and want to become highly involved. And your best chance to cultivate volunteers like that is to put on the kinds of events that draw newcomers out of their homes for fun and camaraderie.

Yes, this means that same crew of regulars, yet again, has to do nearly all the work for a big event. But if you can bring 20 or 30 new faces to your next family event, what a great pros­pective volunteer group you’ll have for recruiting more of those key members who attend actual meetings. When you host strong events and really engage average parents, you’ll have a great opportunity to personally invite moms and dads to your meetings and into even more involvement.

When it comes to growing that core group of key volunteers, nothing beats a great first impression and a personal invitation. Spaghetti suppers, fall fairs, family movie nights (shameless plug: check out our School Family Nights program), dinner dances, golf tournaments—these are the kind of events that folks attend out of interest rather than duty. When parents attend these fun events, they might see a different side of your parent group. The odds are that a few of those new parents will become active, help put on your next event, and even attend meetings. In that way, you might achieve both “a” and “b” in the little quiz above.

If you’re measuring your group’s success by the number of attendees at your meetings, then you’re measuring the wrong thing. Involvement and engagement are the key measuring sticks. I know of groups that have even discontinued general monthly meetings because of low turnout yet have wonderful involvement at their schools. If they measured PTO success by meeting attendance, they’d be down in the dumps. But the reality is that they’re doing great things for kids.

Just like you are. What are you measuring?