If you were to look into the future of your parent group, what would you hope to see? Do you think your organization is where the PTO president of five years ago hoped it would be? Are you even looking three to five years into the future? Or do you just look forward to getting through that next silent auction?

Having a vision for the future of your group and creating a plan to ensure that vision is realized can make the future all you would like it to be—and maybe even more. On the other hand, the idea of dragging a PTO board through a lengthy visioning and strategic planning session is enough to make those Tuesday night PTO meetings seem less appealing than a sink full of dirty dishes. But there is a practical way to create a valuable long-term plan of action without all the muss and fuss of extended meetings, costly retreats, or intrusive consultants.

What is the value of planning and setting goals? Planning for the long-term health of your organization sets the agenda for success. A strategic plan acts as a road map, not only for the current year but also for three to five years into the future.

Think of a PTO at an elementary school with grades K-5. It includes committed parent stakeholders who will be involved for the current year and, in the case of the parents of kindergartners, for six years into the future. The parents of departing 5th graders have an interest in making their final year at the elementary school memorable and maybe even leaving some kind of long-term memorial. There’s a history here as well as a hopeful view to the future.

A good strategic plan helps set the stage for continuity. Long-term planning helps with the transition from one year to the next and from one PTO board to the next as it answers questions relating to mission and goals. It poses the questions that new boards might need to be asking themselves. Another benefit of long-term strategic planning, by the simple act of putting organizational mission, vision, and important goals into concise words, is that it helps the group focus on its fundraising and volunteer needs at an early stage.

So how does your PTO go about constructing a long-term strategic plan? The simple plan of action spelled out here can be accomplished over a period of about a month. You should be able to do this with four strategic development committee meetings and several sit-downs with executive board members.

A good place to start is to identify a committee of two or three individuals to take on the task. In these heroes you are looking for historical knowledge of the school and the community, a vision for the future, and a willingness to put words on paper. You’re looking for people who love talking to others and are not afraid to ask hard questions. It’s also important that the committee be fairly diverse. This could be the PTO’s executive board, but it could also be a small group of teachers, parents, and students.

The committee’s mission is to gather thoughts and opinions of stakeholders with the aim of constructing a strategic plan for the PTO. A strategic plan is a set of actions that enable an organization to achieve results. It’s a way of comparing and measuring an organization to get an idea of how best to serve its mission.

Getting Started

Assuming that the committee goes into its first meeting with a clear idea of the mission and vision of the parent group, its first priority is a discussion of the PTO’s current situation. How is parent-teacher participation? How are the finances? Any other aspects of the current situation should be noted.

What are the concerns of organizational stakeholders? A good way to get a handle on the current situation is to go over minutes from the past few PTO meetings. What was discussed? Make note of any item, no matter how significant or trivial. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the group. Make note of any current opportunities that exist for the PTO. At this point in your discussions, nothing should be off-limits. There are no wrong answers. Nothing is unimportant. This is where you lay everything on the table.

Now that you are firm in your group’s mission, your current position has been assessed, and your organizational issues have been identified, it’s time to do something about them. It’s also time for your next meeting. Between the first and second meetings, you have organized what was discussed, put the minutes of the first meeting into an easy-to-digest format, and passed it around to interested stakeholders for feedback. It’s time to develop goals and objectives that can come from individual inspiration, group discussion, or formal decisionmaking techniques. The bottom line is that you agree on how to address your organizational issues.

In this second meeting, you will outline your PTO’s strategic direction. You will set general goals as well as long-range goals and objectives. An example of a general goal might be that you want to increase the attendance at your monthly PTO meetings. If you set this as a goal at meeting two, make it a point between meetings two and three to talk with parents and teachers about this goal to get their feedback. Talk to those who only attend meetings occasionally and to those who never attend to get their input. Send home surveys for feedback. Any way you can gather data on this issue is helpful.

A long-range goal might be the establishment of a scholarship fund for former students who are headed off to college. Again, communicating your general goals and long-range objectives to your stakeholders is the best way of getting the important feedback you need as you look to plan your activities.

The period between meetings two and three is a time to gather data as you prepare to plan specific activities in response to organizational issues. You should be continually communicating with your stakeholders to get feedback. The more you communicate, the better chance you have of getting people to buy into your plans.

At meeting three, you will discuss and debate the feedback you received regarding your goals. Undoubtedly, you’ll get many opinions as to what your actions might be toward those goals. Here’s where your committee’s experience comes into play as you decide the actions to be taken. Some decisions will be based on historical facts relating to what works for your community and what doesn’t. Some decisions will be best guesses.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. What is important is that decisions are made and that you strive to move forward. Your goals in this meeting should be to make decisions on active strategies to achieve both your short- and long-term goals.

Writing the Plan

Now it’s time to put it all on paper. Your plan should begin with your simple mission statement followed by your vision statement. The balance of your plan should outline, point by point, the goals you have agreed on for the coming year followed by the activities to support these goals. Finally, state your long-term goals and activities that will achieve them.

Because fundraising is an important part of any PTO’s activities, you might want to make sure that budget goals are part of your plan. You don’t need to work out specific budgets for the next three to five years, but you might consider making budgetary goals part of your long-term plan.

Long-term planning for the health, vitality, and growth of your PTO can be one of the most satisfying activities that your board can enter into. It puts you in touch with your organizational present and envisions a long, prosperous future. What more could you ask for?