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Get off to a fast start and keep the momentum going all year long with our list of essential dos and don'ts for leaders.

by Christy Forhan


  1. Do learn people’s names, and use them often.

    Don’t assume everyone knows who you are. Introduce yourself.

  2. Do respect the principal’s role as CEO of the school.

    Don’t surrender the PTO’s authority to the principal. Work together as partners.

  3. Do get to know the school secretaries, custodians, and other support staff.

    Don’t treat them like the PTO’s hired help. They work for the school and your kids; they aren’t there to do your PTO grunt work. Treat them with respect, and they can help the PTO in many ways.

  4. Do set a good example by following school policies.

    Don’t park illegally just because you know you’ll be in and out of the school quickly. Always sign in and wear the proper visitor badge even if everyone knows who you are. Follow protocol when you use the photocopier.

  5. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

    Do learn from the past. Share the old project binders. Talk to previous PTO leaders. Talk to teachers who have been on staff for a while.

  6. Don’t disregard the knowledge of your past president.

    Do approach her as your mentor. Better than anyone, she knows the challenges you face. Listen to what she says. Ask for advice.

  7. Do train your committee chairs and lay out the expectations for each committee.

    Don’t micromanage the committees or your fellow officers. Let them apply their time and talents, even if it means they don’t do things exactly the way you would have done it yourself.

  8. Don’t put all the emphasis on fundraising.

    Do focus on parent involvement first. A community that feels connected to the school will step up to support the fundraisers when asked.

  9. Do repeat longstanding, successful events.

    Don’t ignore the value of tradition; it gives your PTO an identity in the community.

  10. Do run efficient meetings.

    Don’t treat people’s time carelessly. Use an agenda, prepare minutes, start and end on time. Clean up after yourself. Listen to the members.

All the know-how you need to be an effective and successful parent group leader!

  1. Do familiarize yourself with Robert’s Rules of Order.

    Don't get bogged down in layers and layers of parliamentary procedure. Use it to keep your meetings running efficiently, not to overwhelm your members.

  2. Do read your PTO’s bylaws.

    Don't give up if there are no bylaws—creating them can be one of the most important things you do for your PTO.

  3. Do become familiar with your PTO’s formal organizational status.

    Don't assume everything is in order simply because your group has been around for years. Find out whether your PTO has a tax ID number (EIN, or employer identification number, in IRS-speak), whether you’re incorporated with the state, and whether you’re registered as a tax-exempt charity with the IRS under section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code.

  4. Do seek out information. Reach out to PTO leaders at nearby schools to share experiences. Attend parent group conferences and expos. Visit the message boards at ptotoday.com.

    Don't assume you know it all. There are loads of PTOs with great ideas and experiences you can use for your group.

  5. Don’t be afraid to make the tough decisions.

    Do accept responsibility for unpopular but wise decisions, such as canceling an event due to lack of volunteer support.

  6. Do say thanks.

    Don’t lump every “thank you” into one blanket statement at year’s end. Work hard throughout the year to thank individuals by name for their contributions to the PTO.

  7. Don’t let the stress level get too high. It’s OK to scale back to avoid burnout, and it’s OK to hold purely social events to boost morale and teamwork.

    Do have fun. Being a PTO leader can be a very rewarding experience. Even small steps to create a supportive community really make a difference for schools.

6 Additional Dos for New Presidents

Be mindful of communicating in ways that will present you as someone who’s approachable, proactive, and reachable.

Stay Organized
Whether you use binders, Google Drive, or something else, find a system that works for you and spend some time each week keeping up with things.

Breathe In, Breathe Out
Try not to worry too much about every little thing, and allow yourself to make a few mistakes. You’re only human; no one’s expecting you to be perfect.

Accept All Help
Get out of the mindset that people have to commit to a certain level of volunteering. If someone wants to help, let her—find a way to plug her in that works for her.

Talk to the Teachers
Find out what they really want from your group. You might be surprised at what they would actually find helpful.

Meet the Principal Where She’s At
Email, text, phone—determine how your principal prefers to communicate, and be willing to adapt.

Download our free New Leader Kit

Originally posted in 2008 and updated regularly.


# Danielle 2008-05-14 21:44
I love this article. I have been Vice President for only 1 year and I am scared because I have been given duties and have No problem accomplishing them. I'm just not sure where to assert myself as President and what I'm supposed to be doing in order to get ready for the upcoming year without stepping on toes. Does anyone have any info. on how to prepare for the up coming year?
# Kathryn Lagden from PTO Today 2008-05-15 10:20
Hi Danielle - glad you found this article useful! For more ideas and help check out the section we have dedicated to all things President related - http://www.ptotoday.com/president. And our message boards are another great resource. Tons of experienced, knowledgeable folks willing to share - http://www.ptotoday.com/boards.
# M 2008-05-15 16:03
Thank you for this article
# TABITHA WARD 2008-05-20 12:16
This is a very insight article. I have planned to run for President at a school we are new to. These tips were given to me by others at school. i feel that they should be the key elements to any members.
# Julie 2008-10-19 18:38
Thank you for the article it was very informative and helped me to see there are things that should be adjusted in our organization.
# Mary 2009-08-12 18:46
I'm going to be the PTO president this year and the PTO has never filed a return and only use the school's Tax ID for things. Should I implement a change? When should a tax form be filed during the school year, and is it necessary if we don't have over $25,000 in gross receipts?
# Craig Bystrynski from PTO Today 2009-08-13 18:47
Hi Mary -- Technically, if your PTO grosses more than $5,000 per year, you should apply to the IRS to become an independent tax-exempt charity. The IRS requires all such 501c3 organizations -- named for the section of the federal tax code governing charities -- to file an annual "information return" if you gross $5,000 or more. The exception is if your banking and all transactions are done with the school's tax ID number. Then you are a subcommittee of the school rather than an independent organization. Check out the articles 501c3 for PTOs (http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/394-501c3-for-ptos) and Tackling Your PTO Tax Return (http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/392-tackling-your-pto-tax-return) for more information.

# Mel 2009-09-24 06:28
This rule: "Do respect the principal’s role as CEO of the school. Don’t surrender the PTO’s authority to the principal. Work together as partners." is a good rule! We, however, have a principal who micromanages everything the PTO does and has actually lied to us on three occasions (we still can't figure out why). I feel useless. She agrees to one thing and does another, meanwhile leaving us holding the bag and looking like idiots. What do I do to salvage something out of this year for the kids? We gave the principal $5,000 this year so far and did not receive a thank you or acknowledgment.
# Maribel 2009-11-13 15:51
Our PTO is in trouble. Our first few meetings there had been tension and unnecessary comments from current officers. We have no bylaws adopted as of yet. But we have two set of bylaws to be reviewed and approved. First, set of bylaws were done by current officers, second set were created by new members. We (new parents) revised first set of bylaws and came to the conclusion that the bylaws needed some work, or more structure, in order to run smoothly the PTO. As a result, we introduce our second set of bylaws and current officers were upset……..and showed no interest in having them adopted. The bylaws are structure in such a way that they are clear and hold a standard of conduct for our PTO. Well, there has been back and fourth lack of communication or miss-interpret communication amongst all of us. As a result, it is chaos!
# maribel 2009-11-13 15:54
cont. As new parents we were not welcomed in such a way that will motivate us to continue to participate; second, we were not instructed as to how the meetings are conducted. We were clueless and the current officers showed no empathy inform us or showed any interest in having us involved. I mentioned this at a general PTO meeting. The co-chair was sarcastic and was not neutral to what was being address by us concerned parents. A few parents asked for her resignation via-email, professionally…….since the co-chair has been elected for our Board of Education. The co-chair was offended by the request, and as a result there has been back and fourth via email communication amongst new/current officers.
# Maribel 2009-11-13 15:54
It was taking too personal and it has caused out of line comments/opinions. I am guilty of making my own comments/opinion. I have apologize for any miscommunication or if I was out of place; however they are not showing interest in working together or moving forward, as they continue to send via-email unnecessary comments.
# Maribel 2009-11-13 15:55
We need new officers to lead this PTO effectively. However, we have no bylaws adopted and current officers are really challenging the second bylaws to be taking into effect. We (new parents) are willing to work together and vote for a special committee to revise both sets of bylaws in the best interest of the children and the school. I have requested to add to next general meeting agenda bylaws and citizen/delegation………they have not responded. What should we do now? We need to work together and get pass what was said in the past, or we will never move forward. Please give us some advice to address at our next general meeting for the sake of our children and school. Thank you.
# LA 2012-04-25 05:05
What ever happened to unity? I have been out of the school
loop for many years ,but with small children I am now re- entering that long ago chapter of my life only to find our school PTO (a small clique of women) to be running the show. It's their way or the highway! I just want to be involved with my kids school, to do right as a parent, to have pride and unity within our school PTO! Is that too much to ask? Question really is how many parents truly
care? I'm so saddened by the lack of ambition our so called
leaders lead with. We have no vote on anything, our opinion means nothing, we've requested guidelines and rules on voting all school year. Maybe a new face is preceived as a threat to the current officers, but the truth is I just want to fill welcomed, to help anyway I can, to be a part of a strong united PTO doing excellent things for our kids & community. HELP!
# Angel Taylor 2012-05-01 02:12
My daughter came home with a flyer for office for the PTA at her school, as I read it and thought about and thought about. I said to myself let me reseach it out and I found this website, which is so power-pack with everything one could need for PTO. Thanks for having a worth of info for someone who just wants better for their kid's school, or schools period.

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