PTO Today Blog

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

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Last week we talked about avoiding a clique reputation, which got me thinking a bit about another cause of cliquishness -- PTOs and PTAs that protect their financials and decisions like the CIA would.

There really should be nothing off-limits to your school community when it comes to information about your group. What are you really trying to protect? Yes, minutes should be brief and factual and financial reports should be buttoned up. But if someone has questions or wants more info, provide it. How much did your fundraiser cost? How much did you collect in dues? If you’re a PTA, how many dollars did you send out to state and national PTA? Those are all perfectly fair questions, and if you're secretive or protective, then the assumption is that your PTO or PTA is a bunch of insiders running their own closed group.

And that's exactly what you don't want.

On the financial side, our Finance Manager software is a great tool for making sure your financials are well-tracked and easy to share. I highly recommend taking a look.

Don't be afraid of sunlight on your group. Being open sends just the right message when it comes to building engagement with all parties at your school.

Posted in Finance

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This week we asked our Facebook friends for teacher gift ideas for the holidays. Many of you, including a few teachers, said gift cards are the go-to holiday gift. It’s true, you really can’t go wrong with a gift card. But if it’s not your style, here are some additional gift ideas to consider:

·      Elf for a day. Parents donate time to help in the classroom. 

·      A day of gift wrapping. Teachers can bring various gifts to school, PTO wraps them for free.

·      A big box of K-cups for the teachers to share.

·      Games for the classroom.

·      Art supplies,  like paints and brushes, and Play-Doh for the classroom.

·      Ask teachers if there are nonprofits or causes they like to support and make a donation in their name.

·      A week of meals donated by class parents.

·      A staff lunch.

·      Traditional baked goods, like a container of homemade cookies 

·      A basket filled with smaller classroom supplies like pencils, erasers, and crayons.

·      A roll of wrapping paper and tape for the holidays.

·      Books for the classroom. 

·      Custom clipboards with teachers’ names.

·      A bottle of wine. 

·      A simple thank-you!

For more ideas, read ”For Teacher Appreciation During the Holidays, Don’t Rush It on the PTO Today blog. 

 

 

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The holidays are a natural time for parent groups to show teachers they care. But unlike Teacher Appreciation Week in May, when people’s personal calendars and schedules may be a bit clearer, the holidays are a time of busyness and stress for just about every facet of life.

The last thing you want to do is to make your teacher appreciation efforts that “one last thing” you trudge out to do the day before the winter break starts. Everyone’s been in that position with something holiday-related—it’s not fun. And it’s a situation you want to avoid when it comes to giving teachers the recognition they deserve.

One way to keep your efforts stress-free is to get an early jump. Right now, there’s still plenty of time to make your plans and execute them smoothly. Don’t wait until the third week of December when you have a mile-long to do list; that’s when you’re more likely to run into trouble. Think about what you want to do now, before time gets away from you.

It’s also more than acceptable to go with a simple expression of thanks during the holidays. Teachers completely understand how busy everyone is. What’s more, going overboard might make some teachers uncomfortable. During the season of giving, it truly is the thought that counts. So put your energy into those thoughts, versus feeling like you have to go over the top.

We have lots of great ideas for thoughtful expressions of appreciation that won’t cause a lot of stress (or cost a lot of money). Some include:

- Buy some mason jars and fill them with holiday goodies (think chocolates, coffee pods, etc). Affix the jars with our newly added holiday appreciation “cheers” gift tags.

- Purchase lotion or bath salts and put in a small gift bag along with our new “relax over the break” gift tags.

- Have room parents collect notes of appreciation from each student and place the notes in a special box or jar. Use our
“I Love...” jar tags to affix to the jars.

- Buy a candle and put it in a small gift bag with our new merry/bright gift tag. (You could also throw in some chocolates—they make everyone feel merry.)

- Plan a soup luncheon. Ask volunteers to bring in pots of homemade soups and chilies in slow cookers and serve the lunch in the faculty room. Round up a handful of volunteers to stay afterward to help clean up.

- Purchase small bags of coffee to distribute to each teacher and enclose a tag that reads “thanks a latte for all you do!

Remember, a relaxed (and timely) approach to your teacher appreciation efforts during the holidays is a key to making sure you stay sane—and that your hardworking teachers get the thanks they deserve. In addition to those above, you’ll find lots of ideas on our Teacher Appreciation page and in our File Exchange.


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If your group is planning holiday activities for the school’s kindergartners, it’s worth remembering one thing: The simpler, the better.

All students, but especially the youngest ones, are excited during the holidays. In fact, many children are so ramped up from the many parties and festivities they attend outside of school in December that the last thing they need is an elaborate school party.

We asked both our PTO Today and Homeroommom.com Facebook communities to share holiday ideas for kindergarten classrooms, and here’s what we found:

Party Ideas

·      Set up a party with activity stations. Teachers and volunteers can help direct the children from place to place and avoid overcrowding at one particular spot.
 
·      Try uncomplicated activities like holiday bingo or a pin-the-red-nose-on-Rudolph game. One variation: Pin a carrot to a snowman’s nose.
 
·      If children seem restless, help them blow off steam with an easy game like Simon Says.
 
·      Hold a pajama party, inviting child to wear pajamas in school. They’ll have extra fun working on craft projects in their pj’s! 

·      Set up a party around a holiday or seasonal book. Serve cocoa and popcorn.
 
·      Have a brave adult volunteer as the class snowman. Have children wrap the adult in toilet paper, and, voila! You have an indoor snowman! Take photos with the children and the snowman.
 
·      Try a party-in-a-box. Ask parents to pack a simple box of treats for their child. Include a salty item, a sweet item, a beverage, and a little holiday treat. Parents can wrap the box itself as a gift to their child. Children enjoy their own treats at the holiday celebration.
 
·      Remember that school parties usually don’t run longer than 45 minutes to an hour. So budget in time for activities, snack, and cleanup.
 

Craft Ideas

·      Make paper chains with construction paper strips in multiple colors.
 
·      Paint simple ornaments. For materials, it can be as basic as construction paper or cardboard.
 
·      Create snowflake ornaments from puzzle pieces. Hold together with glue.
 
·      Use cut-out circles (from paper or cardboard) to assemble snowmen and decorate with crayons, felt pieces, and other items that can be attached with glue sticks.
 
·      Have parents make small gingerbread houses that children can decorate in class. One option is to use individual-size milk cartons as the base and attach graham crackers to the carton using frosting to “build” the house.
 
·      Create holiday “people” using toilet paper tubes as the body and decorate with construction paper pieces to make nutcrackers, snowmen, and reindeer.
 

Food

There’s a chance your school won’t allow treats. With new USDA snack rules, PTOs and room parents are learning to do parties without snacks and sweets as the focal point. What we are hearing is if there are fun, age-appropriate activities, most kids won’t even notice that there are no munchies.

If food is allowed, try these ideas:

·      Provide plain sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies, or cupcakes and have children decorate with frosting and sprinkles.

·      Bring in chunks of fruit and have children make fruit kebabs.
Posted in Parent Involvement

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This post was written by Gwen Pescatore, a PTO president, mom of three, and comoderator of  #PTchat

A few years ago our board realized the same handful of people came to our parent group meetings at Knapp Elementary. But it wasn’t the head count that concerned us. We wanted to make sure our meetings were truly helpful, so we decided to evaluate our meeting content and make changes if necessary.

Our team looked at the information being shared and realized we were essentially reviewing what had happened in the month since the last meeting, giving parents information they had already heard about in conversations, in our newsletter, and on our social media sites. At the end of our meetings, families left knowing little more than when they arrived.

We decided we needed to give parents better reasons to show up. So we created a new meeting format. Each meeting runs about one hour and has four segments: tech training, educator’s voice, student’s voice, and PTO business. We also try to stay flexible. If we have a great student visitor on the schedule, we might not do tech training or an educator visit that evening. Here is the basic format:

  • Tech training: This is a short overview or demonstration of something like Twitter to help parents get a basic understanding of online tools. It’s intended to give parents enough information that they’d be interested in exploring the technology on their own. These sessions can be led by a student, teacher, or parent.
  • Educator’s voice: This is the “expert” piece and is designed to give useful information on a variety of education topics. We’ve hosted our teachers, educators from our community, and virtual visitors on Skype. Often the information shared is topical and may be a way to clarify a misconception. This segment has been generating lots of interest, and we feel we are becoming a true resource to our families. 
  • Student voice: Parents love seeing students in action. Each month, we invite a few students to discuss or demonstrate what they're doing in classes and clubs. We’ve had everything from a demonstration on how to reduce energy usage to a song performed in American Sign Language from our Sign Language Club. These presentations help keep meetings more positive. 
  • PTO business: This one’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s usually our shortest segment and includes a quick review of old business as needed and announcements for upcoming events. Even though we keep it short, we try to get feedback on upcoming decisions and share how earlier feedback impacted current decisions and events.

For those interested in this type of format, we’d recommend that you keep it flexible and get a feel for what fits best with your community. Now that we are in our second year with this new approach, we can say that we do have new faces at our meetings. But more important, we believe our parents are connecting, learning new things, and getting great resources.

Posted in Parent Involvement

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Last week I focused on the tendency of PTOs and PTAs to use "should" too much in their communications and how that message can have the opposite of its intended effect.

 

This week, I'm going to focus on actions instead of words -- specifically, two little habits that creep up even in the best groups and lead directly to the clique impression.

 

1. Pre-meeting mingles. Who do you hang with before your meetings or events officially start? I bet it's your fellow officers (who have likely become good friends or close acquaintances). It's understandable, but it sends an unsubtle message of outsider-ness to parents who aren't in the in crowd. (See Is Your PTO a Clique? ) Make it a point that officers must mingle with and welcome parent attendees before every event officially starts.

 

2. Do you really want help? It's great that you have a volunteer interest form and that you ask which parents would like to help. But do you use that information? Asking and then not following up is worse than not asking at all. Sure, when you need help fast it's easiest to call on a regular. But you send a message when you don't proactively make sure that every parent who expressed interest receives a follow-up call. Assign a volunteer whose only job is connecting with and helping new volunteers.

 

Good luck!

P.S. We're upgrading our website platform here at PTO Today. We're excited about the changes, but as we're upgrading you might notice some small glitches. Our staff is working hard to smooth out these changes, and we appreciate your patience as we work through them.

Posted in Parent Involvement

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As we head into the winter holidays, the calendar will be getting busier—with school events and parent group activities, as well as family commitments. Before things get too out of control, take a few minutes to strategize and give yourself some tools to keep from getting burned out.

First off, keep those perfectionist tendencies in check. We’ve all gotten caught up in working on something until it’s absolutely perfect, and then the next thing you know, an hour (or more!) has gone by. It’s OK to make things “good enough” if it gives you more time to catch up with your kids, your household chores, or even your sleep.

Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. No one (except maybe yourself!) expects you to do everything on your own. You’ll have the most success if your requests are specific and take a defined amount of time. For example, you can ask someone to spend an hour putting together the holiday gifts for teachers or filling in at the holiday shop checkout line. Other sources of help include high schoolers who have community service hours to fulfill and community fraternal organizations whose members are often willing to assist.

Along the same lines, be realistic about what you have time to commit to. You’ll probably be getting multiple requests for help from others. Think in advance about what you might have time for—creating a consolidated calendar that shows all of your family commitments as well as your PTO responsibilities is a helpful first step. Set limits for yourself, and be willing to say no (especially if you are already overextended). If you’re not sure, or if you need to buy yourself a little time, a good response is “Let me think about it and I’ll let you know.”

And finally, once the new year is here, do your own review. How did the various projects go? What about volunteer participation? Did your family time suffer or were you able to balance your commitments? Thinking about these issues while they are still fresh in your mind and jotting down some notes will come in handy when it’s time to make plans for next year.

Posted in Parent Involvement

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If your PTO is a 501c(3), your deadline to file your 990-N or 990-EZ form is fast approaching! For groups with a fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2014, your deadline is Nov. 17.

The deadline is typically Nov. 15, but because that date falls on a Saturday this year, the IRS has extended the deadline to Monday, Nov. 17.

For groups whose fiscal year ends on July 31, your filing date is December 15.

To get step-by-step filing instructions, go to this IRS page.

Also we have a helpful article with tips on filing tax returns that you will find here.

 

 

Tagged in: finance treasurer
Posted in Finance

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Holiday shops are a good way to promote the spirit of giving and provide students with a fun way to buy inexpensive gifts for their family members. Recently, we've had some questions posted on Facebook about how to put together one of these events, so we wanted to provide some tips.

Groups take different approaches to holiday shops. Some gather items from dollar stores throughout the year to stock their holiday shop shelves, while others run an event that features homemade crafts. Still others opt to use a holiday shop vendor, which is convenient because of its one-stop shopping approach.

If your group opts for a holiday shop vendor, we recommend talking to a few companies to find out which one best fits your needs. You can also ask for references of other PTOs or PTAs. When you speak with a company, make sure to go over these issues:

  • Payment: Ask companies to explain how your group will pay for merchandise. Many companies treat your business arrangement like a consignment shop, meaning that your group should be able to return items that it doesn’t sell.
  • Promotions: Find out whether the company will provide you with promotional materials as well as some guidance on how to market your shop.
  • Best-selling items: Chances are, you won’t know what the hot items will be until they start to sell. If you run out, you should be able to order more merchandise in time to restock the shelves for your event. Ask your vendor how this works. Also, ask the company for insights on what are the expected big sellers for this holiday season. The companies are tapped in to these trends and should be able to give you guidance.

If you already have a holiday shop on the calendar, consider these ideas to make the most of your event:

  • Time permitting, consider adding some homemade crafts to your event. A table with crafts by kids will give your shop a personal touch.
  • Keep prices low so items are affordable for kids.
  • Select merchandise that will appeal to kids, not to the gift recipients.
  • Talk to the principal to find out how to help students who don’t have money to go shopping. For example, the PTO could create holiday shop coupons for free items that teachers could discretely give to children who may need them.
  • Ask teachers whether they can help out. Children will get a kick out of encountering their teacher at the cash register.
  • Add holiday cookies and treats for shoppers if the school snack rules permit it.
Posted in Fundraising

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Of all the special events on the elementary school calendar this fall, the one my kindergartner is looking forward to most is the school’s Veterans Day assembly on Nov. 11. Why? Because he knows his grandfather, an Army veteran, will come to his school.

Whether your school is planning a big Veterans Day event or a simple observance, you can make it more meaningful to students by helping them see a personal connection to their lives. It can be hard for some students to understand what a veteran is, but it makes a big impression on them if they learn that someone they know served in Vietnam or Iraq.

Ask around to find out if any school staff members are veterans, and if they are willing to share their experiences with students. Last year students at Pioneer Heritage Middle School in Frisco, Texas, discovered they had a personal connection to the conflict in Afghanistan. A science teacher and Army reservist shared her experiences with students during a week of PTO-sponsored activities to raise awareness and raise funds for a local veterans memorial. The teacher demonstrated how to pack and carry a 50-pound rucksack, letting students try it on for size. (The week of activities earned the PTO the 2014 Parent Group of the Year award for Outstanding Community Service.)

Another option is to invite veterans or active-duty service members from the community. Each year the J.E.J. Moore Middle School in Disputanta, Va., invites active-duty soldiers to a candid question and answer session, called “Straight Talk With Soldiers.” Classes write thank-you notes to the soldiers, as well as notes that are sent to other veterans in the community.

Or you can invite students’ family members who served to the school and recognize them during a program, like my son’s school does. After last year’s program, my son and his grandfather had their photo taken in front of a patriotic backdrop. The photo was included in a special spread in the yearbook. As an early elementary student, my son is still learning what Veterans Day is all about, but what he does knows is that it’s a special day, and that his grandfather is among a very special group of people.

Posted in Parent Involvement

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We asked our Facebook community to share community service ideas that work well in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Once again, our community has some pretty cool ideas. Here’s a selection:  

Everyone pitches in: We collect nonperishable food items from students. Classrooms decorate boxes for the collection. Our parents and local grocery stores donate turkeys and the school staff donates pies and breads. We then work with the school counselor and the school nurse to determine our schools neediest families to receive the baskets. The baskets are delivered the Friday before Thanksgiving.

Competition brings in donations: We do a “Civil War” food drive the week before Thanksgiving. Our principal began the tradition and it's grown into a competition that’s successful each year. We set up two teams of students and donations from each team are tallied each day. At the end of the week the winning team gets bragging rights. We're a high poverty school so our own families are invited to come in and “shop” the donations and anything leftover is donated to our local food pantry warehouse. 

Each grade handles a food group: We host a “Thanks and Giving” Food Drive every year for our school families in need. Each grade level is assigned a certain food group. For example, kindergarteners collect canned fruit, grade 1 collects starches, and so on. Monetary donations are accepted as well. The grade with the most donations wins a pizza party. Baskets are made and given to our families in need.

Canned food collection followed by coat exchange: Our school does a turkey walk and students bring in canned good and other nonperishables. The PTO also runs a “trading post’’ for families to donate and pick up winter coats.

Encourage kids to donate coins: We are holding a change challenge. Each grade is competing to see who can bring in the most. The money goes towards the purchase of items for families in need at our school.

Donations help area shelters: We did a nonperishable food collection at our Fall Festival and collected more than 300 items which we donated to three area shelters. This helped show students how fortunate they are.

Winter gear collection makes a difference: We work with our local community service groups and collect coats, hats, and mittens. We set up collection boxes for students to drop off items.

Tagged in: community service
Posted in Community Service

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Want to turn most parents off from your group? Badger them with shoulds, like you shouldvolunteer or you should want to help the school or you should care more for the kids.
 
It's so tempting to use the guilt language -- especially during that week when you've missed three family dinners and stayed up too late due to your volunteering -- but it simply doesn't work. In fact, it has the opposite effect; it turns most parents away.
 
There's tons we all should do. I should exercise more. I should be nicer. I should make the bed in the morning. But I'm sure not attracted to those who remind me of all my shortcomings, and I sure don't want to hear it from my local PTO or PTA.
 
The key is to be positive and to provide good reasons for folks to get connected to your group. When things are tough and you're low on volunteers, that's when it's even more important to be positive. It's hard, but it's really the only way to grow connections for the long term.
 
Read my article called 
“Escaping the Guilt Trap” for more on this subject. It's one of the most important concepts in building involvement, and one of the most frequent mistakes well-intentioned leaders make.

Posted in Tim's Tip

Parent groups run all sorts of community service projects to help others, be they the elderly or disadvantaged in their town or people in other countries devastated by natural disasters. But often PTOs and PTAs find those who need the most help are right within their school community. This can be tricky. Parent groups may want to give assistance to families who are struggling, but aren't sure how to help without calling attention to their plights. The best approach is to seek out the principal and ask for help. Chances are, the principal will be happy to assist you or may direct you to a few teachers who can work with you. Together, you can discreetly get help to families in need. Here are two examples of how PTOs and PTAs help out their own community members:

  • Weekend food deliveries. The PTO at Nate Perry Elementary in Liverpool, N.Y., found a way to get food to families by teaming up with a network of teachers and bus drivers for a backpack program. Each Thursday, the PTO fills backpacks with a variety of food supplies. On Fridays, the PTO delivers them to teachers with students who will be receiving a backpack. Teachers quietly hand off the backpacks to bus drivers at the end of the school day. The bus driver hands the backpack to the student as he or she gets off the bus.
  • Shop for free. Rhonda Lageson, a PTA volunteer with Century Elementary and Middle schools in Park Rapids, Minn., created Helping Hands, a school store where everything is free. This came about because Lageson wanted to help children she had seen at school without coats and boots—necessary gear for Minnesota's frigid winters. It blossomed into something bigger, and now Helping Hands supplies families with all sorts of clothing as well as personal supplies. Teachers work with parents and quietly let Lageson know who will be visiting Helping Hands. At times, Lageson will get a direct request from a family for specific supplies and she will make arrangements for them to pick up what they need. Also, children will stop by to pick up items when sent by a teacher.

For additional ideas on community service projects, go to these articles: How PTOs Help Families in Need
Ideas That Raises Students' Social Awareness
Planning a PTO Community Service Project  

Posted in Parent Involvement

Ever wonder why a fundraiser doesn’t seem to be doing as well as you expected? Here’s a tip from Craig Bystrynski, our editor in chief, who says that telling parents how fundraising dollars will be used makes a big difference. Get more info here from Craig in this one-minute video.

For more help with planning a fundraiser, check out these articles:

Keys to Fundraising Success

30 Tips for a Winning Sales Fundraiser

Save Your Sagging Fundraiser

 

Posted in Fundraising

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.

Posted in Parent Involvement

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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!
Posted in Fundraising
 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 
Posted in Auctions

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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.
Posted in Bright Ideas


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!
Posted in Parent Involvement
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
Posted in Community Service