PTO Today Blog

Ideas, news, opinions and tips about what’s happening in the parent group world


PTOs that communicate well, even those that tend to overcommunicate, have far more success than those that do not.But one mistake I see groups making is trying to communicate on five different platforms, but doing none of them very effectively. For example, they have Facebook, Twitter, an app, a calendar tool, and of course email—but each of those is only ho-hum.

My tip this week: Pick two communication tools and commit to making those two great. Make these your primary sources that you update regularly.

I'd highly suggest that one of those still be email. Email is the universal "everyone has it" tool that equates to the printed newsletter of 10-plus years ago. Our free Parent Express Email tool makes creating and sending emails really simple. 

After that, you have tons to choose from. There are more and more cool communication apps—check out Groups are making great use of Facebook. Some groups commit to regularly updating a section of the school website. Lots of options, but they are only effective if you use them frequently and well, and it’s very tough to do that if you engage on too many platforms.

It’s OK to have multiple channels for getting the word out. Just make sure there are a couple that you’re being really proactive with.

We have lots of other resources to help your group communicate more effectively.

Good luck!

Posted in Tim's Tip

After weeks of melodrama, Mother Funders, Bravo TV’s reality show about a PTO, wrapped up its final episode last night with a muted good-bye. 

In the end, the biggest worry that many folks had—that the show would paint hard-working parent groups in a bad light—didn’t seem to come true. As the show progressed through its eight-week run, it became so over-the-top that we have to believe most viewers understood it was entertainment and not at all the story of a real PTO. (Unless you know of PTO presidents who have not one but two makeup assistants on hand before a big fundraising event!)

The two big drama points of the show—would someone be elected new PTO president and would the group hit its $100,000 fundraising goal—seemed to simply peter out. Despite tremendous tension about who would replace Carla, the strong-willed president, we learned last night, through a series of still photos and “where are they now” comments in the last minutes of the show, that none of the board members would continue with this PTO. And after a constant drumbeat about the group’s plan to raise $100,000, it appeared the group brought in less than half that amount. 

But as is the case with many “reality” shows, the real life story didn’t exactly match what appeared on TV. As we reported weeks ago, the real PTO that the show was based on was disbanded by the school district shortly after Mother Funders first aired because of the negative publicity the show stirred up. As for the group’s fundraising goal, it was never clear how much money they were bringing in, and some of the amounts raised seemed odd. For instance, a sparsely attended mother-daughter tea supposedly brought in $5,000, but the season finale black-tie gala brought in only $4,000. 

The show provided a mixed bag when it came to portraying parent volunteers. Here are some final thoughts: 

Focusing on fundraising. When it comes to raising money, the show provided a lesson in what not to do. It actually showcased a lot of fun activities, like the pumpkin decorating party earlier in the season, that would have been much better as strictly community-building events. Instead, the group worked at making money at every turn. Do the opposite of that! Find ways to get people together to develop a community feel at your school and focus on a few key fundraisers. 

Conflict on the board. Most parent groups have some conflict. But the Mother Funders crew brought it to an absurd level. It went from mildly entertaining to irritating. (The final Carla-Robyn showdown involved tears, cursing, and cigarettes. What else can you say?)  So, if you are having a problem with a fellow board member, check out our article on dealing with difficult people. That will help a lot more than taking any cue from rivals Carla and Robyn. 

Kids are what matters. Here, the group shined. When you could ignore the drama, you could catch moments of sincere commitment to the kids. Even Carla, portrayed as an iron-fisted president, had many warm moments with the kids. If Mother Funders helped in some small way to spread the word on why PTOs and PTAs are important, then that’s one positive, at least. 

Multitasking parents. While the family scenes often appeared too staged, the show did portray parents juggling many responsibilities, including the PTO. That’s real life. Whether it was tantrums, bad grades, or hesitation about leaving kids alone for an evening, the family issues were relatable. Hopefully, those moments sparked an interest in volunteering among viewers. So if the show gives some parents the willingness to get involved, then that’s an accomplishment, too. 

Posted in Parent Involvement

Sometimes parent involvement can be a tough sell. Of course parents want to be involved, but they have so many other demands on their time.

Here’s a way to help make parent involvement a top priority: Let parents know that getting involved is not just a nice thing to do, it’s also a smart thing to do. Research shows that children with involved parents tend to be more successful. Also, involved parents typically have more access to school information, making them better advocates for their children. So next time you ask parents to pitch in at an event, let them know it’s not about doing you or your group a favor. Yes, they are helping the school community, but they are helping their own kids, too. 

We have a helpful video that you can show at your back-to-school event, open house, and first meeting of the year. It’s a simple way to get out the message to parents that getting involved can make a difference in their children’s lives.  (We have both an English and Spanish version of this video.) 

In addition, we have articles that summarize the research on parent involvement that’ll help you explain its importance. 

Posted in Parent Involvement


In these last few weeks of summer or first few weeks of school, your PTO or PTA is going to be tempted to share dozens of different messages with parents. In my experience, way too many of those early messages involve a big fundraiser or order deadlines or fundraiser prizes.

If you want a great year, start by being really careful with your early messaging. Reduce or eliminate the fundraising pitches in those first weeks and instead focus in a big way on one of parents’ real biggest fears—the black hole of volunteering. It’s true—many parents have the impression that getting involved a little will mean they get sucked into a volunteer vortex they can’t escape from. Here’s my full article on the fear of the black hole, and how to overcome that with parents.

Address it. Talk about it. I’d make it the topic of my back-to-school speech. Emphasize that your group celebrates and thrives because of volunteers who can only give a little bit. (Note: Please make sure that is actually true, because it’s essential.)

All of your other efforts, including fundraising, go way better when you broaden your base of volunteers. That’s your most important job, so start there. Good luck!

Posted in Parent Involvement


If you’re a PTO leader, then you’ve struggled at some point with meetings—both getting people there and making them useful and fun. It goes with the territory. Luckily, we have a great community of parent group leaders who joined us last night on Facebook to ask questions and share tips about meetings. Here’s a summary of the Live Q&A session, and you can also view the chat on our Facebook page

Let’s start with the basics: How do PTOs and PTAs get parents to come to meetings? 

Send out a survey at the beginning of the year asking parents what would get them to meetings. Ask about time, day of week, meeting place, day care, and any changes they would recommend. 

Try parent-led workshops at meetings. For example, an accountant can do a presentation on taxes or a medical professional could talk about germs and how to prevent spreading them. 

Use name tags for everyone so people can socialize without feeling uncomfortable about forgetting someone’s name.

Offer snacks. 

Keep meetings to an hour or less. Most parents simply don’t have more time than that. 

Consider a little healthy competition. One community member says her group will be challenging teachers to help with attendance. The teacher with the most parents will get $50 to spend on classroom supplies. 

Change up times and locations. A new location can make a meeting  feel like a special occasion. One community member says her group held a few meetings at a local park. Parents met while kids played on the playground. 

Try a meeting over a meal, like having lunch sent in or meeting at a restaurant. 

Don’t be afraid to have a little fun at meetings: Try some icebreaker games. Do trivia questions about the school. Door prizes can work, too. 

And how do groups get parents to come back? 

It really helps to make sure you give newcomers a positive experience. Assign someone as a greeter so they don’t feel like an outsider and introduce everybody at the start of the meeting. 

Don’t discuss things like a group of insiders using jargon that folks don’t understand. Take a few minutes to provide a little background on each project you discuss. 

Try adding a social time afterward for folks who want to stay and get to know each other.

Remember that not all parents feel comfortable sharing at a meeting. Try keeping a suggestion box so parents can get a private or anonymous message to you. 

Meetings aren’t just about PTO business anymore. Provide resources and information that help attendees with a variety of parenting and education issues. 

If you don’t know what’s on parents minds, do a survey to find out. 

Make presentations fun. For instance, if you have a nutritionist talk about healthy eating choices for kids, provide a few samples of healthy snacks that parents can try. 

Try to find a topic that is compelling but not too controversial. Consider issues like Internet safety, bullying, and homework, but stay away from hot-button political issues. 

Go with the flow: Meeting attendance changes over the years.

At the elementary level, you need to think about family dinnertime and bedtimes when planning. You might think about serving pizza or sandwiches. Then you’ve just solved the dilemma for parents of when to eat and what to eat for dinner. 

For the elementary crowd, child care is key. Ask National Honor Society members from the local high school to watch the kids during meetings. (They need service hours.) Another option is having a few parents take turns with the child care. 

When you move up to middle school, you will likely see an attendance drop-off. Don’t be alarmed. Put emphasis on guest speakers and providing resources about middle school issues like living with teenagers. 

PTO meetings at the high school level are similar to middle school meetings in that you’ll want to be more of a resource to parents. In particular, provide experts who can address college-related topics. Even grade 9 parents will be interested. 

Beyond meetings: Keeping the community connected.

More and more, we are moving beyond the traditional definition of meetings. It helps to accept that some parents are just not going to make it to meetings, but they do want to be involved. 

Experiment with basic technologies like Skype and FaceTime to include parents who are at home or work. 

Do a quick summary of a meeting and post it on Facebook. This is the official meeting minutes document, so it doesn’t have to be perfectly prepared. But it delivers meeting information quickly. 

Keep the website updated with meeting information. Use Facebook and Twitter to direct parents there as soon as it’s posted. 

Don’t forget email! It’s essential for communicating with your parents who don’t use social media. (Yes, they do exist!)

Remember, meetings don’t define the success of your group! 

While it’s important to work on attendance and make your meetings as awesome as you can, no leader should feel bad if attendance stays low. If your group is active and has parent volunteers at its events, then you are a success. Meetings are a key part of your group, but they don’t define your group! 

Posted in Parent Involvement


Maybe you've heard this one before, but I like to repeat it every year at back-to-school time. I hope your group is using some sort of sign-up sheet or survey form to ask parents how they might be interested in helping out or where they might be willing to get involved. We have a great sample volunteer survey form on our File Exchange.

And I hope you have a system for tracking those answers that doesn't involve sticking the forms in a dusty file cabinet. Our Volunteer Manager software is actually perfect for this.

But that’s not my tip. My tip for all of you who do ask parents how they’d like to help and do keep track of the answers is: Please use the feedback you get. The best way to earn a “clique” reputation is to have parents express an interest in helping and then never take them up on it. That happens way more than it should, not because PTO leaders truly are clique-ish but because it can be hard work to get new people involved.


If you want to increase volunteerism at your school and get more help and really jump-start your group, then you have to do that hard work. It’s way worth it. If you aren’t going to take parents up on their offers to help, don’t ask them the survey questions in the first place.


Good luck!

Posted in Parent Involvement


How about this for a goal? Before school starts, make sure you get your PTO life in order. There’s no question that if you have a system for running your group, then the whole school year will be better, or at the very least less stressful. 

We know lots of folks resist too much structure, and we get that. (Some of us do, too!) But here’s the key to our message: There’s no one organizational system that you must adopt. Find what works for you. Here are some suggestions from our Facebook community and the PTO Today crew.

1. Make sure your team is communicating: Whether it’s basic group text or email, designate a system to use for the board so everyone is up to date. Some community members report using private Facebook pages for their teams. This way, they can have group discussions as well as post photos, images of flyers, or any other visual they need to share with the group.

2. Do spot check-ins: Make a point to quickly review all projects each week. Often, we focus on whatever is happening now, but it is important to check on all that’s pending, too. The holiday shop may not take place for another four months, but you may need to reserve space for the event within the next few weeks.

3. Maintain one calendar for all events: Keep a calendar online using a service like Google Calendar that can be shared by your group, including the board and committee chairs. Having one central place to store event and program information will make everyone’s life easier. Just make sure you either limit editing capabilities or set careful ground rules about making changes to dates.

3. Make notes accessible: Speaking of Google, if your group secretary takes notes at board meetings, collect and post them on a shared online system like Google Drive.

4. Harness the details: So often, we think of something while we are on the go and know we aren’t going to remember it! Find a reminder system that works for you. Use the voice technology on your phone, whether you update a to do list or send a voice text to yourself with the reminder. Another option is to keep a small notebook with you to jot down reminders as they pop into your head.

5. Embrace binders: Even though so much information is now stored online, many groups continue to use binders because they are a great way to keep notes, hard copies of flyers and other documents, and contact information. And some might argue that it’s better to have backup hard copies than to be left without online access to all your PTO business due to power outages or other unforeseen events.

6. Keep a daily List: Try doing a daily to do list so you can see what needs to be done for your PTO and how you can fit in those tasks with all your other work and parenting duties. A look at the big picture will help you prioritize your PTO work.

7. Use the PTO Today resources: Take advantage of all the free tools we have on the website, like our just-released 2015-16 Parent Group Planning Calendar. We are here to help you have a great year! 

Posted in Back to School


Do you have 5 minutes in the next two weeks? If so, then I have a recommendation for one of the simplest and most helpful ways to serve your parents just before school starts back up.

Get your school's school supply lists posted to

Are parents ever frustrated by not finding the lists or not having the lists when they are in the store? Have you ever tried reading a list on your smartphone while in store aisles? Getting your school’s lists on TeacherLists makes all that so much better.

All the lists are in one place and are easily readable on a smartphone. They’re even automatically available on after you post them to TeacherLists. It’s very cool.

Best of all? All you have to do is submit your lists in any format—and we’ll get them posted for you on in less than 24 hours.

Your school’s parents really will love it.


Posted in Bright Ideas


If you’re a new PTO president, chances are you’ve had a few moments of doubt lately, asking yourself if you can really do this job.

Sure you can. 

It’s common to think a PTO president is a certain type—an outgoing, confident, high-energy dynamo. You may even be replacing someone exactly like that. But there’s no rule that says you must become that person. In fact, you’ll put a great deal of stress on yourself if you try to play to a stereotype. Our best advice: Be yourself. It might sound a little trite, but it works. 

There are many successful PTO presidents who are quiet, reserved, and even shy. Leaders aren’t supposed to entertain; they are supposed to inspire, and there’s no one way to encourage and motivate people.

Often, the big bugaboo for low-key leaders is public speaking. Two things: Don’t expect you’ll be perfect the first time out and, if you do need help, we have a good article with lots of public speaking tips

Remember to play to your strengths. Perhaps you won’t deliver a memorable speech at the first PTO meeting. But you may be a great listener who will warmly welcome new parents to the meeting. And there’s a good argument to be made that the warm welcome will do more for parent involvement than a show-stopper speech. 

On a recent Facebook thread, we had some inspirational comments from leaders who shared about their nerves and uncertainty about being PTO leaders. One woman said she is a “quiet person who doesn’t like to speak in front of large groups.’’ She said English is not her native language and that the first time she spoke at a meeting, her voice was “shaking so bad that everyone noticed it.’’ But she hung in there and is currently the PTA president at a school with 1,000 students.

You can do this, too! And for a little more motivation from peers, check out our blog of inspirational quotes

Good luck! 
Posted in Parent Involvement


Right about now, PTO leaders are getting excited about upcoming programs and events, and they want to get moving on soliciting the volunteers and funds they need to make their plans happen. While it’s good to be gung ho, you also want to avoid starting the year by just asking what parents can do for you. Make sure you let parents know how your group can help them, too. 

In other words, be a resource right out of the gate. Parents, especially those new to your school, need information about the school and community, and your group’s in a good position to lend them a hand. For example, if you are hosting a back-to-school parent coffee or boohoo-yahoo breakfast, be willing to share helpful inside information, like how to avoid traffic at drop-off and pickup times, the location of food pantry collection bins, what clothes work best for kids on gym days, and the best way to communicate with the school secretary. 

Also, new families will appreciate community information, like the locations of local playgrounds, the name of the most helpful person in your town’s recreation department, and any online resources, like virtual community yard sales. 

The more you can do to assist parents in getting their families off to a good start this school year, the more they’ll appreciate your group. This goes a long way toward building a true sense of community at your school. 

We recommend sharing printables, checklists, and articles from our sister site,, to help parents with a variety of home and school issues. 

Here’s a sample of some resources: 

Uncommon Homework Advice

Resolving Student-Teacher Conflicts

Get Ready for School Checklist 

Screen Time Tracker

12 Educational Apps for Kids

Posted in Parent Involvement



I frequently advise PTOs to brag more about their group and to make communication and public relations a priority. PTOs and PTAs benefit greatly when parents and school staff are reminded of their good work, and when the PTO voice comes across as positive and welcoming.

If you want to make a difference, you need help and support. And you get a lot more of both when your school community has a warm feeling about your group. If you don't set that tone, no one else will.

How you communicate, what you say, your tone—these are all part of the strategy. I'd recommend asking one of your best volunteers to make this her priority.

Here are three tools for your group that can help you communicate the right way:

6 Ways To Improve Communication

Parent Express Email

Communications File Exchange

Good luck!

Posted in Parent Involvement


We asked our community members to share their best advice for new leaders who may be nervous about running a PTO or PTA, and here’s what they had to say:

Ask for help and don't take on too much. Pound the pavement asking for help. Say hi and introduce yourself to many people. - Christine H. 

You’re already doing more then others by stepping up and taking an active role. You will do just fine. - Rose Mary C. 

Do your best, you won't make everyone happy! - Trinette J. 

My best resource was the prior officers and the school staff, and we are constantly asking for help from our members. - Jill T. 

Be positive and listen to others’ ideas as well as coming up with your own. Spend time getting to know your other board members; it’s a big help when you’re all on the same page. - Kerry B. 

You are enough. Don't compare yourself to previous leaders, because we all bring our own strengths and weaknesses. I am a completely shy, quiet, and awkward person. I was president for four years. They even asked me to come back. My strength is empathy and positivity. - Erika M. 

Make personal connections to as many people within the school as you can (families and staff). It is so much easier to recruit help as a friend rather than as a faceless entity. - Jill R. 

Don't apologize for being new and not knowing how to do something. An attitude of "we'll figure this out together" goes a long way!  - Kathy H. 

Make a list of stuff you really want to do and talk to your board to see how much support you have. Try to keep an open and friendly relationship with the administration. Secretaries and janitorial staff are great resources.  - Mel B. 

Be yourself, follow your gut and go get 'em! - Dawn B.

Encourage the whole board to reach out and meet as many new parents as possible. - Holly G. 

Ask for one hour of help, instead of broad requests. Thank your people over and over.   - Maggie M.

Just do what you can do. Without lots of help, you can still be efficient and make good things happen. But if you can't do something, take it off the list. Have a great year! - Sheri T. 

If you don't believe in yourself no one will believe in you! Stand your ground but don't come across as aggressive. - Nicole P.

Accept all forms of help. Not all parents can make meetings, but some are excellent at crafts or computers or business relationships, so make connections with them. - Samantha K.

 Do your best and don't let anyone try and bring you down. You are doing this for the kids! It’s very rewarding to know that what you are doing is making memories these kids will remember! Good luck! - Melissa D.

 Have a good open relationship with your school principal; after all the PTO is there to support the school as they educate our children. - Kim N.

Remember that you joined the PTA to help out your own kids and their school, not to make an impression on other moms. - Laura O. 

The entire gig is kind of like planning a wedding—it all ends up coming together and the things that don't "go according to plan" will only be noticed by you, so don't sweat it! - Jenette K. 

Be positive, listen, be open to new ideas, delegate, include the rest of your board with decisions, provide support when needed to chairs, and most of all, remember communication is key!! - Josephine M. 

Always try to base your decisions on what is best for the students, and find ways to inspire new leaders! Enjoy it! You got this! - Kimberly S.
Look at old binders kept by the PTO treasurer to get an idea of what has been done. Meeting minutes and agendas also can be very helpful to learn what has been important to the group in the past. - Paige H.

Relax! You are a volunteer with a huge heart! That will make you a success! Smile and shine on! - Kindra P.
Delegate, follow up, reach out to other PTA presidents and ask for help. - Kristina P. 

Take every challenge one at a time and take them head on! If you start thinking of the hundreds of things that need to be done, you'll go crazy - Kelley H. 

Stay organized! Enjoy your time! Make friends! Always show compassion! Be respectful! Have fun! - Elisabeth H.
Posted in Parent Involvement

In my neck of the woods, we have a lot of summer left. But I know some of you will be starting school pretty soon. And I also know that even those of you who have a longer summer are already thinking about getting back into the swing of things in the fall.

No worries—we have you covered. We just published an article called “Back-to-School Ideas for PTO Officers” that’s loaded with 31 great tips on organization, communication, and more. Our File Exchange has tons of printables like membership cards, flyers for back-to-school events, and this cool “Teacher Survival Kit.” Scroll down the page for some “older” favorites too, like our "10 Reasons To Get Involved at School" flyer.

As well, check our homepage often as we’re busy updating it with new back-to-school tips and ideas. Whether you’re in the throes of planning or still enjoying your time off, our resources can help make sure you have a great start. Good luck!

Posted in Back to School

If you are a new PTO president, you may be getting nervous about that first meeting of the year. It is a biggie, and of course you want to make a good first impression. But you aren’t about to deliver a State of the Union address. Try to relax, and remember these five tips: 

1. Tell people who you are. Start the meeting by sharing some of your background or telling folks why you wanted to be president (two minutes, tops), and then ask your board members to do the same. Ask attendees to introduce themselves, as well. It may take time to give everyone a chance to speak, but it’s worth it. It helps parents to know who is who on the board and who the other parents are. Name tags can really help, too. 

2. Use an agenda. If parents care enough to show up to your meeting, show respect for their time by having a list of items to discuss. No one wants to listen to someone who’s winging it. Parents want the meeting to have a purpose and they want you to have a plan. Also, the agenda will come in handy should you get nervous and forget what you wanted to talk about. What’s more, the agenda is a great way to halt a conversation that’s gone off track. Need help? Try our customizable agenda template

3. Be welcoming. What you want to avoid is giving parents the idea that the board is a separate and superior group within the PTO. Simple gestures at your first meeting can make a big difference. For example, don't put the board at a table in front of the room. Have board members sit at various spots around the room so they can talk to parents before the meeting begins. Parents will see your group as a team.

4. Tell parents about your group. Give a quick overview of the PTO mission, recent accomplishments, and top goals for the year. It’s important to remember that parents, especially new members, don’t always understand the purpose of a PTO. Just five minutes explaining the big picture will help parents better understand the reasons for the various events and fundraising efforts. This information may help them decide to volunteer. 

5. Don’t take yourself too seriously. In other words, do your best to relax and be yourself. Yes, the work of PTOs and PTAs is important, but you don’t preside over a corporate board. The more genuine you appear, the more attendees will relax as well. If parents leave your meeting having enjoyed themselves, chances are they’ll come back. 

For additional resources, go to our new Meeting Resources List. It’s a collection of resources and tips that can help you have successful meeting all year long. 

Posted in Parent Involvement



What's your “dad” plan for next year? You do have a dad plan, don't you?

If you're really looking to transform involvement at your school, start thinking now about ways you can engage fathers. Dads are likely your largest subset of less-involved parents, and they bring great energy and different talents and perspectives.

I really like this story called “A Place for Dads” that profiles three organizations that work in different ways to make it easier for dads to get involved in schools. Another great example, this one from our annual Parent Group of the Year search: Each year, the John Hanson Montessori School PTSA holds a Men Make a Difference Day to promote male involvement. At this year’s event, the attendees (around 100) were greeted by boy middle schoolers and treated to a catered breakfast. After the program, the men went to their students’ classes for story time and presentations. Good stuff!

Those are just some of the many ways dads can be part of your school community. Just remember: Dads are different. If you want success with fathers, you need to recruit and plan differently than you do with moms. We have tons more ideas on dad involvement.

From this dad to those in your group—good luck!

Posted in Parent Involvement

Most reality shows are built upon competition and conflict. Successful parent groups, however, are not. Last night’s episode of the Bravo reality show Mother Funders, which follows a Georgia PTO, provided all the infighting you’d expect from the Real Housewives of Atlanta and very little that resembled actual PTO work.

That’s the main complaint we hear about the show from our readers: It paints parent groups in a bad light.

Here’s a brief rundown of things that happened on last night’s show that are not a realistic depiction of the parent groups we know.

  1. Volunteer Amber C. was thrown out of a meeting, then the vice president walked out in protest. In real life, we’re thrilled to have volunteers show up, and no one leaves a meeting that fast unless they get an urgent text from their child.
  2. The board voted to remove volunteer coordinator Robin from probation. PTO probation is a clever plot device, but we’ve never heard of it happening in real life.
  3. President Carla required the leaders to complete a self-evaluation and to videotape their responses. That works great for reality TV, but in real life, you can’t go around treating volunteers like they’re your employees.
  4. Although Robin is off probation, she and Carla continue to butt heads at the next meeting. Sure, disagreements among PTO leaders happen sometimes. But really, we’re all too busy taking care of business to make a scene like these two women do.

Toward the end of the episode, board member Amber B. asks the question that has been on my mind each time I’ve watched the show. “Why is it that we can never just have a simple meeting? Here we are, back to the Robin and Carla show.” That’s a formula for reality TV success, but not for a successful PTO.

Posted in Fundraising


Spending nearly 10 years on a PTO provided me with many wonderful experiences and taught many me valuable life lessons. So if you’re in the PTO trenches right now, consider this: You’re honing some great skills that will come in handy long after you’ve retired as a school volunteer. 

Here are just a few that come to mind: 

1. Putting difficult people in their place. If you’ve ever had an unreasonable parent on your hands—you know the one who blasts you for serving bagels instead of doughnuts at a breakfast event—you are actually lucky. Seriously. Learning to control your response and understand that this person probably isn’t deliberately difficult (but more likely has an unrelated problem) is a helpful lesson. You’ll make use of this in a variety of situations, from negotiating with a tricky coworker to ignoring the guy who cuts in line at the deli. 

2. Letting go of perfection. Most of us learn quickly that nothing is ever perfect when we become parents, but a stint on a PTO will confirm it. No matter how much time and sheer grit you put into an event or program, something will go wrong. When we accept this, such as when we see the ice cream social was a huge hit even though someone forgot the sprinkles, everything gets a little easier. 

3. Being prepared. If you’ve managed PTO events, then you know there’s no such thing as “too soon.’’ So, yes, it’s aggravating to run around taking care of all the small stuff ahead of time, like buying and storing all the nonperishables weeks before an event. But isn’t it awesome on the day of the event when you don’t have to worry about the little details? When you’re juggling multiple projects at the office and at home, you’ll appreciate this skill. (Hey, it’s how I learned to set the Thanksgiving table the weekend before the actual holiday.)

4. Knowing how to schedule—and reschedule. Ever had the job of scheduling volunteers for an event that requires many helpers, like a book fair or field day? Then you know what it’s like to accommodate everyone’s needs to create a complex calendar, only to redo it when a few parents have “something come up.’’ The patience and perseverance you acquire from this experience will pay off when you’re scheduling work meetings and keeping track of your kids. 

5. Understanding the need to focus. PTO work can be demanding, and you can get pulled in many directions. I worked with some great PTO presidents who taught me to stay focused on the kids and doing work that helped create a school community. That kind of focus, especially in today’s world where we are constantly bombarded with information and competing demands, will serve you well and keep you zeroed in on the things in life that truly matter.

Posted in Parent Involvement


When it comes to planning events, the advice I give most often is to think big. Planning and executing a big, successful family event is a surefire way to get everyone talking. And in my experience, parents who have attended an event like that are more likely to eventually volunteer or support a fundraiser.

But as we’re getting into July and leaders are starting to think more about the fall, I’m going to give the opposite advice, at the same time: Think small. You hear a lot about events like doughnuts with dad and muffins with mom, but have you ever actually held one? And what about a welcome event on the first day of school just for kindergarten parents? Sometimes called boohoo/yahoo breakfasts (because sending a little one off to school makes some people cry and others rejoice), these breakfast events are easy to pull together, and they let new parents know that they’re in good company. We even have a new article called “Plan a Boohoo/Yahoo Breakfast” with great tips on pulling off a successful event.

There’s no question that schools feel a lot of pride when they can execute big events with all the bells and whistles. But make some room on your calendar for the small ones, too. They can have an outsize effect on your efforts to build community and involvement. 

Posted in Tim's Tip

Market Day, the groceries fundraiser company that’s been around since the 1970s, was bought by World’s Finest Chocolate this week. 

While it’s unclear what the future is for the Market Day program, World's Finest Chocolate, a Chicago-based chocolate manufacturing and fundraising company, noted in a press release today that it is committed to serving the fundraising needs of Market Day customers. In addition, “World’s Finest will be evaluating which Market Day products and programs they will continue to offer.”

The news release, posted this morning on the World’s Finest Chocolate Facebook page, stated that the company will acquire the Market Day fundraising brand and will be keeping at least 50 Market Day employees. It noted that Market Day customers will be contacted by World’s Finest Chocolate to discuss offerings for next school year.

Market Day posted a message to customers on Facebook about its exit from the fundraising industry: 

“Our heartfelt thanks go to all of our Market Day supporters over the years. We appreciate your thoughts and kind words of nostalgia. Because of you, Market Day has been able to help fund important educational resources for kids and communities for nearly 40 years. We wish you all the best!” 

In turn, it received heaps of praise from longtime loyal customers like this post: 

“I have been buying Market Day almost every single month since my daughter was in Kindergarten and she is now in college. I was devastated when I received your email yesterday. Wish I had known last month so that I could have stocked up a bit more.” 

Posted in Fundraising


Summer is a great time to work on parent involvement, but it’s important to avoid the hard sell or specific requests for volunteers. Instead, let parents know about your group and its fun activities, as well as the resources you can offer them.

Here are a few soft-sell tips: 

1. Playground play dates. Host a get-together at a local playground. Send email invites to parents you know and ask them to forward the invite to their friends. Keep it casual. While the kids have fun, introduce yourself to new parents and check in with those you know. Share information about what your group did last year. And if you can, gather up emails while you’re there.

2. Minimal email contact. Send out one or two email updates during the summer. Go easy here. What you want to avoid is blasting people with emails during their down time. That’s a turnoff. Instead, update parents if there is news. For example, let parents know if you get the go-ahead from the principal on a fall carnival date or if there are changes to your meeting schedule for the year. 

3. Chance encounters. Take advantage when opportunity knocks. If you see a parent at the grocery store, mall, or beach, introduce yourself. Don’t ask her to volunteer unless she asks about opportunities to do so. Instead, let her know you are looking forward to seeing her next year. You’ll be a friendly face she remembers. 

And check out these articles to help build involvement for when the school year starts: 

Build Involvement From the Start

5 Ways To Build School Community 

Involvement Step by Step

Posted in Parent Involvement