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PTO Planning During Uncertain Times

Understatement of the decade: This whole pandemic is throwing a wrench into normalcy on so many different levels!

But it’s not really helpful to not dwell on the fact that times are so uncertain.

Instead, let’s be productive and look forward to what we as PTA/PTO leaders do have control over!

Things won’t look or feel like we’re accustomed to for a while.

So how to realistically plan events for the upcoming school year?

And how to handle fundraising given the fact that the economy is a mess and so many are without a job right now?

Let’s get to all of that right now!

What Will the 2020-2021 School Year Look like?

So let’s talk about what the upcoming school year will possibly look like.

Truthfully, there are way too many factors involved to know anything with any amount of certainty right now, but there is some information we can use to make an educated guess on this topic.

It’s almost a certainty the kids will be out of the school building and doing some at home learning for at least a portion of the upcoming school year.

What’s more, I recently met with my children’s pediatrician, Dr. Shelly Senders.

His best “guess” (based on the known behavior of the virus, trends and research) is that we’ll be dealing with this for the next 18-24 months.

This lines up with what other medical experts are saying, so it should come as no surprise.

And here in the Cleveland area, and perhaps beyond (we didn’t talk about that), he’s envisioning a modified school schedule, perhaps from August through October or November and then April through June. 

All dates are -ish, depending on actual circumstances and factors.

Dr. Senders is very well regarded and participates in clinical research studies, so I respect and trust his insights deeply, and know these are educated observations and anticipations and not based on whims or biased opinions.

You can follow more of Dr. Senders’ insights about the virus and what you can do to help you and your family on this website

With this timeline and anticipated school outage, here’s what this means for PTA/PTO groups.

Potential Impact for PTA/PTOs

School being out for any time next year will make for a rocky year for PTOs.

To add to Dr. Senders’ estimations, I can foresee in-person after school activities and youth sports being cancelled outright, especially during the Winter months of 2020-2021.

Unfortunately, this would undoubtedly include PTA/PTO events and programs.

A worst case scenario for sure, but definitely in the realm of possibilities.

But does this mean there’s nothing for PTO/PTAs to do this next year?

Absolutely not!

The Long Haul

Ok, so with the 18-24 month timeline in mind, let’s all say what we’re feeling: UGH!

This is hard information to process and consider.

The reality of what this means.

It’s too hard to say right now if things will turn out to be true since there are so many variables. 

And honestly, this is pretty much speculation until our state and local leaders make their decisions.

Not to say we should write off this information because it’s hard to hear!

I find it’s best to plan for the worst and then celebrate when the worst doesn’t happen.

Because that’s how things usually work out!

The reality of how long we’ll have to deal with the virus itself, or related fallout, makes it uncomfortable to think about.

But what we really need is to adjust our expectations for what the next two years will look like:

School and activities will be interrupted and won’t be able to go on like usual.

Stay out of Woulda Coulda Shoulda Land and stay with me here in reality and common sense planning.

Planning Events for the 2020-2021 School Year

Going in anticipating the broken up school year will take different approach and planning.

My suggestion is to definitely plan things out with great flexibility.

Get ready to be more flexible and fluid than ever before!

Be prepared to cancel if necessary and anticipate there might be some last minute alterations of your planned activities.

Have good communication methods in place.

Re-imagine Events

Instead of cancelling events when school is out, make them happen in other ways.

For example, move events online in re-imagined forms when possible.

Getting creative is easiest when you’re clear about the goal of the event.

For example, one goal of PTOs are to bring families together, and provide opportunities for kids and parents to connect.

Take a Daddy Daughter Dance.

You might not be able to host a Butterfly Ball like you’ve always wanted to, but how about if you hosted an online dance party?

Pick a theme, give lots of notice so everyone can participate by dressing up to suit the theme and then set up a Zoom or Google Meet event!

Create a hashtag for families to upload clips of them dancing together or pictures on Instagram.

Give out small prizes for best dressed or most creative interpretation of theme.

Provide an opportunity for families to have fun together!

Need inspiration? Check out Some Good News.

John Krasinski’s done a fabulous job of bringing people together to have fun to sort of replace time honored events like prom.

Word to the wise: don’t plan too many online events.

Aim for one a month or less.

The novelty of meeting up online is going to wear out eventually, so strategically plan!

Working with Vendors

Vendors will be willing to work with you because they need the business too.

Be careful about giving deposits.

You never know when a company may go out of business and you’ll lose your deposit with nothing to show but an uncollectible debt.

If a vendor insists on a deposit, negotiate the smallest deposit possible.

Offer to give 25% of the normal deposit to reserve the date, with the balance paid a week out from the event or on the day of the event.

Putting a smaller deposit down reduces your PTO’s risk, and is a generally good practice to get into the habit of doing all the time!


I’ll be blunt: Don’t fundraise for the sake of fundraising.

This is always good advice, but now so more than ever.

Look at how much money you have the in the bank.

Take the events you have planned for the year and the other obligations you have.

If you have a scholarship program, for example, make sure to leave sufficient funding for that.

After you’ve taken all of that into consideration, how much will you be left with at the end of the year to roll over to the 2021-2022 school year?

The economic fallout from this pandemic has made it clear the world is headed into a recession, and it’s likely to be a few years before a full recovery.

So PTA/PTOs are going to have to use their money more wisely than they’ve had to before.

Your group will definitely want to roll over a good amount so that the 2021-2022 school year doesn’t start off with money trouble.

For the next few years, it’s an almost certainty that fundraising is likely to be more difficult than it has been in the past.

So if you have a tidy sum socked away, strongly consider taking your foot off of the fundraising gas pedal.

Now’s the time to cut back on programming and events dip into your savings.

Only do a fundraiser if you need it.

Be transparent about what you’re asking for and why your group needs it.

But also don’t assume families don’t have the money or that now’s not the time to fundraise.

Make the ask and see if people will pitch in.

Don’t assume you already know the answer!

Move fundraisers online too

The good and the bad news is that everyone is being hit with this tough economy.

But this means that you don’t have to invent the wheel yourself!

Others are approaching fundraising from a different angle too, so you can learn from them.

Take Instagram, for example.

They’ve rolled out a new way for non-profits to fundraise directly on the platform.

And it’s not that hard to set up and get going!

Check out this article for more details!

The fundamentals of good fundraising never go out of style.

Bottom Line

It’s time more than ever to make sure you’re planning and fundraising smartly!

Do a hard think about your group’s mission and goals and stay closely aligned to those mission and goals.

Get creative and be open to doing things in a new way or not doing things that have always been done.

Look for opportunities.

It’s hard to say what opportunities exist for you in your community, but I know this for sure: kindness matters.

Small things mean a lot.

So instead of focusing on large and grand, scale down and plan smart.

Less is more when the outside world has been rocked.

Be consistent in your support without feeling like you have to be everything to everyone.

Take care of yourself and your family first.

Then help others.

Watch this!

PTO Planning During Uncertain Times

Recommended Leader Resources

The best way to get prepared for any school year as a PTA/PTO officer is to get educated and line up the tools and resources you’ll need to make your life easier!

The Complete PTA/PTO Organizing and Planning Collection is the answer leaders turn to time and again.

With 17 different resources, there’s something for every leader in your group!

There’s no better way to get prepped for the upcoming year than with the comprehensive guides, checklists and plans you’ll find in this bundle.

Best of all, your PTO/PTA will use these resources year after year, making it a brilliant investment for your group!

Over to you!

How is your PTO/PTA planning for the upcoming school year in all of this uncertainty?

Let’s chat about it in the comments below!

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