Welcome to January. You’ve survived the holidays, the kids are back in school, and you’re ready to live up to your resolutions for the new year. But does that renewed enthusiasm extend to your role as a parent group leader? Most likely, the PTO has been on the back burner for a few weeks. Now it’s time to recharge the executive board and try to recapture some of that momentum you all felt last September.
Shortly after school starts again, gather the leadership team. Plan to spend an hour or more together. This meeting shouldn’t be rushed. It will set the tone and direction for the next few months. You need to get reacquainted, assess past successes, address challenges, take financial inventory, and reenergize for the next few months.
Unless your officers are personal friends, you probably haven’t seen much of each other for the past few weeks. Don’t overlook the need to simply talk for a few minutes about life. As a parent group leader, it’s important to know enough about your fellow officers to understand the other priorities in their lives, such as an outside job or a family commitment. The board position that looked so exciting in September might seem overwhelming four months later. Take time to ask whether everyone is still enjoying their role with the group and whether they’re ready and able to continue working at the same pace as last fall.
Assess Successes, Address Challenges
Chances are, your parent group did some really neat things last fall. Maybe you held a welcome back picnic in late August. Maybe you hosted the first-ever movie night at your school. Or perhaps you put on an awesome staff appreciation dinner in November. It’s OK to bask in those successes. Reflecting on the good work you’ve already done can inspire your group to charge ahead. Discuss what made those events successful and write down those keys for future reference. If the events from last fall are fully completed, get the project files from the committee chairs so you can store them until next year. Learn from the successful projects and apply those lessons to your future plans. Along with the successes may have come some new challenges. Talk about those, too. Discuss why the Santa shop ran out of inventory so early, or how you can improve communication with your principal, or strategies for increasing volunteerism. Did you have to cancel any plans last fall? Did you suffer from a bad reputation? Face those issues head-on, before the pain fades and you miss the opportunity to learn from the past. Brainstorm about solutions that can help guide you into the next quarter.
Take Financial Inventory
January is a great time for a parent group to assess its financial situation. Like many groups, you probably held at least one major fundraiser last fall. Often, it takes a month or more for all the associated expenses to be paid and for the treasurer to finalize the net results of your efforts. That means by now, you should have a clear picture of the financial situation. Did your fundraising meet its goals? If so, you can continue with all the plans you laid out in August. But what if your fundraising fell short? Your board needs to make some important and difficult decisions quickly. You may need to scale back your plans or add another fundraiser. Maybe the budget shortfall can inspire some creative action, such as soliciting broad-based community support or reducing the overhead expenses of an elaborate family event.
If your PTO was lucky enough to experience a fundraising surplus, you have some decisions to make, as well. Surplus money will do the most good when the board makes a conscious plan for how to apply the windfall. (Check your bylaws first—you may need membership approval before allocating any surplus.) Don’t let it simply disappear as people overspend their budgets or add extras because “we have the money.” Excess funds could allow for a brand-new family event this winter or provide more money to enhance a project already in the works. No doubt, your school principal could identify ways to spend some money. Maybe you’ll vote to set aside some of the funds as budget contingency or to apply the money to a long-term project such as playground improvements. Whatever you decide, make it a proactive decision.
Kick Off the New Year
The start of the year is the perfect time to reassess and recommit to future plans. We do it in our personal lives in the form of New Year’s resolutions, and we can do it in our parent group life, as well. What are your officers’ resolutions? Ask each of the board members to set one parent group-related resolution. Maybe your volunteer coordinator will resolve to recruit more “unknown” parents. Perhaps your secretary will resolve to publish meeting minutes more quickly. Maybe the president will resolve to meet with the principal once a week. Each officer should verbally share her resolution with the board so you can encourage one another in the months ahead.
Look over your plans for the next quarter. Is everything in place? Do you have a chairwoman for each event and enough volunteers in the wings to ensure success? Check closely: Is there any downtime in the next few months for your group? If you see a noticeable gap in parent group activity during the winter months, you might want to consider adding a small-scale project. Little events with low risk and low expenses are a great way to get a new parent involved in a leadership role, albeit a small one. For example, your group could sponsor a “premium seating and parking” raffle for the winter band concert. You could hand out hot coffee curbside to each of your bus drivers one morning. You could oversee a student contest to design a logo for the spring carnival. The point is to continuously demonstrate that your parent group is a creative, energetic, fun organization involved in a variety of activities.
Take advantage of the New Year’s resolution effect to kick-start your officers and members. You’ve only completed one-half or less of the school year. There’s plenty of time to do more great things for your school.