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Change a Bad Reputation With Parents

Change a Bad Reputation
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Tips to win over parents who have a poor impression of your PTO.

by Emily Graham


No matter how well your PTO is run or how much you do for the school, there are bound to be some parents with negative opinions about your group. Maybe a mom is holding a grudge against the PTO because of a decision previous officers made, or parents new to the school are grumbling that all the group does is ask for money.

While you can’t please everyone, it is important to have a good reputation with parents for one simple reason. You’re going to need their support to achieve your group’s goals. Here are some common questions we hear from leaders who are working to overcome a bad reputation with parents, and our advice for regaining parent trust.

Some parents complain that all our group does is ask for money. How can we change their minds?

First, stop to think about whether the people complaining have a valid point. Make a list of all the fundraisers your group runs throughout the school year. If it seems excessive, discuss dropping some fundraisers and putting more work into maximizing profits on the ones you keep.

Keep in mind that parents get a lot of requests to support fundraisers, especially if they have kids in extracurricular activities. They may assume that all school fundraisers are run by the PTO, when in fact some may be from booster clubs, student clubs, or the school itself. You can help clear up this misconception by making it clear which fundraisers come from the PTO.

In a parent email or newsletter, list your group’s annual fundraisers and some of the ways profits are used. Ask a parent with graphic design skills to develop a logo for your group, or download one from our File Exchange. Use the logo on each communication you send to parents, so it’s clear what is coming from the PTO and what isn’t.

Just as important, tell parents how fundraising profits will benefit their kids and the school. Put a list on a flyer or post it on your group’s website. You can customize these colorful templates to help get the message across.

How We Support Our School: Activities and Events

How We Support Our School: Fundraising

Supporting the Community Tree

If possible, share photos on social media of your group’s family events or of students participating in an activity you sponsored. At large events, thank families for their support of the PTO, which helps make the event possible.

Finally, thank parents at every opportunity. Share the results of your fundraisers and how the money will be used. At a school play your group sponsors, thank parents for making the event possible by supporting your fundraisers.

Make parent involvement a priority—get our top 10 tips for success

A past PTO officer was rude to people and really turned parents off from the PTO. How can we convince parents that the group is different now?

You can tell parents that your group is different now, but to change their minds, you’re going to have to show them over time.

Go out of your way to be friendly. Make a special effort to help parents feel welcome at your events, introducing yourself if you haven’t met them before and thanking them for coming. Encourage board members to make small talk with parents before and after general meetings. A few minutes of friendly conversation can go a long way.

Ask for parents’ input. One way to show that you value parents’ ideas and feedback is to ask for their opinions in a survey.

When parents share opinions at PTO meetings, be careful to keep a neutral tone of voice even if someone is very critical.

Keep a positive tone. In your group’s communications, avoid blaming parents for a lack of support. Instead of saying, “We were forced to cancel the event because, sadly, parents didn’t step up to help,” say something like, “The event was canceled because of low interest and we will evaluate whether to continue it in the future.”

It’s easy to get frustrated when other parents aren’t as enthusiastic about the parent group as you are, but trying to guilt parents into involvement is bound to backfire. Sharing positive messages about what your group accomplishes and the fun you have together will be a much more effective way to encourage more parents to get involved.

How do we avoid getting the reputation of being a clique?

This is a hard one. Your leaders may not think you act like a clique, but other parents may perceive that you are. If parents see the same few people doing all the PTO work, they may come to think that the PTO is for those people, and not for them.

The good news is that there are easy things you can do to avoid being perceived as cliquish:

  • Before public events, remind officers to avoid hanging together in a huddle.

  • Wear name tags to make it easier for parents to strike up conversations with officers.

  • When you meet to discuss official business, keep in mind that other people won’t have the same background knowledge that you do. Explain anything that isn’t obvious, like the meaning of acronyms.

Find more ideas for overcoming a clique reputation in Is Your PTO a Clique?

Originally posted in 2020 and updated regularly.

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