PTO Today Blog

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

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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

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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

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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

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Gearing up for your first full year as a PTO or PTA leader (or planning a return to your position in the fall)? Good luck—you’re taking on a really worthwhile endeavor. Here’s what we know from those who have come before you:

1. Be considerate of the previous board’s feelings. You can and should make change, but it’s best to be tactful in your comments about how your group worked previously. No one intended to make mistakes—and remember, like you, they were unpaid volunteers giving their time (and some of their friends are likely still around...). Check out my article called “A Tale of Two Volunteers” for more on this.

2. Good planning can make all the difference for a smooth transition. So take advantage of the summer months to get ahead of things for the fall. We actually have a free Officer Transition Survival Kit that’s super helpful.

3. Finally, even if your predecessors didn’t do this, take a serious look at insurance for your group. It’s a small investment to protect your group’s assets and—perhaps more important—your new leaders. It’s a smart move.

Most of all—thank you for taking on this important work!

Posted in Tim's Tip
If you've had a chance to watch Mother Funders, Bravo's reality show about a PTO, then you know its portrayal of a parent group is way over the top, if not just plain wrong. Episode 2 aired last night and we were struck by the focus on money, which totally misses the point of what fundraising is all about. Here are our thoughts on Episode 2, and how you can best approach fundraising for your group:  

For more information on putting together a fundraising program that makes sense for your group, check out these resources: 

School Fundraising: How Much Is Too Much? 

Which Fundraiser Is Right For You? 

Testing Your Fundraising IQ

Posted in Fundraising

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Family nights are key to a successful school year, and we make it easy for groups to host them! What’s great about family nights is kids will have fun while learning and parents get a chance to meet. These events go a long way toward building parent involvement.

And now’s a great time to start scheduling them. You can preorder our free School Family Night kits now to get ready for the fall. The kits include step-by-step instructions on how to plan and run an event, a colorful banner you can use at your event, a flyer template, and lots of activity suggestions. Here’s what our lineup includes: 

Family Science Night: Our popular science night kit provides you with ideas and step-by-step instructions for many experiments designed for kids. And this year, we’ve added new experiments and activities. 

Family Movie Night: A favorite with groups, our movie night kit was just updated with new activity and snack ideas for current popular movies like Minions.

Family Reading Night: This kit is a hit with parents and teachers. It gives groups a nice way to help kids build their reading skills while having fun and listening to guest readers.  It works well with holiday themes; many groups do more than one a year. 

Internet Safety Night: This kit comes with a complete presentation that your group can use to run an information night for parents, and the 2015-16 kit will include updated research. An Internet Safety Night will help keep the conversation going about digital safety and responsibility at your school. 

Posted in Family Events

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As Father’s Day approaches, we’d like to give a shout-out to all the dads who volunteer, and offer some tips to groups who want to get more fathers involved. 

1. For starters, make a dad-specific pitch for volunteers at back-to-school time. Typically, groups send out messages to all parents and adults in an effort to be inclusive. But an occasional message targeted just at fathers is likely to catch their attention. We have a “dads wanted” flyer  you can download and customize for your group. 

2. Ask current dad volunteers to bring their friends to events. Motivated fathers can be your best recruiters. Once new men see other dads helping out, they may be more willing to pitch in. 

3. Don’t restrict dads to the heavy-lifting, traditional “man’’ jobs. Sure, many fathers like to play more active roles and are most comfortable running activities at field day or building the set for the talent show. But open up all options to dads and ask them what they’d like to do. 

4. Schedule a Doughnuts With Dads event. It helps to get dads involved without asking them to do anything. Instead, they can kick back, meet other fathers, and enjoy time with their kids. 

5. Consider starting a dads club. One of our favorite dad stories is about a group of volunteers at Kermit King Elementary in Paso Robles, Calif. This Dads Club, which is part of the PTA, runs a campout on the school grounds on the last day of school. Fathers do it all—organizing, cooking, cleaning, running activities, playing sports, getting kids to sleep, and cleaning up. One of the organizers said the reason the club did the campout was simple. They just want to be part of their children’s educational experience. 

So here’s to all the dads who step up, and to recruiting more dads for the 2015-16 school year! Happy Father’s Day! 

Posted in Parent Involvement

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As we start thinking about next year, here's a challenge for you: How can your group serve your principal? How can you make your principal a hero?

It's easy when you're lucky enough to have that outgoing, engaging principal who supports all your work without fail. But it's perhaps even more important when you have a principal who isn't a natural at PR and connections. Schools work better on all levels when parents feel connected and welcome, and your group can be a huge part of that connection-making. 

And, frankly, if you do have that tough principal, the best way to break down the barriers for your group is to continually do more for her. Thank her (even if she might have been an obstacle), and include her in all of your wins as a group. That kind of service can do wonders for your group and for the camaraderie of your school as a whole.

Here’s one of my columns about putting yourself in the principal's shoes. We also have a new article called “Help Parents Connect With the Principal” that offers tips on how your group can facilitate connection and communication.

Posted in Tim's Tip

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Last night Bravo aired the first full episode of Mother Funders, a reality show centered on an elementary school PTO in Georgia. The show’s format will be familiar to anyone who’s watched the network’s Real Housewives series, with personality clashes escalating into big scenes with memorable one-liners.

In this episode we meet the PTO officers and learn that their goal for the year is to raise $100,000 for school technology. Most of the screen time focuses on preparations for the PTO’s $100 per plate pink pajama party fundraiser and simmering tensions between the president, Carla, and the volunteer coordinator, Robin. Even though Carla recruited Robin for the board, she’s placed Robin on “probation” for “going rogue,” or not falling in line with the president’s micromanaging ways. (PTO probation? That’s a new one.) The episode is full of conflicts, from Carla’s cringe-inducing lecture over the appearance of centerpieces to bickering over lanyards just minutes before the pajama party begins.

As a TV viewer I have to keep reminding myself that there are quite a few actual real housewives in Orange County and New Jersey and Atlanta who live much different lives than those of the Real Housewives of Bravo TV. So we have to be careful not to get too offended by the lack of reality when Bravo takes on the PTO challenge. A balanced president hosting a simple event with a mixture of willing volunteers and the occasional, normal disagreement might make for a successful PTO, but it sure would be one boring TV show.

We did notice that the producers started the show with a few caveats that weren’t in the preview episode a few weeks ago, noting, for example, that many schools have multiple fundraising organizations supporting the school. That’s actually pretty rare at the elementary level, and we’re guessing that the producer’s note is a small nod to the local controversy that has boiled since the preview episode’s first airing.

The school district did not authorize the show, and it looks like we are going to have a season of PTOdom without ever setting foot in the school and without ever interacting with the principal or school staff. We’re in; we’ll be watching. But that alone eliminates about 75 percent of the real PTO and PTA experience. Of course, we are watching Mother Funders from a PTO insider’s perspective, as well. The show may be good TV, but what can PTO and PTA leaders learn here?

Which brings us to our three observations from episode 1:

1. The focus on fundraising (and huge $$ goals) alone is a big mistake. We’re sure Carla has her heart in the right place trying to get a new computer lab for the school, but she’s missing the wider picture. A PTO is about making the school a great place for kids to learn, and that involves a lot more than shiny new computers. Families that are engaged are a huge part of it. The community that surrounds a building matters. Making sure that all families feel a part of the solution is important, and $100-per-plate PJ parties don’t help. PTOs make a mistake when they pigeonhole themselves as fundraising organizations.

2. PTOs are not a fiefdom. Can hard-charging leaders get more done? Sure. Can a boss with an iron fist lead his or her company to new heights? Yes. But Carla is the boss of exactly no one. Why are these Mother Funder moms sticking around while Carla criticizes them for not meeting her unrealistic expectations? It has to be because of the TV contracts, because every parent we know has tons of options for their limited time besides being chastised and embarrassed in their volunteer duties. And that’s why PTOs have to serve volunteers (as opposed to making volunteers into servants), and why tyrannical PTOs fail—volunteers have too many other options. Volunteers can stay home or they can put their talents to work for any one of hundreds of other good causes. There are only six volunteers featured at Carla’s episode 1 events and meetings. That’s not a coincidence. Want more? Check out this video on serving parents.

3. Robin makes mistakes, too. It sure seems like Robin is getting the hero role here. Every TV show needs one. But she has multiple meetings with a planning committee and no one hears about the lanyards and name tags that will be handed out to every attendee? That’s a volunteer who’s trying to be difficult. In a volunteer world where everyone has limited time and is trying to do good work, one old mantra comes to mind: Lead, follow, or get out of the way! Don’t like Carla’s direction? Work to change that direction. But going rogue just to start trouble helps no one. I thought the lanyards were a nice touch, but that’s not the point. Robin has leadership talents and people skills. The lanyard trick and her resulting argument with Carla showed neither.

After one episode, will we keep watching? Definitely. We can’t help but think that there has to be more to Carla than the one-dimensional persona presented so far. Here’s hoping that we see more of that as the season progresses and that the dollars alone aren’t the only piece of the PTO story presented.

What did you think of Mother Funders? Let us know here in our comments section or on our Facebook page.

Photo by: NBCUniversal

Posted in Parent Group News

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Label collection programs, like Box Tops for Education and Labels for Education, can be a great way for parent groups to raise money. To be really successful, you need fun incentive programs that will motivate students and families. 

We asked our community what they’d recommend as successful incentives, and here’s what they shared: 

Michelle A.: Host a different contest each month to keep the collections interesting to kids. As examples, do a random drawing to award a prize one month and follow that by rewarding the student who brings in the most labels the next month. 

Casey C.: Try teaming up with another school in your community for a friendly competition. Whichever school brings in the most labels during a set period of time wins a prize. Consider having the winning school choose a “fun” activity for the principal, like riding a children’s tricycle!

Jennifer C.: Another spin on competitive collecting: Have classes within your school challenge each other. Winning class gets an ice cream or cupcake party. 

Stephanie V.: Do a promotion with prizes around the holidays. For example, do a Christmas-themed collection and give each child that brings in 50 box tops or more a chance to have a photo taken with Santa. 

Jennifer O.: Winning class from a collection drive gets a pajama party at school. 

Amy A.: Create (or buy) a trophy that is awarded the winning class each month. Then the traveling trophy is displayed in the winning classroom until the next collection period ends. AMY’S TROPHY IS ABOVE PHOTO 

Kimberly C.: Older children often aren’t impressed with pizza or ice cream parties. So, to motivate middle school kids, try a raffle. Set it up so for each 10 labels collected, a student receives one raffle ticket. Do monthly drawings with prizes like iTunes gift cards. 

Trish L.: Create a Treasure Chest. Stock up on mini prizes from companies like Oriental Trading and put them into a “treasure chest” box. The top 10 students from monthly drawings can pick an item from the box. As an added measure, announce the winners’ names during morning announcements. 

Melissa N.: Reward each child in a winning class a free book. 

Amy D.: Ask the teachers if they are willing to give their students a homework pass for a night if their students bring in the most box tops during a monthly collection. 

Tracy M.: Award winning classrooms with a popcorn or ice cream party and award the teacher of the winning class a gift card. 

Trena W.: Try schoolwide goals instead of naming one classroom each month as the winner. If the school meets its goal, do a dress-up day in which everyone participates. 

Denise L.: Winning class wins $50 to spend on a class party. 

Laura O.: Winning class gets extra recess time. 

Jennifer L.: Winning class plays a game, like kickball, with the teachers. 

Brooke W.: Use collection sheets and give kids a small reward for each sheet they turn in.

As well, several community members suggested that groups remember the basics, like sending home reminders to parents, to help make collection programs more successful. Here are a few other tips: 

Chart classroom and school success on a bulletin board in a highly trafficked area of the school. Students like seeing how much has been accomplished and how much needs to be done. 

Regularly post photos of winners on bulletin boards and on Facebook. 

Place collection boxes near the lunchroom and at the entrance of the school. 

Send home collection sheets or baggies to help make collecting as easy as possible.

For more help with label collection programs, check out our File Exchange. We have downloable collection sheets, certificates, letters, and flyers. 

Posted in Bright Ideas

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As we enter June, can I ask something of you? I only do it once a year.

If you've found our tips or our site helpful, would you please recommend PTO Today to the other school volunteers you know, especially the newbies? 

If you forward this email to all the PTO and PTA leaders you know, they can check out our free programs and special offers, as well as many helpful articles, free downloadables, and other resources. They can even get this great stuff delivered to their inbox by signing up for our weekly email of tips.

It's one of the joys of this work we do -- there are always new, passionate volunteers to help. But it's also our biggest challenge: We have to find (or be found by) those newbies each and every year.

Thanks in advance for your help. I promise we’ll continue to do everything we can to make your recommendation worthwhile.

In the meantime, here’s one of our favorite PTO Today articles as a thank-you. Get the tissues....

Posted in Tim's Tip

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Ah, it’s almost summer. If you are a new PTO or PTA president, you’re likely sneaking in time to get ready for the next school year—we know you too well to believe you’re off relaxing 24/7.

Still, we’d recommend you keep the PTO work to a minimum. Think of it this way: Isn’t it better to start the school year refreshed than already feeling a little frazzled? If you can, try to limit yourself to basic PTO homework, like these five items: 

1. Meet with your board. Get together to discuss general issues. It’s important to understand what board members think about the big picture, like the PTO’s mission. Also, review some basics, like what’s the best way to communicate—group emails, texting, an app? You’ll want to know this before school is in full swing. For more tips, read Build a Strong Executive Board

2. Do some light reading. Review the group’s bylaws and a summary of Robert’s Rules. There’s no need to memorize any of this; you’ll have these file on hand next year. But you want to have a general understanding about organizational issues and rules. 

3. Review last year’s activities. Do a quick read of last year’s meeting minutes and newsletters. This is especially helpful if you are new to the group; it will give you a sense of the group’s “personality.” Plus, you may find activity ideas that will work for this school year! 

4. Organize your welcome packet. Review your group’s welcome packet and update as needed with new information, like the 2015-16 school calendar. Or, if you need to create a welcome packet, we have a step-by-step guide for you. 

5. Reflect. Try this one at the beach or by the pool. You can think of it as multitasking! Take time to think about what kind of leader you want to be and set personal goals. Not sure? Think about leaders you admire, from past PTO leaders to national figures. Consider how to adopt the leadership styles or tactics you’ve observed. 

Posted in Parent Involvement

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If yours is like so many groups, you depend on a major fall fundraiser for much of your ability to support the school and family activities for the whole year. A rough fall fundraiser can have you playing catch-up for months or canceling activities your school relies on. Not good.

With that in mind, one critical step is starting early. Here are the key points you should check off before you head out for summer break:

1. Your product and company or service. Whether it's a gift wrap sale or pizza kits or a road race or walkathon, you don't want to guess about that and scramble in August. As well, if you had a great company, a great fundraising rep, and strong success last fall, be very careful about switching just for variety's sake.

2. Dates. Look for a perfect window for your sale. When are other local groups selling? (Ask them!) Is your rep swamped during a certain week?

3. Not overwhelming parents. Make sure you leave enough time to welcome and serve your families at back-to-school before you start asking them to reach into their pockets.  

We have a ton of great resources about fundraising planning. Does your group have a new fundraising volunteer? Please be sure to forward this tip (and our site!) to her.

Posted in Fundraising

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Well, that didn't take long.

The fallout has begun from Mother Funders, Bravo’s new reality show about a PTO—even before the first official episode has aired.

Since Bravo ran a half-hour preview of Mother Funders last month, the school district the show is based on has had a stream of complaints from community members on the over-the-top portrayal of PTO leaders. School officials have also found themselves in conflict with the show’s creators, who they say agreed to not reveal the identity of the real school and PTO—but then did so in the preview. 

But the biggest casualty so far: The real PTO on which the TV show is based will be temporarily shut down. A school district spokesman said Wednesday that the community’s negative reaction to the show was so strong that officials decided the PTO couldn’t function, at least for now. 

“It’s the intent to bring the PTO back at some point, but when there’s some distance with what has just happened,’’ says J.D. Hardin, who heads up communications and community relations  for the Henry County School District in McDonough, Ga. “The wound is still fresh, and people are still associating the show’s PTO with the school. “

A Bravo spokeswoman declined to comment for this post. 

Mother Funders previewed last month on Bravo, the network known for its “Real Housewives” reality shows. The show portrays a group of women who in real life were executive board members for the PTO at Bethlehem Elementary in Locust Grove, part of the Henry County School District. The preview was typical Bravo, with diva-like behavior and plenty of scheming and heated confrontations. The regular season is scheduled to begin on June 14. 

(To check out our earlier coverage of Mother Funders, see these posts: The Real Moms of Atlanta and Mother Funders Preview: The PTO Today Perspective.) 

Since the preview, the school district has done plenty of damage control, Hardin says, because many parents believed the district approved or participated in the show. That was not the case, however: “The show has caused such a ruckus. We’ve received numerous complaints about people’s portrayal on this show and how it portrays our county,’’ he says. 

In real life, the Bethlehem PTO has been a thriving part of the school community. A look at the PTO’s Facebook page shows an active and fun group. The show was filmed during the school year and during that time, the PTO conducted many activities, including a fun run, book fair, father-daughter dance, and dessert with dad event. Elections were held in April and a new board was named. Then Mother Funders aired. The old board, including PTO president Carla Stephens, will be featured on the show. But they’ve since moved on. 

Hardin says that even though the new board is not associated with the reality show, it would have been too difficult for them to accomplish anything while the show airs. 

“It wouldn’t have given the upcoming PTO a fair shake, and it would have made their jobs 100 times tougher because of the stigma of the show,’’ he says. 

Hardin says Bethlehem Elementary officials sent a letter to parents to explain why the PTO was shutting down and also reached out to the new board to assure them that eventually there will be a fresh start for the PTO. 

Hardin also says that the school district is in discussions with Bravo now about not using the name of the school during the regular season. 

“If the show goes forward, it goes forward, but it will be over our objections,’’ Hardin adds. “The show doesn’t do justice for the PTO people who are doing the right thing.” 

Photo by: Michael Larsen/Bravo

Posted in Parent Group News

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We’ve shared several suggestions recently about tasks you can do before school’s out. Ready for one more? Let your community know about your group’s accomplishments this year. 

We know some of you are rolling your eyes right now. For you, the idea of promoting your group’s achievements seems boastful. You are so good-hearted and focused on helping your schools that broadcasting it seems counter to what you do. 

But trust us; it should be a core part of your job. Think of it this way: If people don’t know about your group and all the good work you do, how can they support you? 

The more you promote your group, the more likely you are to get volunteers and community support. And now is a great time to start. Put together two lists, one that includes all the activities, events, and programs your group ran this year, and the other that shows how fundraising dollars were spent. 

Publish the lists in the year-end newsletter, on your website, and on your social channels. Make sure to add a thank-you to your community for its help and support throughout the year. 

Not only will parents and community members appreciate your group’s accomplishments; most likely you’ll also encourage folks who have not been involved to take another look at your group. People like being part of something that’s successful, getting things done, and moving forward.

But don’t stop here! When you put together you welcome letter for the 2015-16 school year, include a summary of all your recent accomplishments. Also, make a plan to do monthly updates next year to keep parents informed about your group’s work. Facebook and Instagram are great tools for this because you can quickly post event and activity photos to share with your community. 

And on the subject of your group’s achievements, here’s one last suggestion: Enter our Parent Group of the Year search! You’ll have to hurry—the deadline is June 1. But let us know about your group’s accomplishments (you’ve already made the list, right?) and you could receive a cash prize. Our top Parent Group of the Year award is $3,000, and we have several $500 awards. You can find the entry form on our Parent Group of the Year page. 

And we promise, once you start tooting your own horn, it will get easier! 

Here are additional resources with tips for marketing and promoting your group: 

Basic Marketing That Builds Involvement

Want People To Care? Make Some Noise About Your PTO 

Posted in Parent Involvement

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It’s the end of the school year, and you’re likely running around in a million directions trying to wrap everything up. But before you close the books on the year and get ready for the summer, it’s important to think about whether you did what you should have to get volunteers to come back in the fall.

Did you find meaningful jobs for them? Recently I heard about a colleague who tried hard to volunteer at her child’s school. She offered to fill an open position and was told, “We’re all set.” She offered to help with several initiatives that would have made participation easier for working parents—and was ignored or again told no thanks. In the parent group world, there is really nothing more deflating than offering to help and being told no. And it sends the message to your parent community that they should spend their time and energy elsewhere. So make sure you reach out to each and every person who offers to volunteer—and let them!

Did you have a plan? It takes time and planning to develop a solid team of volunteers, so try to find a member who can focus on volunteers. She can find out new people's interests, time commitments, passions, and skills. By tailoring tasks to individuals’ experience and interests, you’re more likely to keep those volunteers interested in coming back.

Did you show your appreciation? Don’t get caught up in wondering which contributions deserve express appreciation—all of them do. Remember to thank your volunteers often and sincerely, even if it’s only to say “great job!” in passing.

Posted in Parent Involvement

It happens every year, and today was the day. The last of the PTO Today Expo materials were shipped back to our headquarters in Wrentham, Mass., and we feel a little melancholy. Guess we are missing the excitement of the shows and connecting with you all in person! 

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Each year, the PTO Today Expos give us an awesome opportunity: To meet hundreds of leaders in person and have great conversations with you. We want to thank every leader who attended our shows. From Marlborough, Mass., to Pasadena, Calif., you were all terrific! You inspire us to work harder and come up with new and better ways to help you do your jobs. 

We loved meeting leaders like Cass Becker, the PTO president at Riverwood Elementary in McHenry, Ill., whose enthusiasm is contagious. Cass was gracious enough to chat on camera at the Expo Photo Booth in Oakbrook: 

 

And a special shout-out to all the folks who drove for hours to get to an Expo (that means you, Wendy and Jim Weagle from Groveton Elementary in Groveton, N.H.), to those who shared their stories, told us jokes, gave us honest feedback on our products and services, and delighted us with their snazzy spiritwear! 

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We’ve already had our first post-Expo meeting to start planning great things for 2016! Let us know what you’d like to see at our next Expo season in the comments section of this blog. 

We’ll leave you (for now) with this fun video, a one-minute look at PTO Today Expo 2015! 

 

Posted in PTO Today Expo
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It’s amazing to think we are getting ready to close out another year at our PTA! Over the years, I’ve found that making a few administrative tasks a top priority now makes life much easier when school starts up again. Here’s what we’re working on:

Boosting involvement. Right now, we are reaching out to current committee chairs and volunteers to see what they are interested in doing next year. We’re also focusing on new parents. We just hosted a morning PTA Volunteer Q&A meeting at a local coffee shop and had a great turnout! We met many new faces and filled half our volunteer slate in two hours!

We also asked outgoing committee chairs to provide a quick description of their position, so we could share this with prospective members quickly on email. While this is another "ask" at the end of a busy school year, we found that committee chairs who were "graduating out" were happy to share their wisdom gained over the past few years. 

Finalizing the budget. We’re wrapping up the budget and making sure all committee reports are in with final numbers. We’re also getting feedback from school leaders and volunteers to review what worked for specific events so we can make improvements or adjustments in next year’s budget. One tip to share: We make notes throughout the year, especially concerning unexpected expenses, like the cost of mailing 300 gift cards or unexpected lunches for visiting students. Having those notes now makes a huge difference!

Making a 2015-16 plan. While we are still in parent group mode, we will be meeting with the principal and teachers who were involved in the PTA to discuss objectives or plans for next year. For example, our PTA sponsored two assemblies for boys and girls focused on self-respect and anti-bullying. We'd like to start an after-school club next year using the curriculum developed by one of the groups that put on the assembly. So, we sent out a fundraising survey to see whether our members were interested in supporting this program, and we think it’s important to get input from the principal and teachers, as well. 

Squaring away the schedule. To help us set our calendar for the next school year, we recently met with parent group presidents from four local PTAs, and we reviewed our schedules to avoid conflicts. We have three elementary PTAs which feed into our middle school group, so it's important to make sure we aren't double-scheduling parents who may want to attend both. We followed up the discussion with an email of each group's meeting dates.  

Lastly, I’d like to share a piece of advice. If you’re a parent group leader, make sure you take a moment to remember that you did your best. I know we will! You and your team of volunteers accomplished more than you may realize right now! 

Here’s to a great 2015-16!

Posted in Running Your Group

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No doubt, your group does some very cool stuff. And I hope you look for for the recognition you deserve. That's what our annual Parent Group of the Year search is all about.

The deadline for entries is June 1. When you submit your story, please keep these in mind:

1. Your group doesn't have to be the greatest, most organized PTO or PTA on earth to earn accolades. Tons of our Parent Group of the Year winners have been from very typical groups with all of the typical challenges you likely face. But everyone has a success or story that fits. We'd love for you to enter the search.

2. There are real benefits to entering. Besides the chance to win great prizes and publicity, there’s something really positive that happens when leaders take the time to remember accomplishments, no matter how big or small. After a long year, your accomplishments merit attention way more than any of your misses. It does wonders for motivation.

I strongly encourage you to take this opportunity now to brag a little (or a lot) about your group’s accomplishments this year. You deserve to.

Posted in Parent Involvement