Our annual Parent Group of the Year issue in September is always my favorite. It celebrates everything that’s right about PTOs and PTAs, honors and thanks volunteers who aren’t honored or thanked nearly enough, and gives inspiration to thousands of groups that can incorporate our winners’ best practices into their own plans.

That’s pretty great stuff.

It also gets me thinking each year about the things our winners don’t do. While our honorees often have very unique and creative winning stories, they also consistently avoid some of the most common habits that tend to slow down parent groups.

Is your group falling victim to any of these PTO and PTA traps?

1. Recruiting by Guilt

Do you subtly imply that every parent should be volunteering or that parents need to do their share to help the school? While I agree with your sentiment, it’s a really ineffective way to grow long-term involvement. Some parents may respond to the guilt trip (maybe you’re even one of them), but most will find a way to stay away.

Better: Focus on all the positives of getting involved, and find jobs and benefits that work for all kinds of different parents. Make it easy and rewarding (and not scary) to volunteer instead of hoping that parents will volunteer because they should.

2. The Money Machine

If you asked parents about the biggest function of your parent group, would they answer “fundraising”? If so, your group will have a hard time gaining traction. Very few parents look forward to volunteering for the fundraisers—hitting up friends for money is hard, often thankless work.

Better: Make your group about community and serving your school and focus on those results. Volunteers are much more likely to jump on board for those functions, and—here’s the secret—parents will much more willingly support your fundraiser when they are connected to your cause. You don’t exist to fundraise. You fundraise (well!) to support all your other important work. That subtle difference gets lost too often.

3. Meetings Mean Everything

Is it possible to be a leader of your group if you can make it to very few or no meetings? Is your once-per-month meeting the primary face of your group? Both of those things are habits from a time when everyone had similar, much simpler schedules. Today, great volunteers work night shifts, are sometimes single moms or dads, and very often are quite successful at being really productive with fewer in-person meetings.

Better: Make your group as accommodating as you can to all kinds of schedules, and make meetings much less central to your operations. Sure, have your meetings as you see fit. But do all you can to accommodate and encourage those with great enthusiasm who can’t make your meetings. Email and Skype and websites and texting are all your friends.

4. The Insider’s Club

Yep, the dreaded “clique” word. I’ve yet to meet a group that intentionally keeps newcomers out, but I’ve met lots of groups that do so by accident or habit. And it sends a clique message that’s just as damaging as if you had intended it. Here’s an example: Do you and your fellow leaders (you’re probably all friends now, right?) gather together in a small group before your meetings begin and then hang out again after the meeting? What does the new volunteer do while that’s happening? How does she feel?

Better: Assign someone to focus exclusively on new volunteer recruitment and comfort level. Personal invitations are great. So are personal greetings at meetings, check-up phone calls and emails, and assigning that new volunteer to a job she’ll love (rather than having her pay her dues first in a less-desirable job).

I was tempted to add a 5th habit about over-officiousness, formality, and bureaucracy, but I’ll leave it more simply: Make sure it’s fun to be part of your group. Our parent groups of the year achieve so much because lots of great people got together, and that combined energy moves mountains. But make no mistake; it all starts with getting more of the best people together. And that comes from being the kind of group that attracts the best.