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When most of us hear the term “mission statement,’’ we think nerdy and boring—two words that don’t fit with PTOs.

After all, a mission statement, which is a summary of an organization’s purpose, sounds like it belongs on a whiteboard in a corporate office. But if you are willing to try creating one, you may find it could be very helpful for your group.

A mission statement spells out what your group values and strives to accomplish. It comes in handy when a group is making big decisions, like selecting a fundraising partner or enrichment programs, so you know your choices fit without the group’s overall objectives. (It’s worth noting that groups are required to have one when they apply for 501(c)(3) status.)

Sometimes PTO officers feel intimated because “mission statement” sounds so formal, but it doesn’t have to be perfect prose. In fact, you probably already know your group’s mission in your heart.

To help put it into words, ask parents to join you in a brainstorming session in which you ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation.

Questions that promote discussion include:

  • What are the top two or three things you want for the children?

  • If you could describe our community in a few words, what would they be?

  • Imagine our PTO two years from now. How would you describe it?

As people offer opinions, take notes. Common threads in the discussion will start to emerge and key points of the mission statement will take shape.

After this meeting, the board can put together a mission statement that reflects the input of the group. It should be simple and to the point, addressing general goals and avoiding any specifics that would be outdated within a few school years. Publish it on the group’s website, update it in the group’s bylaws, and talk about it at your first meeting next year.

Here are some resources to help: