PTO Today

Helping Parent Leaders Make Schools Great

PTO Today Blog

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

Better Communication Leads to Less Conflict on the Board

October 30th, 2014 by



Nannette Henderson is a long-time parent volunteer and mother of four who currently serves on two boards in Fairfax Station, Va. She’s also an active (and very helpful!) contributor on the PTO Today Message Boards. 

Being involved with eight different parent groups over the past 15 years has exposed me to many different situations, but there are common threads that run among all the schools. One is the importance of good communication between board members.

When parent group boards get put together—let’s face it, pretty much anyone who expresses the tiniest bit of interest in helping out is usually brought into the fold as quickly as possible. But working with a group of people with a wide variety of experiences and personalities is a challenge. When I was a group president or volunteer coordinator, I tried to make it a point for all volunteers to understand the mission and purpose of the organization and give them as much support as possible at the beginning of the year. But even with that, it’s inevitable that there will be some conflict as the year goes on. Here are a few ideas that I’ve seen work well in preventing communication problems.

Assign communication responsibilities. Do you have a large board with everyone reporting to the president? If so, that’s a lot of work for the president to keep up with everyone. We were successful when we asked each officer to take on a group of committee chairs. Each officer met with his or her “reports” on a regular basis, usually once a month before a regular meeting. The officer reminded people to come to the meetings, discussed issues, and received updates on projects. The officer, in turn, could funnel information or concerns from committee members to the executive board.

Keep it personal when you can. Try not to rely completely on email. It’s convenient, but it’s also easily misunderstood. I’ve managed to tick off many people with what I thought were very innocent emails. I finally came to a point where I had to talk to new board members in advance and basically say, “Hey, I write in a very direct style. If I send you an email that you think is harsh, let me know and we’ll talk through it.”  Often, the extra time it takes to actually talk to someone is worth it.

Be willing to try different communication options. If it’s difficult to schedule in-person meetings, try a free conference call service. This can be an especially convenient way to get together when you have a combination of parents who work during the day and stay-at-home parents. I’ve participated in a few of these over the past few months, and wish it had been this easy years ago! Sometimes working parents can take a call during their lunch hour or at another break point in their day—and then that frees up a night for everyone to spend with their family.

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Your Best Fundraising Resources

October 29th, 2014 by


Nearly all PTOs and PTAs fundraise, making it inevitable that nearly all leaders will have to make decisions about which fundraisers to run, how many to run, and how to run them. But most parent group leaders never attended a “fundraising how-to” class. The result of not knowing is often a mishmash of good and bad fundraising decisions that lead to fatigue, frustration, and — worse yet — disappointing results that reduce your ability to serve your school.

My advice: Lean on those in the know. There are experts out there. Use them. Here are three directions:

1. PTO Today. Have your new leaders spend some time reviewing the features on our fundraising page. It covers all the basics very well. Here are my own core fundraising thoughts.

2. Association of Fund-Raising Distributors & Suppliers (AFRDS). This group knows what works and what doesn’t.

3. Finally, do you have a fundraising rep who you trust and has given great service? Lean on that person. Listen to what he has to say. Here’s my column about why your fundraising rep may well be your best fundraising friend. They aren’t your enemies — in fact, the best ones are your best allies.

Good luck!

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How To Wow Your Community With Beautiful Auction Baskets

October 27th, 2014 by


Gift baskets add excitement to a school auction and can help groups raise lots of money. We wanted to share some basket-assembly tips (see image) that can really add to your baskets and make them look like professionals put them together!



For additional help with auction baskets, read our article on basket themes, which has 20 creative basket ideas.

Our Ultimate Donation List thread on the Message Boards is a great place for sharing information with your peers and you’ll find helpful discussions on putting together auction baskets.

Also, these articles provide general planning and organization resources:

Auction Action Plan

Finding Donations for Your Auction

9 Keys to Auction Success







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Making a Difference All Year Long

October 24th, 2014 by

Make a Difference Day, which will be celebrated this year on Oct. 25, is an annual day to focus on community service and celebrate the importance of helping others.

We know PTOs and PTAs know a little something about this, right?

Here are 10 ideas for making a difference from by parent group leaders and volunteers that have been posted in our Idea Bag section or featured in articles on the site.

1. Work with room parents so each class can make a make a pumpkin or apple pie from scratch. Each class pie can be delivered to local police and fire stations for Thanksgiving.

2. Ask families to donate small stuffed animals and kids’ winter pajamas. Bundle pj’s with stuffed animals and deliver to shelters in winter.

3. Put together a cleanup crew in fall and winter to do a one-day sprucing up of the school grounds.

4. Instead of hold a canned goods collection, hold a personal items drive. Coordinate with a local food pantry to find out what kinds of supplies, like soaps, shampoos, and laundry detergent, are needed.

5. Hold a “Swap ’Til You Drop” clothing event. Families donate used clothing that your parent group can sort by size. Hold the collection on a weekend during a two-hour block of time. Families can stop by, collect some clothing, and not spend a dime.

6. Create a volunteer appreciation garden at the school in spring. Plant a few bushes along with perennial flowers at an area on the school grounds as a way to say thanks to all the parents who help out.

7. If your group runs a community service project like a food or toy drive, work with the children involved in the project to create a newsletter about the project so they can let others know about the work they did. This will help them better understand the purpose of helping out as well as educate other kids.

8. Try a buddy family program. A family familiar with the school “adopts” a new family and helps shows them around and is available to answer questions.

9. Set up a community service club for students and try something like a knitting project. Students can knit something simple, like hats or scarves, that can be delivered to a local children’s hospital.

10. Hold a school supply collection at the end of the school year to collect gently used supplies. Provide the supplies to school administrators, who will know how to get the supplies to families in need.

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3 Basics of Growing Parent Involvement

October 22nd, 2014 by

I know you want more help, right? Both for your own sanity and because we all know that more involvement from more parents is great for your school. But repeated “please helps” don’t tend to work. This week I have three basic building blocks for growing involvement:

1. Talk up often (in snippets, in newsletters, in speeches) the fact that tons of research supports the importance of parent involvement.

2.  Eliminate the “fear of the (volunteering) black hole” that is your number one obstacle.

3.  Create a volunteer job that is literally focused only on finding, welcoming, helping, and appreciating new volunteers.

We fundraise, so we have fundraising chairs. We appreciate teachers, so we have teacher appreciation chairs. How many of you spend the same time and attention on growing involvement? It’s the most important thing your group does and it supports all of your other efforts. It’s worth the time. Good luck!

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Make Community Service Projects More Meaningful to Students

October 20th, 2014 by

With the holidays coming soon, it’s a great time for your PTO or PTA to organize community service projects that not only help members of your town or city, but also provide a learning experience for kids. Here’s Senior Editor Liz Leaver  on how to make these projects special for students:



We have lots of other community service ideas, tips, and resources on our site to that you’ll find helpful, including an article that focused on how to plan a community service project.

Here are some other good resources:

Ideas That Raise Students’ Social Awareness

Help for Your School Food Drive

Community Service Clip Art



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Movie Nights Give Families a Fun Way To Make Connections

October 20th, 2014 by

If you need an idea for a family event this fall, how about our free Family Movie Night kit? Movie nights work well this time of year. With cooler weather and shorter days, it’s nice to spend an evening together watching a favorite film. Kids can snuggle with blankets, and parents can kick back and relax.

Chances are, parents will get to know each other a little bit more and that only helps foster a sense of community at your school.

The beauty of a Family Movie Night is it can be as simple or elaborate as you would like. Some groups go all out with a movie night theme that includes decorations, food, and costumes. Others keep it low-key, serving just popcorn and drinks.

One of the cuter ideas we’ve heard about recently is to collect large cardboard boxes for the younger children to use as cars at the event. The children can sit in their cars in front of the movie screen and pretend they are at a drive-in movie.

A good tip we’ve come across is to provide kids with some time in the school gym before the event so they can run around, blown off steam, and then settle in once the movie starts.

Our Family Movie Night kit includes these ideas as well as many other suggestions to make your event special. Plus, we just created cute (and free) movie night tickets that you can download from our File Exchange. You can hand these out to families ahead of time to give your event more of an at-the-movies feel or use them if you charge admission.

Also, check out our Family Movie Night board on Pinterest where we’ve gathered lots of ideas to enhance your event! You are bound to get inspiration there.


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Different (but Equally Important) Involvement

October 16th, 2014 by

There’s no doubt that middle school PTO and PTA involvement is more difficult than grade school parent leadership. Gone are the cute kiddos who love having Mom and Dad around, and gone are the parents longing to connect with their kids’ every activity. Growing parent involvement at a middle school is tough and can be very frustrating.

But make no mistake – involvement is just as important at the middle school level, and middle school parents still do want to be connected to their kids’ schools.

In my experience, the trick is not to fight the kids or expect parents to be the same now as before, but rather to bring the kids into the mix and serve parents in their new reality. No one wants a pajama reading night for middle schoolers (yikes!). That worked great for the young kids but would be an (empty) disaster for 7th graders. Looking for a middle school family event? Ask the middle schoolers to help. What ideas do they have? How can parents be involved?

You may wind up with a family night at the minor league hockey game or a video game tournament or a “gross-out/fear factor” night — but you’ll have the kids on board and they’ll “let” their parents follow.

Finally, middle school parents have real worries and concerns. How can your group be a resource on those fronts? Whether it’s social media or drugs and alcohol or college readiness or the core curriculum — middle school is a great time for your group to find ways to serve parents with information and solutions. It’s not a pajama party with popcorn, but it serves a very effective involvement purpose.

P.S. If you haven’t already told your teachers and room parents about, now is the time, because three lucky teachers will each win $513 to help them make their classrooms even better! Simply post and share a classroom wish list between now and Dec. 31 for the chance to win! Learn more.

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Direct Donations: Proceed, But With Caution

October 14th, 2014 by

Many groups incorporate direct donations into their overall fundraising strategy, which is a great idea. But, a fundraising strategy that relies too heavily on direct donations might be worth a second look. Here’s a video of our founder Tim Sullivan discussing why it’s important to take a balanced approach when it comes to fundraising programs.


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Last-Minute Fall Festival and Halloween Event Tips

October 14th, 2014 by

If you are looking to for a new twist to your fall event, take a look at our recent Facebook post where we asked groups to name their most popular activity. Here are some ideas:

For old-fashioned fun: A cake walk adds a certain charm to fall events, and several community members said they are big hits at their events. If you need help in putting one together, read our cake walk article. Also, we have a free cake walk donation request template you can download from our File Exchange and use to ask parents to send in goodies.

A few parent groups said they do alternatives to cake walks, including a book walk that provides children’s books as prizes and a pumpkin walk in which the winners receive pumpkins.


For the neatniks: Set up an activity station to make treat bags. Children can decorate paper bags with crayons and stickers and then use the bags to hold their prizes and other items they collect at the event.

For the truly daring: One parent group is planning a principal-dunking event in which the principal will wear a suit covered with mint Mentos candies and then get dunked in diet cola! Wow.

Other favorites: Post a “Guess Who” gallery of Halloween photos from last year; run a face painting booth; hold a silly string war, and host a trunk-or-treat event in the school parking lot during the fall festival.

Also, we did not forget about the food. What’s a fall festival without a burger or hot dog? So, if your group plans to sell food at its fall event, download our new concession stand printables on our File Exchange. The new printables include:

Snack bar price sheet

Snack bar menu

Price list

Happy fall, everyone!

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