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4 Reasons Why Parents are Running Screaming From Your PTO

The number one, virtually universal problem for PTOs these days is that groups don’t have enough volunteers.  Some days, it seems like ready volunteers are rarer than walking out of Target with only what’s on your list. 

Well, there may be very good reason for this problem and I’m going to get super honest in this post and dive into why parents are literally running away from your PTO. Let’s get to it!

Your Group is a Hot Mess

Fact: Parent volunteers will run away, wildly screaming from PTOs that are a disorganized mess. 

Is your group on the same page with what’s happening, when events are happening and who’s in charge?  Do PTO members beyond the executive board know all of this information?

No?!?!?!   Then your group might be a hot mess.

Listen, I’m going to give it to you straight.  Parents are not going to get involved with your group if it seems messy or complicated. 

People are busy these days and they want to do things that are easy.  Disorganized groups are NOT easy or fun.  And unfortunately, not all people have the patience to deal with groups that aren’t well run.

I’ve had direct experience with this situation and I bet you have too… 

Have you ever gone to a meeting on a topic you were really interested in, but once you were there, you could sense that things were off in some way? 

Maybe people were talking over each other. 

Maybe there was no printed agenda and only the leader of the group seemed to know what was going on. 

Maybe there was no pre-planning of the meeting and things that could’ve been figured out in a small committee meeting were being hashed out in agonizing full detail?

These are all indicators of a group that’s not functioning well.  Maybe not complete dysfunction, but getting there for sure…

Now, I’m not saying that every group has to be perfectly organized with things “just so.”  But they certainly can’t be anywhere close to what I’ve described to be attractive to new volunteers.

Parents just won’t keep showing up for that kind of a group.

Bad Timing

If your PTO is doing everything last minute, that’s also another reason why parents won’t bother to get involved with your PTO.

Are you working on a just-in-time strategy with everything PTO?  Then that’s going to cause you to fail big time

You need to be planning well in advance.  In fact, your PTO really needs to know what is going on for the year and when it’s happening with an overarching master plan.  And in addition to planning well in advance, the PR for the events should be happening well in advance also.  Because the vast majority of parents can’t operate with last minute notice.

Plus, being Last Minute Lucy with volunteer requests isn’t only a sign of being super disorganized, but also it’s not being respectful of parents’ time.  Most busy parents just can’t accommodate last minute requests, even if it’s something you really want to support.  They’ll feel like an afterthought and that their help isn’t actually needed or wanted if given the short shrift.  With advance warning, parents can totally make things happen and will show up!  But not if you ask with little to no heads up.

Bottom line: Your PTO should be respectful of parents’ time by giving them an opportunity to lend a hand as they have time.  Avoid having everything be a last minute, gotta-happen-right-now sort of help request.  This sort of late timing reeks of disorganization, which parents will avoid like the plague.

Your PTO is Doing Too Much

Now this point might be a little controversial, but you’re here for the straight talk, right?  I’ll get to it then: Your PTO could be scaring off parents by doing too stinkin’ much. 

I get to see what’s going on with hundreds of PTAs and PTOs inside my community for PTA/PTO leaders.  And I gotta say, too many are focused on the minutia and not the larger, overarching goals of the group.  I always advocate for doing larger goal setting at the beginning of the year (actually during Summer Break), and then planning everything else based on those goals.  It’s really how you move the ball down the field towards to goal line and feel like your year has been successful.

For example, take a recent fundraising plan someone pitched.  First, they’re planning to write grants. And then hold a pie sale.  And have restaurant nights.  And then hold a bake sale. And then have a candy fundraiser in the Spring, and this and then that and the list of fundraisers went on and on and on!  It was entirely too much.

The focus seemed on like being busy rather than being strategic.

What this group is missing out on is that all of these fundraisers consume a lot of time, but don’t produce a lot of money, which is a another good conversation for different time. 

When this happens, parents see members and leaders of the PTO stressed out from the never ending schedule of fundraisers. They don’t have time for that (and neither do you, if we’re being perfectly honest!).

I’m pretty sure this fundraising plan came about because the volunteers were focused on what they could do as fundraisers without regard to the fundraising goal, which if they’d compared their list of proposed fundraisers to, they’d realize they would end up running themselves ragged and not come very close to reaching their overall goal.

You’re Always There

Something else that scares off parents is when they see you’re at the school all the time. Let the Elementary aged volunteers hear me out on this one!

Even if you’re actually not actually always at school helping out, merely the impression that you are can be a huge turnoff to parents. 

All of this will lead them to think that they wouldn’t be able to do what you do as a PTO volunteer.  That’s they shouldn’t even try because constant presence is required or expected.  And that belief can be enough for some parents to totally opt out of the entire process.  This is a sad realization, but one that I’ve heard so many times.  The tip-off words Super Star leaders will hear are “I don’t know how you do it all” or “When do you find time to sleep?”

I’m totally guilty of doing too much myself and there have been times when I’ve been able to successfully scale back, yet other times when that wasn’t possible.  But if you’re always doing everything, you’re ultimately going to dissuade others from even giving it a shot.  The volunteer role will look too overwhelming and unapproachable and parents will start avoiding eye contact with you.

Maybe you’re not even at school all the time.  Maybe you’re there like every day for a couple hours or three times a week for an hour so. But that is more than the average person can handle!  For your personal sanity long term, that’s even a bit much!

If the school cannot function without you, that’s also something you’re doing wrong as a PTO.  You’re supposed to be an extension of the school, but not a direct part of your school.  Be careful that you’re not blurring that line too much.  And I have a feeling that if you’re at school everyday, that line is getting crossed on the regular.

Basically, when there’s always something to be done and always some help that you need for your PTO, that drives most potential helpers away.   Because volunteers really do feel like they’re gonna get sucked into the black hole of volunteering and never get out.  

Bonus Reason: It’s Like Mean Girls Up in There

I’d be remiss to not include this last “bonus” reason why parents are not getting involved in your PTO.  It’s because people are perceiving your group as being a clique.  Now listen, PTOs get a really bad wrap about being cliquey, echoing Mean Girl or Bad Moms scenes. 

Your group is going to actively have to dispel this myth by being super open and welcoming.  Make sure new people feel warmly invited and included.  Go out of your way to ensure volunteers have a good experience.  Or else they won’t be back.  And they’ll tell their friends.

Read this post for more ideas and strategies for squashing this myth.

Watch This!

Why Volunteers are Running from Your PTO | Parent Involvement Tips for PTA

Over to You!

If your PTO is having trouble attracting or retaining volunteers, I hope this post has shed some light on some likely reasons.  Because once you know the cause, you can take steps to remedy the situation to begin growing a healthy group with plentiful helpers!

Resources You Might Like

Looking for a shortcut to more volunteers? Get this plug and play Parent Involvement Success Kit! It’s Everything a PTO Membership Chair or PTA Membership Chair needs to run a successful membership drive and increase parent engagement. The printable forms and templates make getting parents involved as volunteers and members easy!

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