It’s human nature—we all do things the hard way sometimes. Maybe it’s taking on that extra job that we should really let someone else do, but we want to make sure it gets done right. Or a request we should really say no to, but we say yes anyway. Sometimes we simply don’t have time to do the planning or preparation we should, and it ends up making things much more difficult later on.
One thing we know from our many years of publishing PTO Today: PTO and PTA leaders are hard workers. When the going gets tough, you tend to respond by taking on extra work for yourself. This list of tips, ideas, tricks, and advice is aimed at making your life a little easier. Some are simple, some are more involved. Use the ones that fit the way you and your PTO operate.
Some Good Advice
(A little Zen for the highly stressed.)
It doesn’t always have to be perfect. You may see all the flaws and might-have-beens when you organize an event or program. But others aren’t aware of that—they see the big picture, not the imperfections. If you’re something of a perfectionist, ease up a bit and enjoy your success. You deserve it.
Do what your resources allow you to do. If you’re short on volunteers, plan with that in mind. You’ll build your group more effectively by executing smaller events that are done well versus taking on a huge workload to do something overly ambitious—that’s a recipe for burnout. As you grow, you can plan accordingly.
Learn to say no. Easier said than done, but sometimes it’s better to say you can’t organize that last-minute event, take on that big task for the school secretary, or make a meeting that would require you to cancel a personal appointment. It’s OK—nobody can do everything.
Delegate—it’s the most important leadership skill. Sharing the workload is important in so many ways. It not only takes the pressure off you; it also allows others to develop skills and know-how that will pay off big in the long run. Delegating doesn’t mean you’re shirking—it means you’re valuing the contributions of others.
Create a plan and a budget. Planning for an entire year can be intimidating. But it’s just a guideline, and you’ll be surprised how once you start thinking about it, your plans come together. Don’t be afraid to adjust course; you can examine your plan each month to see what needs to be changed. But planning like this creates a road map that will make your life a lot easier later on.
(Relax. You don’t have to do them all.)
Take photos of how events are set up to share with the next year’s event coordinators. Think about what other photos would be helpful—for example, an assembled welcome packet or the layout of the school store. Save the photos in your digital files.
If you’re overwhelmed by phone calls, texts, and emails about parent group business during family time, set up PTO “office hours.” Let board members know the best time to reach you on weeknights.
Learn how to efficiently and effectively run a meeting, starting with a well-planned agenda. If a volunteer or guest runs over his allotted time, politely but firmly move on to the next agenda item. Your meeting attendees will appreciate it.
Prepare a committee update sheet and email it to committee chairs before each monthly meeting. Ask chairs to fill in simple information such as event time, location, budget, and volunteer needs to make sure you have that information at hand.
Encourage members to attend your meetings or events by sending invites via calendar apps such as Google Calendar. You could also consider setting up a Facebook event or sending an Evite for important activities.
Keep a database of local companies that have supported your parent group. Pass it on to volunteers every year, which will make it easier to know where to start when seeking donations.
Prepare reimbursement forms (or download one) so the treasurer doesn’t have to track people down to answer basic questions.
Set an annual budget. Surprisingly, a lot of parent groups don’t create a budget, which leads to uncertainty about what you can and can’t afford to do.
Add meetings to the electronic calendar on your phone or laptop at the beginning of the year. Include a downloadable calendar on your school’s website, which will make it easier for others to add the events to their own calendars.
Dedicate a specific time for recurring tasks. For example, block off a half-hour on Wednesday afternoons to send thank-you notes.
Search for ideas from other parent group volunteers, read PTO Today magazine, and visit PTOtoday.com for great ideas. No one relates to the issues you’re facing better than other parent group volunteers. Their suggestions and inspiration are priceless.
Ask for cell phone numbers when volunteers sign up, and put them in your phone so you can easily text people if you have a last-minute request. This is very handy if it’s an on-site event question!
Write a template thank-you email or text to send to volunteers, guest speakers, or school leaders who have helped you. Leave room for personalization. You’ll save time by not having to start from scratch.
Share the meeting dates with your spouse, babysitter, and others. This helps prepare them for times you’ll be busy with PTO work.
Assign a Facebook administrator and make sure the login information is passed along each time the position rotates. If the administrator moves away without passing on this information, you’ll be stuck with a Facebook page that is never updated.
Create a simple binder to use at each meeting with tabs for contacts, calendars, bylaws, budget, events, and other categories as needed. Even if the information is on your computer, having a binder to quickly flip through saves the time of searching on your phone or laptop. This comes in handy when you’re in a location (including many schools) without easy access to Wi-Fi.
Produce an electronic school directory with contact information for all families. Many come with an app that can be downloaded, making phone numbers, email addresses, and home addresses accessible on your phone anytime.
Publish the event calendar for the whole year so people can plan ahead.
Save all the documents you create in one folder on your computer. Not only does this make files easy to access; it also will ease the transition when you’re ready to move on from your position. You can share documents with other executive committee chairs or your successor via a shared drive such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
Set up a monthly schedule of meetings in advance such as executive committee meetings and membership meetings. Some PTOs also find it helpful to meet with school leaders before monthly meetings to review the agenda and any key issues happening at school.
If you compose monthly or regular president’s reports, save them for revision and updating the next month. It’s easier to update a report than to create an entirely new one. This works well for monthly meeting agendas, too!
Use Twitter or other online communication tools to get the word out more effectively. Check out group text messaging apps like GroupMe, which can be useful for sending messages quickly to a large, targeted group.
Recruit a technology chair to stay on top of tasks like updating the website and maintaining the database. Regularly updating information on your website in particular can reduce the number of phone calls or emails leaders receive.
(Stop reinventing the wheel!)
PTO Today has a lot of resources specifically created for PTO and PTA leaders to use, and most of them are free. Check these out, then find even more helpful tools and free programs.
Create Forms, Flyers, and More
Connect With Other Leaders
Communicate With Parents
Use the free Parent Express Email tool to manage your parent email list and send messages from your group. Add your PTO’s logo, pictures, or graphics to make messages look more professional.
Keep Finances in Order
Use Finance Manager to balance the bank account, create a budget, and print out monthly reports. You can even create logins for other leaders to make certain financial information visible to them.
Join PTO Today Plus
Sign up for PTO Today Plus and you group will get instant access to digital versions of PTO Today magazine, expert guides, and custom flyers and content, as well as first dibs on sampling programs, discounts on products and programs, personalized support from our team of advisors, and much more.