Chances are not many parent group leaders or volunteers would list meetings as a favorite part of their involvement. But they’ll always be important in the big picture of what a PTO or PTA does. If you run your meetings in ways that are more efficient, inclusive, fun, and creative, you’ll be more likely to keep people coming back and contributing to the important work you do for your school.

Choose a few ideas off the “meetings menu” that follows (and read how groups like yours achieved better results), and you’ll be on your way to having meetings that parents won’t mind attending.

Be More Efficient

  • Limit meetings to an hour. You’ve probably heard it before, and there’s a reason for the “one-hour max” rule: If people know for sure that they’ll be home by 8 p.m., they’ll be more likely to show up. If conversations or agenda items are taking longer than expected, make a note to follow up later with people electronically, by phone, or in person. The Kyrene de la Mirada Leadership Academy PTO in Chandler, Ariz., made the process of nudging people along humorous by appointing its secretary the meeting “taskmaster”—each agenda has a time limit next to it, and if a speaker goes over, she gets buzzed by the secretary/taskmaster.

  • Provide handouts of what you’ll be discussing (agenda, budgets, details of projects, etc.). Giving attendees the chance to scan (and keep) this information can help you keep to your time limit.

  • Eliminate the hassle of attendees having to rush through dinner by providing pizza or having a simple potluck. The Cedar Grove Elementary PTO in Smyrna, Tenn., has themed potluck dinners where the first 30 minutes are spent with attendees eating and mingling, and it has created a noticeable uptick in attendance: “The potlucks have been a true game-changer for us in getting people to come to meetings,” president Tonya Ingram says.

  • Create a schedule to send reminders (via Facebook, email, etc.) at set times, such as a few days before and then again a few hours before each meeting.

More on Meetings/Robert's Rules

Robert's Rules Tip Sheet

PTO Meeting Conversation-Starters

Be More Inclusive

  • Ditch the head table setup. Regardless of whether it’s your intention, it can set a more authoritative mood than your group really wants. Arrange chairs in a circle or in another way that suggests a “we’re in this together” vibe.

  • Use name tags for everyone so no one feels uncomfortable about forgetting names or that she’s walking into a situation where everyone else knows each other.

  • Be an active listener. Show that you take a genuine interest in answering questions and considering new ideas by taking notes and asking follow-up questions.

  • Use some icebreakers to establish common ground and get the conversation going. Come up with your own questions, or download our printable conversation-starters.

  • These days, it’s easy to try basic technologies like Skype and Facebook Live to include parents who are at home or work.

  • Think outside the box for child care. You can improve attendance by solving the child care issue for parents. Most middle and high schools require students to do community service, so older middle schoolers and younger high schoolers are good options to start with—some groups have had trouble getting older high schoolers to commit. Another option is having a few parents take turns babysitting.

  • Try different times. If you’ve done what you can and people still aren’t showing up, do a survey to see if more parents would be apt to come at a different time or day.

Be More Fun

  • If you’re not serving a meal, provide fun snacks like an assortment of popcorn flavors or simple desserts like brownies or cookies.

  • Bring in a guest speaker. This could be a parent with a particular area of expertise, or someone at the school or in the community who can speak about a particular trend (like an app, video game, TV show) that you know parents are talking about.

  • Offer an incentive. The Sequoyah Elementary PTO in Macomb, Mich., does a prize drawing of four front-row seats to a school event of the winner’s choice and free admission to a PTO event. Those who attend all five yearly meetings have a chance to win a gift card. “In a school of 700-plus kids, the front-row seats are pretty popular,” president Kelly Gebby says.

  • While the meeting itself should be limited to an hour, add social time afterward for people who want to stay and get to know each other.

Be More Creative

  • Give students a role. Invite kids to give short presentations of school goings-on, such as assemblies, musical performances, school plays, etc.

  • Add a bit of whimsy. Calling itself a “fun group of wonder women (and men),” the leaders of the Holy Family School PTO in East Tawas, Mich., wear capes and tutus to meetings—as well as to other PTO functions—so they can be spotted easily.

  • Hold a themed meeting around a holiday, upcoming school event, or other occasion to create a buzz that increases attendance. (Careful not to get too elaborate, though—you don’t want to create too much work before the meeting even starts. A few decorations and a suggestion to wear something festive should be enough.