Nannette Henderson is a long-time parent volunteer and mother of four who currently serves on two boards in Fairfax Station, Va. She's also an active (and very helpful!) contributor on the PTO Today Message Boards. 

Being involved with eight different parent groups over the past 15 years has exposed me to many different situations, but there are common threads that run among all the schools. One is the importance of good communication between board members.

When parent group boards get put together—let’s face it, pretty much anyone who expresses the tiniest bit of interest in helping out is usually brought into the fold as quickly as possible. But working with a group of people with a wide variety of experiences and personalities is a challenge. When I was a group president or volunteer coordinator, I tried to make it a point for all volunteers to understand the mission and purpose of the organization and give them as much support as possible at the beginning of the year. But even with that, it’s inevitable that there will be some conflict as the year goes on. Here are a few ideas that I’ve seen work well in preventing communication problems.

Assign communication responsibilities. Do you have a large board with everyone reporting to the president? If so, that’s a lot of work for the president to keep up with everyone. We were successful when we asked each officer to take on a group of committee chairs. Each officer met with his or her “reports” on a regular basis, usually once a month before a regular meeting. The officer reminded people to come to the meetings, discussed issues, and received updates on projects. The officer, in turn, could funnel information or concerns from committee members to the executive board.

Keep it personal when you can. Try not to rely completely on email. It’s convenient, but it’s also easily misunderstood. I’ve managed to tick off many people with what I thought were very innocent emails. I finally came to a point where I had to talk to new board members in advance and basically say, “Hey, I write in a very direct style. If I send you an email that you think is harsh, let me know and we’ll talk through it.”  Often, the extra time it takes to actually talk to someone is worth it.

Be willing to try different communication options. If it’s difficult to schedule in-person meetings, try a free conference call service. This can be an especially convenient way to get together when you have a combination of parents who work during the day and stay-at-home parents. I’ve participated in a few of these over the past few months, and wish it had been this easy years ago! Sometimes working parents can take a call during their lunch hour or at another break point in their day—and then that frees up a night for everyone to spend with their family.