How to get parents to show up for PTO events

How to Parents to Show Up for Your PTO Events

Have you ever planned an awesome PTO event and thought you’d have a ton of families show up for the event, but in reality, no one comes?  So frustrating!

One of the biggest reasons why parents don’t show up to PTO events is that they’re simply not finding out about they event! It’s not like they wouldn’t want to come to a night of free event, filled with entertainment at the school that their family would love.  The main reason that they’re not coming is that they probably didn’t hear about the event, so they couldn’t come.

How to fix this issue?

Your PTO needs to get the information out there. To publicize it in a myriad of ways so that you’re reaching parents where they will see your post.

Basically, you’ll have to publicize events numerous times, in different ways, on different platforms to increase the odds of parents finding out about the event.  Keep putting the info out there, even if you think it’s too much. Because chances are they haven’t seen your flyer because their kid trashed it before they had a chance to see it, or your Facebook post hasn’t show up in their feed yet.

I’ve compiled a list of 21 places to publicize PTO events, so check out the post for the specifics. It’s really easier than you think to spread the word, especially after you’ve done it once.

What to say?

And when you publicize the event, your PTO needs to be super clear about the details of the event, namely the when and the where.  Usually what’s happening at the event is clear, but the other details might not be.

Many PTO leaders get caught up on how to word things. If this is you and you need some guidance on the best way to word flyers, announcements and other communications about PTO, check out this video.

Parents are busy, and have tons of information coming at them, so sometimes they miss the finer details.  And sometimes they miss the not so fine details too.  Like the location.

See, back when my kids were at the lower elementary school, the PTA would put on an annual carnival.  The amount of the games and booths we had made it impossible to hold at the elementary school, so it was always hosted at either the Junior High or High School.  All of the flyers home and posters around school made the location very clear.  

Yet every year we would have families going to the elementary school, thinking the carnival was there!  To make sure these families didn’t miss out on the carnival fun, we always made sure to post signs at the elementary school with the right location. Sure enough, a few families would make it to the right place and comment how happy they were to have been literally pointed in the right direction.

Design Matters

Another major factor in whether or not parents “see” the written publicity around a specific event depends on the design of the post or flyer.

If posting on Facebook, include a graphic! It’s a surefire attention getter and decreases the likelihood of folks scrolling right on past your event post. Format the post so it’s easy to read by breaking up longer paragraphs of text to make it scannable.

If you’re creating a flyer, purchase a template if you’re not familiar with good design principals. A cluttered flyer with a ton of different fonts and poorly proportioned elements can be really off-putting and most won’t even look at it. This post has advice on how to design flyers, if you’re included to totally DIY it.

Ideal Communications Timeline for Bigger PTO Events

Taking a big event like a carnival as an example, here is the timeline we generally followed as far as publicity for the event. How we publicized the carnival also generated interest and provided incentives for coming along the way too.

  • 6 months out: Announce the date in the annual calendar of events and on district calendar
  • 1 month out: Re-announce the date, location and time in PTA newsletter, and on Facebook and put up posters around the school and facing out on entrance doors
  • 2/3 weeks out: Send home donation and volunteer requests with paper flyers, in PTA newsletter and on Facebook.  For indoor recess, have kids color carnival coloring pages.
  • 1 week out: Send event, donation and volunteer reminder in PTA newsletter, paper flyer and on Facebook
  • Week of: Send home color sheet good for 2 free game tickets home with every completed coloring page brought to the event, make daily announcements about the event during morning announcements, and on Facebook.  Some years a carnival program was sent home and reminder stickers were attached to every student the day before the event.

That’s heckuva lot of reminders and opportunities for parents to realize that this is a big event and that their child will be upset if they miss out on all the fun!  The years when we really nailed the publicity part of the event made for the most successful and well attended events… as long as the weather cooperated for this Winter-time event! So never forget to include the crucial communications piece as part of the event planning process.

Who’s In Charge?

Having a dedicated volunteer that specialized in promoting PTO events is one of 9 absolute must have PTO positions, in my opinion. This is a great position for volunteers who don’t feel particularly creative as well as newer PTO volunteers looking to get their feet wet, but not fully jump into a position with a larger time commitment. Instead of delegating the PR tasks, it’s easier to create a stand alone position that’s in charge of communications full time, so suggest this change for your group if you don’t already have a Communications Chair.

Watch This!

Want even more tips on how to get parents to show up to PTO events?  Watch this video:

How to Get Parents to Show Up for Your PTO Events | Parent Involvement Tips for your PTA

Over to you!

Hope this post has given you a different perspective on exactly why parents aren’t coming to your PTO events. Let it serve as a reminder that it’s not because they don’t care, but rather that they’re busy and the name of communication game has drastically changed. There’s a ton of information coming at parents on the daily and your PTO will have to go what used to be considered above and beyond in order to cut though the noise to reach families.

Recommended Resources

Get a head start on publicizing your PTO’s events for the year by giving every family their own copy of your calendar for the year! This Calendar of Events Template is easy to tweak for your group and provides a one-sheeter of everything students and families have to look forward to for the year!

A monthly PTO newsletter is a fantastic way to give a quick summary of what the PTO has planned for students and the school. It’s also a great way to keep teachers in the loop.

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