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 objectives 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

Make setting the PTO's objectives a group project. Inviting more people into the discussion will give more people a stake in achieving those targets. Whether you talk on the phone, hold a meeting in person or virtually, 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.

For example, if you’d like a broader cross-section of parents to be involved with your group, you might set a goal to reach out to parents in new ways or hold events at times more parents may be able to attend.

When a new principal started at the Maryvale Primary School in Cheektowaga, N.Y., the PTO focused on building a partnership with the principal and creating a unified team in support of the school. Working toward that goal, the PTO and principal addressed parents together at open houses and sent joint invitations to parents for school and PTO functions, according to PTO president Cindy Strong.

Think Big

An objective should be challenging but realistic. People become discouraged from pursuing goals when they seem out of reach. To get maximum support from members, set targets 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. While the PTO may schedule a full slate of activities, they make a single goal for the school year, like raising money for the school library.

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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 objectives, such as increasing parent involvement. In that case, figure out what concrete steps you'll 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 aim to increase the number of parents that volunteer for the tutoring program, for example.

At Irene King Elementary in Romeoville, Ill., the PTO set a main goal of finishing active fundraising by December. That meant 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 determines its goals, write them down, email them, or post them on the PTO website. Putting objectives 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 plans events and programs, it’s a good idea to discuss how they contribute to the group’s overall mission.

Make a Plan...

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

To reach its goal of increasing parent involvement, the John Morrow Elementary PTO in Pittsburgh held several family nights, launched a new volunteer program, and held a kindergarten orientation for families, reports president Donna Vail.

Make a Back-Up Plan

School closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020 taught us that even the best laid plans need back-up plans to rely on when you can’t fulfill your goals in traditional, in-person ways. If you’re planning a book fair or reading night to help promote literacy, think of ways to accomplish the events digitally. A Zoom or Google Classroom Reading Night featuring guest readers like the school mascot can hold students’ attention and help you reach your goal.

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 told parents when the PTO reached its fundraising target. 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.

Originally posted in 2007 and updated regularly