Does your parent group build community by bringing families together around the school? Do you make teachers feel welcome and appreciated? Do you make school a less cold and less intimidating place for kids and families, allowing connections to flourish between teachers and parents?

I bet you do, and I bet those kinds of goals are the most important to you. Despite that, though, we’re still often stereotyped as just “that fundraising group,” and that does real damage.

There aren’t many parents dying to join a fund raising organization. Similarly, there aren’t many who want to volunteer just to buy “stuff” for the school. Most people want to belong to an organization with loftier goals, where they can feel a part of a community and be reminded of their good work.

Don’t get me wrong: I completely get the role that the vast majority of groups play in providing essential extras for your school. There are millions of students who wouldn’t have a school playground, field trips, or even music classes without their PTO or PTA. The key is to make providing stuff secondary to building community and parent involvement at school. You can still supplement key school needs and fill in gaps that parents think are important for making your school special, but that shouldn’t be what your parent group is known for.

The ironic twist is that those groups that are successful in taking the focus off fundraising and putting it on involvement and community actually wind up raising more funds in the long run. So rest easy—I’m not here to talk you out of field trips or playgrounds.

Holiday shop how-to! Choosing a vendor, getting organized, and lots of promotional tools

How do you change the focus? I’ll give you three starting points:

  • Talk less about fundraising and more about your goals and good work. It’s not about the color of the gift wrap; it’s about the good you do for the kids. If you fundraise all year long, cut three or four smaller efforts and make up the difference by doing an even better job on your major fundraisers.

  • Make sure you get credit for all the good work. If you donate items to the school, add a nameplate that says something like “Provided through the support of all the parents and families and the XYZ PTO.” Did you build a playground? Invest in a permanent plaque.

  • Add high-profile efforts that provide a service (speakers, baby-sitting) and build community (family nights, the annual family party spectacular), and don’t charge a dime for any of them.

The vendors listed in each annual Resource Guide issue of PTO Today and in our year-round Resource Guide Online are great. They have tons of products and services to make your group and your school more successful. Amazingly, even the vendors will tell you that their products work best for PTOs and PTAs that have put fundraising and getting “stuff” for the school after building community, serving parents, and creating involvement opportunities. Which comes first in your group?