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What Every Secretary Should Know

The secretary’s role is more than just taking minutes and posting the meeting agenda.

by Christy Forhan


At first glance, the role of PTO secretary seems straightforward: You type up the meeting agendas and prepare minutes from each meeting. But secretaries are often assigned additional responsibilities that make the job more interesting, more creative, and more challenging.

Because responsibilities can vary from group to group, it’s important that you know what’s expected of the secretary in your PTO. You don’t want to be surprised to find out the job is far more or less than you expected.

The most common responsibilities for a PTO secretary can be divided into two categories: recording information and communicating information. Some PTOs recruit two different officers for these roles.

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The recording secretary is the more clearly defined of the two; the role of recording secretary focuses on compiling, organizing, and sharing meeting minutes and agendas. The communications secretary is the public relations expert for the PTO; she focuses on getting out the news of the PTO’s good work. (More detailed descriptions of the duties of recording secretaries and communications secretaries are listed below.)

At minimum, a PTO needs someone to handle the basic secretarial duties such as meeting minutes and correspondence. It’s a fabulous bonus if your PTO can recruit two volunteers to formally divide the role into recording secretary and communications secretary.

Whatever your responsibilities as secretary include, the following steps can help you work more efficiently and effectively.

Be Prepared

  • Meet with the former secretary before the school year ends. Listen to her advice, have her walk you through her files, take notes, and follow up with questions.

  • Familiarize yourself with your PTO’s bylaws and carefully read your job description.

  • Familiarize yourself with Robert’s Rules of Order, especially the instructions about the content and format of an agenda and minutes.

  • Set up a filing system at your house and on your computer.

Plan for a Smooth Transition

When your term as PTO secretary draws to a close, you will transfer the job to a new volunteer who may feel as unprepared as you do now. Start taking steps today to make her transition and training easier for both of you.

  • Develop or update the secretary procedures manual for your PTO.

  • Keep samples of all your creative work and formal copies of all official documents, such as minutes and agendas.

  • If the historical record-keeping for the PTO consists of a mess of paperwork in an old box, spend a little PTO money on binders and dividers. Organize past years’ records into neat files, one per year. Purge duplicate or extraneous papers. Set up a filing system for this coming year, and stay organized from the start.

Plan to leave the secretary’s “office” in better shape than when you arrived. By keeping an eye on quality all year long, you’ll serve the PTO well this year and into the future.

Recording Secretary Duties

  • Attend executive board meetings and participate in discussions and decisionmaking.

  • Take minutes at executive board meetings, type them up, and distribute them to the other officers in a timely fashion.

  • Type up and photocopy the agenda for the next general PTO meeting, as developed in the executive board meeting.

  • Photocopy the minutes from the last general meeting for distribution (and approval) at the upcoming general meeting.

  • Prepare the sign-in sheet, set out nametags, and arrange the room for the general meetings.

  • Take minutes at general meetings, type them up, and distribute them to the other officers in a timely fashion.

  • Maintain a complete file of all approved minutes, agendas, and materials distributed at any official PTO meeting.

Communications Secretary Duties

  • Determine, with executive board approval, the most appropriate methods and frequency of communicating with members. Common methods include:

    • Broadcast email. Collect email addresses from members. Use email to send meeting reminders, announce upcoming events, and distribute the PTO newsletter.

    • Bulletin board or glass case displays. Update these monthly so the display stays fresh. As you plan the design, consider who will see the display (students, teachers, parents, or some combination).

    • PTO newsletter. Create a periodic newsletter focused on PTO activities. Announce events, thank volunteers, profile upcoming activities, solicit help, and provide information. Include photos.

    • School newsletter. If your school has its own newsletter, make sure PTO news items—such as meeting reminders, thank-yous, and fundraising results—are included.

    • Local media. Build a relationship with the reporters who handle local news in your area. Pass along interesting PTO news.

    • Correspondence. Prepare notes of thanks, sympathy, inquiry, etc. as needed on behalf of the PTO and with approval of the executive board.

  • Get creative to get your word out. Post roadside signs, use the school marquee, create lapel buttons or stickers, take advantage of local access cable television, etc.

  • Maintain a file of all your work, including photos of displays and samples of each document.

Other Possible Secretary Duties

  • Membership drive

  • Volunteer and committee chair recruitment
    (e.g., 2 Hour Power)

  • Meeting setup and hospitality

  • Ongoing new family welcome

  • School directory

Originally posted in 2008 and updated regularly.


# Kim Samson 2008-04-30 09:01
Great article. We have elections coming up and this will benefit the incoming and outgoing officers.
# Lynn 2008-05-23 20:11
This was very informative, it will help with options for those people who thing a one person office may be more than they can handle...
# Anabel Kluesner 2008-11-07 16:40
I am having a really hard time getting PTO members in to our monthly meeting.
I need help.
# Craig Bystrynski from PTO Today 2008-11-07 17:55
Anabel -- Scroll to the bottom of this page and click on the link "Meetings/Robert's Rules." You'll find lots of helpful articles. Specifically, I'd recommend "Boost Meeting Attendance" You might also post your question on the message boards. There are lots of knowledgeable people there who have confronted the same problem. -- Craig
# Andrea 2009-02-25 16:27
Hi, I have recently expressed interest in joining the PTO as secretary and they are holding a meeting on March 10, and I would like to know what kind of info I should arrive to the meeting with. Should I have a resume in hand, etc.?
# asamoah berko 2010-12-20 11:59
i hear the duties of a secretary are divided into before,during and after the meeting.what are they
# Craig Bystrynski 2010-12-20 14:55
Before the meeting:

* Help the president prepare the agenda. The secretary should have a record of any unfinished business that needs to be discussed at the next meeting.

* Send out meeting notices and distribute the agenda.

During the meeting:

* Provide copies of minutes of the previous meeting.

* Read sections of previous meeting minutes as requested, if the need arises.

* Read correspondence as requested.

* Take minutes.

After the meeting:

* Prepare minutes. Provide to the president or board for review.

* File approved minutes. Note that minutes are part of the permanent record of your group and should be kept indefinitely.

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