Do you read about other parent groups in PTO Today and get frustrated because they’re raising so much more money than yours? Or perhaps you can’t believe a newspaper story about one group installing a $75,000 playground while yours has been struggling for two years to raise $5,000 for a swing set.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, but—like reading People and longing for the stars’ homes and cars and jewelry—it’s not productive. Each parent group is independent, and the comparison game is a time-waster at best and harmful at worst.

The fact is, there’s very little connection between your annual budget and the success (or lack thereof) of your parent group. The amount of money you can and do raise and the success of your PTO are completely independent discussions.

Look at it this way: If Group A is at a school with 500 parents, many of whom are well-off financially, and Group B is at a school with 200 parents, most of whom struggle to make ends meet, then there’s little doubt that Group A is going to raise more money than Group B. Does that mean that Group A is better? No way. Group B could far outshine its counterpart in non-financial terms, such as involvement and volunteering throughout the school community.

There are certainly best practices that can improve your fundraising bottom line and help you make the most of the particular situation you’re in. But the final dollar figure of your fundraising, whether $5,000 or $30,000, is largely driven by the size and economics of your school community.

And that’s where the danger lies. If you read about other groups’ large-dollar results and feel like you have to keep up, a common result is to run more and more fundraisers until you reach the figure you’re looking for. In the long term, that’s an involvement killer and a fast track to burning out your group, losing volunteers, and alienating your parent community. It almost inevitably leads to a downward spiral where ultimately you’ll raise even less money. Ugh.

Separate your fundraising goals from your group’s general goals. The group mission is probably something like “Make our school a great place for our teachers to teach and our kids to learn.” You can do that in so many ways that aren’t dollar-dependent. Research tells us, for example, that increased parent involvement results in all kinds of positives for your school, and increasing involvement doesn’t take gobs of money. Host a reading night. Have families in to play board games. Throw an international night (potluck, even!) to celebrate all of the varied cultures within your school community.

In fact, if you focus more on involvement than on dollars, you’ll actually raise more money. Think about your last gift wrap sale or auction. Who bought 20 rolls of paper or bid high on lots of items? You leader types. And who bought no paper and didn’t attend the auction? The unconnected.

By gaining a reputation as a service organization focused on growing involvement and doing great work for kids, you’ll connect with more and more parents. The good news: Doing great work for your school doesn’t require big bucks. Raise what you can by fundraising well, but don’t overdo it in an endless quest for money. Sure, more dollars is a nice luxury, but it’s not a requirement by any means. So many of our recent Parent Group of the Year honorees (profiled in the September 2006 issue) achieved great things on modest budgets. You can, too.

We don’t exist to fundraise. We fundraise to do our important work. And we can do that important work on any budget.