This has been a post years in the making. Ever since my kids started going to elementary school, I was ALL IN when it came to getting involved in our school’s PTO [parent teacher organization]. People told me I was crazy for adding another to-do to my days, but I knew it was something I wanted to do so for a number of reasons and looking back, it was the single best decision I made in terms of my girls’ and their time spent in our sweet elementary school.
From the day Caroline walked in as a kindergartener, I promised myself I’d do whatever I could to support the teachers, administration and staff, to know as many of the kids and parents as I possibly could and to volunteer my time and energy in productive ways to better our school. I’m pretty sure you know I’m highly goal oriented and competitive by nature so this should come as no surprise as to why I have loved my time on the PTO.
The first year, I helped with INVEST = our annual fundraising campaign. Then, the next year I ran the INVEST auction. Once that was all said and done, I was asked to be on the school’s PTO board to serve as the INVEST chair to which I happily agreed [and shocking: Jeff thought I was crazy]. And then once that role was complete, I acted as our school’s vice-president for two years, getting to serve alongside one of my dearest friends and a time I will absolutely never forget. Now, I am a room mom for both of my girls’ classes and am co-chairing all of the 5th grade events and activities.
Did I take on too much? Probably so. Would I trade that time for anything else in the world? 100% no. Not only was I given the chance to serve as a leader in our school, but I made so many wonderful friendships along the way, was welcomed into our school by our principals to work alongside them to raise school funds beyond what our county is able to contribute, and more than anything, my girls were able to see me day in and day out at their school… whether it was cleaning the lunchtables, decorating the library for book fair, volunteering in the classroom, hosting grade-level parties, creating social media campaigns and graphics or anything else I was asked to do = it’s been some of the most joyous years of my life.
I’m lucky in the fact I have a fairly flexible career. Meaning I’m not having to work inside a corporate office from 8AM to 5PM, so I did have the ability to revise my daily schedule in order to be at their school, and I understand many working moms simply don’t have that luxury. At the same time, I said no to many collaborations, partnerships and trips because I had made PTO essentially another job and I think it’s helped me not only professionally, but personally as well.
So for today, I thought I’d share five of my favorite ways to get involved at your school and/or parent teacher organization and then I’ll be answering many of the questions I was sent in via Instagram to expand on:
what is a PTO and what do they do?
I’ll try to summarize this as efficiently as possible. Basically, the PTO is a parent-led organization that acts an extension of the school. They are a volunteer group of parents that operate under their own bylaws and exist to help their school specifically [rather than a district or specific group of schools]. They can also be known as a “booster club”. For instance, ours helps with everything from fundraising to hosting our annual book fair, to helping teachers and staff get additional supplies they need not available from our country’s funding, etc. It’s also a way to get involved in your children’s school, meet other parents and families as well as the administration and staff and find ways to help out and make your school experience even better, while aiding your community at the same time.
how did you recruit people to join the PTO?
how did you get parents involved?
It seems easy, but it can be challenging, especially when you’re trying to fill leadership positions on the board and/or getting friends to volunteer to chair a committee for any given schoolyear. In our school specifically, you’re already a member of the PTO as a parent of our school. We always try to offer a number of ways for anyone and everyone to get involved, including: landscaping assistance and campus beautification, acting as the PTO treasurer, chairing the school play, serving on the board as a leader at school, helping with teacher appreciation events throughout the year, helping with food drives + golf scrambles, grandparent’s day, spirit nights, and so on.
I’m not afraid to ask, so a lot of times I’ve simply gone to friends and asked [or begged] them to help me. We also like to play to people’s strengths and something they’d enjoy doing OR something that fits within their profession [for instance, you’ll never see me acting as our treasurer as that is definitely not my gift]. It’s all about getting creative = asking other’s input for who they think might want to take over their position the following year, thinking outside your friend circle on who may want to assist and always reminding people IT’S FOR THE KIDS!!
why are some PTOs so “cliquey”?
i would love to see a PTO be more inclusive
Oh goodness… honestly I hate to hear that someone out there has had a bad experience with their PTO, but at the same time, I can see how it can appear that way. For our school, it’s always been about including ANYONE and EVERYONE that wants to serve. Just because a specific individual may not be right for a certain role/position doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of helping in another way! Again like I mentioned earlier, we’ve always tried to place people in positions that make sense and what they are passionate about because we want them to be EXCITED + ENGAGED. I think many people may traditionally fit a “mold” of what people envision on a PTO just as they do a sorority for instance, but once you know the people inside the “circle” it’s more like a family and all should be welcome.
tell me about the drama. did you deal with mama drama
and how did you handle it?
Luckily, and yes I am speaking from my personal perspective, we haven’t had to deal with much parent drama in our school’s PTO. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been disagreements about where funds should be spent or who should lead an initiative or who gets to be a room mom [just using examples I know of off the top of my head], but I feel foartunate we all play nicely and want to work TOGETHER to get big things accomplished. Any time we had a something arise with specific people, we let each party handle that on their own and always offered to help figure out a solution if we needed to interject. Otherwise, just try to make it work and be kind :).
what was the best way you found to balance out home/PTO life?
We all know by now I struggle with saying “NO’ hence how I usually get myself into situations where I take on too much, the anxiety rolls in and then I feel like I am drowning BUT in most scenarios, I always felt like I was able to maintain clear boundaries of what was expected of me and what I was able to give to my positions on our PTO.
For instance, when I was in charge of our INVEST campaign [more on that in a few], we scheduled our week-long celebration, festival, parties, silent auction and other events months in advance. That way, I could block out my calendar and knew upfront what I could and could not take on for work/personal stuff so that I could be 100% engaged and present throughout the fundraiser. It’s all about planning your time and it helped me having set days where I would be at school so that staff and the administration knew I was there if they needed me to answer questions, turn in checks, update them on class rankings, etc.
Our PTO is great in that we would sit down the spring semester and plan out the entire calendar for the upciming schoolyear. That way we would know when big events were taking place, plan for them with all our committee chairs, get our principal’s approval and start communicating those dates well in advance so families could plan around it!
now onto the fun stuff… our favorite fundraisers, family events, and our biggest + most profitable ways to raise money
Let’s face it, the world revolves around money and so does everything we hope to accomplish with our PTO. We are fortunate in that we have very active parents at our school and also lots of families who give very generously and I know that’s not the case for everyone so I do want to caveat that upfront. It definitely takes a village!! But the most popular question by far was what has worked for us, what’s been the most profitable fundraisers, and everyone asking to give more creative ideas for ways to raise money so here we go:
- INVEST Campaign | rather than sell cookie dough, wrapping paper or anything else to our kids’ families, each year we hava a fundraiser where we ask each family to donate a specific $$$ amount for each child at our school. We have a theme each year for what we plan to do with the money and these types of initiatives always benefit the entire school. For instance, the year I served as INVEST chair we were wanting to supplement the new media center that had just been built, another year we were building a new lower grade playground, another year we installed water filtration stations throughout the school, last year we got new soccer goals and we also fund an extra staff member’s salary… big money, yes, but things that are super important so don’t be afraid to make the ask = we have found that parents are more likely to give when they know it’s going to affect their kids daily routine and have a lasting impact for years to come! Within that campaign, we also have a week-long celebration filled with dress-up days, fun lunchtime events, and then wrap it all up with a HUGE carnival-style event that’s free to everyone to attend with food, bounce houses, snow cone trucks, yard activities, live entertainment and more. The perfect way to say THANKS and share how much money we raised with our school!
- Drive-In Movie Night | When COVID attacked our “normal” school fundraising plans, we had to get creative and think extremely out of the box and so we hosted a drive-in movie night for all our families, teachers and staff. Luckily for us, a local company had just started renting out a parking lot to do these so not only were we able to raise money for our school, but we were helping other local businesses stay afloat! You simply purchased a family ticket for the event, then we assembled treat bags with candy/popcorn/drinks/etc and you picked them up when you drove in. We were able to raise over $20,000 in one evening and it was such a great way to see people, while still maintaining a safe distance.
- Book Fair | Our annual book fair is a celebration every single person involved with our school looks forward to. It’s a well oiled machine, as we’ve had some amazing women in charge of this event for years and we partner with Scholastic, who are very easy and make it super simple to execute. We select a theme for the year and then decorate the media center/library with that in mind. We send sign-up geniuses out to parents to help volunteer throughout the week and the classes come 1-2 times during that timeframe to shop. A lot of years we align book fair with grandparent’s day so their extended family can come shop with them = plus we all know they will let the kids get anything the parents say no to. Another great fundraising opportunity that sends money directly into the school!
- Silent + Live Auction | Ohhh this still haunts me in my sleep even though I chaired this event 4 years ago. It’s a full time job in of itself, but WOW, it makes a lot of money. We use BidCoz to host our online auction and spend weeks uploading the items, taking product shots, picking up the goods, inventorying what we have up for grabs, etc. It truly takes a village, but the result is well worth the hard work. We also do a live auction with large items at our INVEST event = think vacation homes, experiences + travel, summer camp giveaways, teacher experiences, local sporting games/signed footballs, it can get VERY competitive! Don’t be afraid to ask for small businesses in your community to help. They get free publicity and a lot have give-back campaigns with schools/non-profits so it’s a win for all parties.
- Spirit Wear | You want to look the part and year after year spiritwear proves to be one of our favorite things for parents and kids alike. We always like to add new product and design options, soecific items for boys and girls, and of course adult goods, too. These always come in handy for spirit days, family events, local football games and more.
- Other Events and Family Fun Ideas | I think our motto it GO BIG OR GO HOME because we are constantly hosting an event or planning something special at our school! Here are a number of the annual events we organize for everyone: Son and One Bowling, Daddy Daughter Dance, Golf Scramble, Tennis Social, Art Show, Fall Food Drive, Talent Show, School Musical, Kindergarten Banquet and Letter Parade, Skate Nights, Songwriter’s Night, and a ton of others.
So there you have it!!! I hope this helps share more about what a PTO does for the school, how it interacts with parents and teachers, and maybe gives you a few unique ideas to incorporate into your organization as well.