If you’ve ever vowed to exercise more or spend less, you know all about setting and pursuing goals. But there’s a big difference between making goals for yourself and creating goals for an organization like a PTO.

Forming group goals requires buy-in from members, who may have other ideas about what the PTO should do; once members have agreed on what’s important, however, goals can help members accomplish more than they ever could have on their own.

Involve the Group

Setting goals for the PTO should be a group project. Inviting more people into the discussion will give more people a stake in achieving those goals. Whether you talk on the phone, hold a meeting, or survey the membership, you should make every effort to involve the people who will be working to reach the goals.

Look to the Future

A discussion about your organization’s goals is a great time to ask what kind of group you want to be in the future. Think about how you would like the group to be different and what changes are needed to accomplish that.

“Our focus this year is to provide more family-centered activities and to be more inclusionary with our committees and events,” says Jackie Fanelli, coordinator of the St. Louise de Marillac School Parent Teacher Guild in Pittsburgh.

In Cheektowaga, N.Y., the Maryvale Primary School PTO will focus on building a partnership with the new principal and getting more parents involved. “We will be working with our new principal in providing a more unified team,” says PTO president Cindy Strong. “At our open houses, we will be addressing the parents together and inviting them to both school and PTO functions together.”

Think Big

A goal should be challenging but realistic. People become discouraged from pursuing goals when they seem out of reach. To gain maximum support from members, your goals should be things that people will be highly motivated to achieve.

“We try to focus on one thing a year,” says Heidi Fuellgraf, president of the Grove City (Ohio) Christian School PTO. The PTO has a full slate of activities scheduled but only a single goal: raising money for the school library.

The Margaret Brent Elementary PTO in Stafford, Va., is concentrating on raising money to build an outdoor math-and-science classroom and to buy mounted interactive whiteboards for classrooms. President Dianna Flett says that although the group is focused on funding these expensive projects, leaders will not let fundraising efforts detract from the primary goal of providing fun projects for families and active and interesting programs for students.

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Be Specific

Experts recommend setting specific, measurable goals. But there are times when it’s appropriate to aim for more intangible goals, such as increasing parent involvement. In that case, figure out what concrete steps you will take to accomplish it. Keep in mind that even if your goal is hard to quantify, it needs to be specific enough that you can tell when it’s been reached. You might set a goal to increase the number of parents that volunteer for the tutoring program, for example.

At Irene King Elementary in Romeoville, Ill., the PTO’s main goal is to finish active fundraising by December. That means ditching the spring catalog sale to focus on the back-to-school picnic and fall sale, says treasurer Jeanne Beckmann.

Write Them Down

Once the group goals have been determined, write them down, email them, or post them on the PTO website. Putting goals in writing signifies your commitment to reaching them. And don’t let the start of school be the only time you talk about the goals—anytime the PTO is planning events and programs, it’s a good idea to discuss whether they contribute to the group’s overall goals.

Make a Plan

Having a goal is meaningless unless you take steps to make it happen. If your goal is to promote literacy, your plan to reach that goal may involve a book fair and a reading night. Be sure to think about the challenges you’ll have in meeting a goal, and make plans to address them. For example, if families can’t afford to buy children’s books, seek donations from local bookstores.

Donna Vail, president of the John Morrow Elementary PTO in Pittsburgh, says the group will pursue its aim of increasing parent involvement by holding several family nights, launching a new volunteer program, and having a kindergarten orientation for families.

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

When your group accomplishes a goal, take some time to celebrate what you’ve done and thank people who have helped. Reflecting on successes helps keep volunteers motivated and shows the school community that you do good work.

At Irene King Elementary School, Beckmann is already planning to tell parents when the PTO reaches its fundraising goal. Because parents are bombarded by fundraisers from numerous school groups, many parents mistakenly believe all the fundraisers are run by the PTO.

“If we get done fundraising, announce it loudly, and make it known that it won’t be us [fundraising] for the rest of the school year, we’re hoping to change the misconceived notion that all we want is money,” she says.