Updated to include ideas from our Facebook community.  

Just about all PTO presidents would agree that one of the biggest challenges of the job is encouraging people to get involved. Most parents are already juggling so many other commitments that convincing them to spend their valuable time going to meetings or serving on committees can be a tough sell.

But what if parents got as excited for PTO events as the students do? What if a PTO meeting or sponsored activity was seen as a chance for parents to socialize and have some fun?

Being a member of the PTO should be about more than fundraising and pleading for volunteers. It should also be a way for parents to get to know each other, and by doing so, to build a community.

If you’ve been looking for ways to inject some fun and spirit into your group, we have some ideas.

General Meetings

There’s no getting around the necessity of general meetings—it’s where stuff gets done. It’s a place to brainstorm, express opinions, make decisions, and approve budgets.

But that doesn’t mean meetings have to be dry. Give people a reason to want to get out of the house.

Serve food. Let’s face it: People always enjoy free food. Ask a different board member each month to bring brownies, lemon bars, or a plate of cookies. Or just put out some candies or a bowl of chips. If your school is doing a food fundraiser (cookie dough, popcorn, candy), serve up some of the goodies. Most vendors are happy to provide samples.

Start with an icebreaker or joke. Help people relax by asking for a few volunteers to share jokes or by playing a short game. Or simply take a few minutes before starting the meeting and ask each person to introduce herself to two people she doesn’t know.

Offer door prizes. Give attendees a ticket when they enter the meeting, then draw a winning ticket at the end. Prizes can be simple: gift cards for coffee or ice cream; mug, pens, or a tote bag with the school name or logo; or even a leftover prize from last year’s carnival. To really encourage people to attend a big meeting, give away a prime parking spot to a popular event, such as graduation, the carnival, or a school play. And don’t forget to let members know about door prizes ahead of time.

Make parent involvement a priority—get our top 10 tips for success

Board or Committee Meetings

Board and committee members have already agreed to volunteer additional time, so make those extra meetings worth their while by making them enjoyable.

Meet at an outside venue. You could go to the school library or even the public library, but people tend to be more relaxed in a less businesslike setting. Consider meeting at a coffee shop, a pub, or at someone’s home.

Hold a retreat for leaders. Over the summer or early in the school year, plan a retreat at someone’s house so that board members can get to know each other before their work begins. A retreat doesn’t have to last long. A few hours over a weekend will allow time to play team-building games and enjoy a meal together. Consider doing the same at the end of the year with both the outgoing and incoming boards. The outgoing board could even host a potluck for the incoming leaders as a welcome.

Routine Volunteer Tasks

Often, being on a committee means behind-the-scenes grunt work such as sorting raffle tickets or setting up carnival booths. Help your volunteers not only get the job done but also crack a few smiles while doing it.

Gather together. You know the saying “many hands make light work”—take that to heart. When you have a monotonous task, such as counting box tops or divvying up carnival tickets, make it into a party. Casey Boersma, the Box Tops coordinator for Perry Hill PTO in Fort Wayne, Ind., called on PTO friends to help count some 17,000 box tops.

“It can be tough to get one person to handle all the box tops,” she explains, “but as long as I get some help, it’s actually kind of fun. We sit around the table and drink wine and count. No one even gripes about having to do it.”

Play music. Crank some upbeat tunes while you transform your school into a carnival scene or as you’re setting up for a fun run. A study from the University of Missouri showed that listening to toe-tapping music isn’t just entertaining; it actually improves our mood and energizes us, too.

Be silly. When volunteers arrive to set up for an event, hand out some crazy hats or colorful leis or make up silly name tags. You can give nicknames to the committee chairs, such as “Queen of the Games,” “Prince of Prizes,” “Raffle Ruler,” and “Silent Auction Star.”

Special Events

Plan an open house or back-to-school night. Open houses and back-to-school nights are great opportunities to show parents (and teachers!) how much fun it is to be a member of the PTO, so play it up. Make sure your presence is upbeat and welcoming. Staff a water station or serve coffee and lemonade, then chat and talk up your group. Hang colorful posters touting the PTO. Have board members wear name tags or T-shirts identifying themselves as a PTO contact person.

Hold a family party. Make it easy for parents to get to know each other by hosting some family social events during the year. People are more likely to have fun and get involved if they feel like part of the community or know each other.

The Spring Hill PTO in McLean, Va., threw a block party in September 2015 and invited the entire school plus staff. To lessen the burden on their regular volunteers, they sold tickets for $2 and hired a DJ to play music and facilitate games for the kids. Parents were able to mingle, talk, and enjoy a catered meal. This year, they had a tailgate theme, and attendees were encouraged to wear school spiritwear and school colors.

“So often, the same people raise their hands to volunteer and show up to help, so this is our way of thanking them by allowing them to get together and truly engage one another rather than performing a task,” says PTO president Jessica McMichael. “It’s a really fantastic way to start the year.”

Host a family assembly. If your PTO already has an assembly budget, consider something the entire family will enjoy. The Jackson Elementary PTA in Elmhurst, Ill., now hosts an evening assembly on the same night the book fair opens. The group has held family-friendly performances featuring a magician and a bubble expert, and it’s brought in an author to do a reading and answer questions (an event that paired nicely with the book fair).

“Having an assembly in the evening helps members really see where their PTO dollars are going,” says PTA president Kristi Amendola. “But it’s also a great way to socialize afterward and it really helps the book fair.”

The Jackson PTA also organizes parents-only events that provide an opportunity to socialize over drinks and appetizers, or at a painting studio, or while viewing a sporting event. “People really need a connection to help them get involved,” Amendola says. “And these social opportunities are so important in order to feel a part of the community.”

Don’t just think about how people who come to your events can have fun. Remember to have fun yourself! Remind volunteers that they’re ambassadors for the group and shouldn’t look stressed or annoyed while working. If they look like they’re having a good time, they give off the impression that the PTO is a fun group to be part of.

And yes, the core mission of a PTO is to benefit the school and its students by providing wonderful enrichment opportunities. But keep in mind that it also offers benefits to the people involved. A fun PTO is a place to form deep friendships and become a part of the community.


3 Ways To Let People Know You’re Fun

Thank your volunteers. Hold an end-of-year tea, coffee, or luncheon and invite everyone who volunteered. Have the president make a speech and give special recognition to people who chaired large committees or went above and beyond the job description as well as to parents who are “graduating.”

Put out the welcome mat. Make sure that everyone is welcomed at every event, and always seek out new parents and answer questions. Try to use name tags whenever you can so it’s easy to remember people’s names.

Use social media. Make sure your social media conveys an image of fun and good times and isn’t just pleas for volunteers or money. Ask a few members to post about the variety of activities your PTO is doing (encourage hashtags!). And while you definitely want to communicate about big events, don’t forget to show the little ways that PTO members have fun and help students.

Ideas From Our Facebook Community 

I organized a Pictionary game for our PTA using the key words related to our school: our mascot, names of events, and so on. It was a lot of fun! - Marisol G. 

We changed our meetings from right after school in the teachers lounge to moved it to a local winery and serve light apps at 6:30. Our attendance skyrocketed last year and I'm excited to see even more of an increase this year! Also, at a summer board meeting we started off with Two Truths and a Lie! Hilarious! - Mindy D. 

We did Popsicles on the Playground. It was fantastic! A non-threatening way to get to know parents and mingle! Hopefully, when we start our meetings in September they will want to come! - Nannette B. 

Last year we did a mannequin challenge and the staff and parents had fun. We have to figure out how to beat that this year! - Cynthia S.

 We did "Chalk the Walk" where we decorated the walkway, parking lot and parking spots in an effort to welcome our Kindergarteners for orientation. We had a lot of fun coloring in everywhere! We wrote each student's name and positive messages. - Jocelyn S. 

Fun things we have planned for the year include a class parent tea, Trunk or Treat, holiday bagel breakfasts for the students and family movie, STEM and Bingo nights. For every fundraiser we try to do two fun service events so we don't always have our hands in people's pockets. - Shannon H. 

We are doing PTO nights out this year! I'm really trying to work on team building for my board! We have Bingo on the schedule, a Bad Moms 2 viewing outing, and a Boards and Brushes night on the calendar! - Tiffany R.