Ever feel like your group is in a rut? Or perhaps that the general parent community at your school doesn’t appreciate your work?
If so, there are two ways to go. You can give in to the slowdown and gear down your goals to reflect the new reality, or you can go just the opposite direction and try to tackle a big issue. The advice here: Think big!
When I look carefully at those groups that are really going strong, I almost always find a signature project around which parents at the school have rallied. The best groups find at least one project to knock out of the park and become famous for. In most cases, those projects got started when a small group of leaders simply decided to be bold.
It’s a daunting moment for most leaders, that meeting when you have to propose the big idea while your group is struggling to find volunteers and gain momentum. Think of John F. Kennedy announcing to the world that the United States would go to the moon before our scientists had any idea how we’d do so. His audacious pronouncement energized our scientific community and the country for a decade.
Walter Cronkite may not cover your playground project or townwide readathon, but you can invigorate your entire school community if you aim high. Goals that lots of volunteers can get behind and all parents can see and support are just the kinds of things that can transform your group. You may even have to sacrifice a few of your lower-profile (though certainly worthwhile) efforts to make the big goal happen. That’s OK.
As you and your leadership team set your sights high and announce the goals loudly and creatively, you’ll set a couple of key changes in motion. First, you’ll quickly jump-start a process of raising your group’s profile. Labels and box tops are great, but if they’re the most public of your PTO’s efforts, is it any wonder that your group elicits yawns from the masses? By taking on an event that can become a high-profile success or even an annual tradition, you’re starting the steps toward changing your reputation. You’ll become known for the annual townwide Harvest Hoedown, or the variety show featuring teachers in spandex and principals singing karaoke and mayors on the kick line, or the back-to-school parade. That’s a good thing, and it will have innumerable positive effects on your efforts.
The other really powerful benefit of thinking big is that big thoughts and successful events attract the best volunteers. While we’d like to think that all parents would jump in enthusiastically to help the PTO at their child’s school, experience tells us it’s not quite so easy. Parents have more demands on their time than ever before and tons of options about where to spend any excess time they do have. To attract more volunteers, you have to make volunteering more personally worthwhile for parents than the other choices. The good news: People are naturally attracted to success. They love being associated with a famous, successful, positive event. That’s why thinking big is so important.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking small. Saying “We’re just a PTO—what can we do?” is a recipe for modest long-term results and near-constant struggles to recruit volunteers. You can change that. You just have to think big.