As the pandemic wanes in the U.S., school administrators and faculty are looking forward to students returning full-time and in-person for the upcoming school year. And after the past 18 months, your school’s PTO/PTA members are ready to get back to business. While not every parent has time or energy to be actively involved, you still have options for engaging everyone in your events and fundraising throughout the school year. A little planning now can mean big gains in parent participation next year.
Let’s look at a few ways you can keep your parents involved in PTO/PTA activities from the beginning of the school year through the end.
Offer small steps with no obstacles
Don’t expect any parent to go from no involvement to committee chair at your first ask. Take baby steps to engage with parents, help them see the benefits, and move them through a slow and comfortable rise through the system. For example, start with occasional volunteering. You may have one massive fundraising event that requires plenty of volunteers to pull off. A small ask could be, “Can you help us out for an hour or two at the X fundraiser?”
Make sure you detail exactly what’s needed and offer something that doesn’t require intimate knowledge of the school system or its educational curriculum. For example, a parent might be more apt to say “yes” to a request to take tickets for the dunk tank at your school fundraiser. Offer no-brainer activities to get parents involved early, and rely on the camaraderie and support of other volunteers to make parents feel welcome.
If you’re serious about boosting parent involvement, make it easy for parents to say “yes.”
Break “big” asks into smaller tasks
Again, no one wants to go from occasional volunteer to PTO/PTA president in a single bound. Instead, offer a “buffet” of options from which parents can choose their level of involvement. When people face a veritable smorgasbord for participating, they’re bound to find something that fits with their desired level of involvement. Again, the idea is to get their foot in the door and groom them for rising through the ranks in subsequent years.
Regardless of the “ask,” parents with choices will more likely find something that fits their availability and capacity to participate. The worst thing you can do is overwhelm parents with jobs that require significant involvement or participation. Don’t go for the end goal; rather, be satisfied with a 10-yard gain. Try to marry a particular “ask” with parents’ key skills. For example, parents are bound to have experience/expertise in organization, technical, analytical, social, physical, creative, or other fields. How can you piggyback your involvement needs with parent skills in these areas? And make sure parents know that they’re not committing to a deep well of time/energy commitment. You’re looking for a small task only.
Communicate often and in-depth
The worst thing you can do is to recruit parent involvement and then leave them without information. Err on the side of too much information to make sure you cover everyone’s questions. And make yourself or other members available for requests for more information or answers to frequently asked questions. Information is key to engaging parents with your PTO/PTA. The less parents must guess at what’s involved, the more participation you’ll likely have.
Make sure to involve plenty of two-way communication. You don’t want to inundate your parents with information without offering a way for them to ask questions or get additional information. Being accessible via email, text, or other communication makes parents feel more comfortable when volunteering.
Be open to ideas
If you expect parents to truly become a part of your PTO/PTA team, you need a way to gather their talents, thoughts, and ideas, not just their volunteer time. The more ideas you generate, the better your PTO/PTA functions each year and the more funds you can raise for education and other activities for the children. Avoid avenues or responses such as, “we tried that, and it didn’t work” or “that’s not how we’ve done it.” These responses make uninvolved parents perceive your PTO/PTA as close-minded and not open to alternatives. That’s the last thing you want.
An easy way to poll parents’ ideas is to use a simple survey. You could ask, “What ideas (any and all) do you have for boosting PTO/PTA effectiveness?” Or, “What could or should we be doing to include parents, grandparents, and others who want to become active?” Create open-ended questions to gather more information and use “yes” or “no” questions to understand how people feel about your current efforts.
The more organized your PTO/PTA, the better parents will view your organization. If you avoid the pettiness and cliques that plague other parent organizations, you’ll reap better parent involvement. Part of this is consistent and frequent communication. Use email, social media, surveys, and other means to communicate often and in-depth with parents. The more connected they feel, the less they feel coerced, and the smaller the “ask,” the more likely you’ll get parental involvement. Use the tools at your disposal to communicate and gather information, like a short and simple email or survey.
PTO/PTA organizations work best when everyone, not just the committee members, has a clear idea of the end goal for activities. Whether it’s fundraising for a particular program or an educational activity that benefits all students, the more you keep everyone informed, the more involved they’ll become. Offer specific projects. Ask for specific ideas and thoughts. And answer all questions. Make it easy and enjoyable to work together to make a difference for everyone’s child. Your PTO/PTA will be more successful as a result.