Question: Meetings that last forever?

We are a growing PTO group. We have gone from three active members to 10 in five years. Our problem is that our meetings are not effective and run for three hours. We have a small elementary school with about 160 students. We have tried committees, but we’re not satisfied with the results we have seen. I feel that we have a power struggle among our officers, which does not help matters any. Elections are always a problem; it would be helpful to set a positive tone so we don’t fall into the same problems finding new officers next year.

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Advice from PTO Today

Elly writes:

Elly isn’t surprised you’re having problems growing involvement when your meetings drag on for three hours! Not even Elly could sit at a meeting for that long.

Seriously, though, it sounds like your meetings lack organization and structure, and that’s a good way to scare away potential volunteers. Elly suggests you take a look at the “9-Point Meeting Checklist”; it includes helpful ideas such as following an agenda, taking minutes, and using the basic principles of Robert’s Rules of Order when matters come to a vote. Implementing these policies at your meetings can help your group get down to business and get out before the custodian even knows you’re in the building.

One big mistake PTO leaders often make is to use meetings to oversee or vote on every decision that committees get involved with. Elly says your committees should do the detail work on their own; your PTO meetings are for addressing broader concerns. In other words, they are not the right venue for members to vote on whether your group should go with pink cloth or blue paper napkins at this year’s family picnic. Committee chairs should, however, report to your board about major setbacks or budget variances they’ve encountered while working on their assigned tasks.

Your board may also find it helpful to use the recorded minutes to follow up on committees’ progress each month. It’s worth checking in with your chairpeople from time to time to gauge their progress and offer help as needed. Doing so can reduce any confusion about the committee’s responsibilities and deadlines.

Elly wants to point out that your committees’ success really lies within your organization. Equipping your chairs—and your officers—with clearly defined and documented responsibilities (in procedure manuals!) assures that no one will have to wing it while on the job. And when new parents see that your PTO is backed by helpful leaders, sound guidelines, and a solid infrastructure, they will be more likely to get involved.

For tips on how your officers can potentially avoid power struggles down the road, read “Build a Strong Executive Board”; the article offers strategies that can help your leaders lay the groundwork early on to create a cohesive leadership team going forward.

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