How to Structure a Parent Group Organization
Let’s start with the obvious --- running a parent group is hard. How many times have you asked yourself “what was I thinking taking on this role?” Whether your parent organization is called a PTO, PTA, HSA, PA, PTG, or PTP (I will collectively refer to them as "Parent Groups"), the mission of the group tends to be the same – increase school community engagement through effective fundraising, school-wide events and traditions, and classroom events. Just as we like to say it takes a village to educate a child, it can feel like it takes an army of villagers to handle all the parent group events.
So how is this typically accomplished? Volunteers, volunteers, and more volunteers. What I find interesting is that the smaller the school, which implies the less parents that can volunteer, the more needs there are for volunteers. This is because smaller schools have smaller budgets and cannot hire full-time employees to handle such things as business development, marketing, and technology.
The parent group itself is a volunteer organization so needing volunteers is nothing new. However, most of the parent groups I talk to say the same thing --- they have the same 20 percent of the people doing 80 percent of the work. From my various conversations, I think I’ve figured out why Parent Groups are always working from behind.
It starts with timing and organization. New Parent Groups are established in the spring of the prior school year, but many will admit that perhaps it bleeds into the end of that school year, like May or June. Summer comes quickly and the next thing you know its back-to-school time and you don’t have your fundraising calendar, your events calendar, or your committees fully staffed. It’s the first day of school and you are three months behind.
The key is to get the Parent Group board established quickly in April and the committee leads assigned prior to summer. From there, it becomes an organizational effort. Most people just accept the organization structure that was in place before, but let’s assume we can start from scratch and create a new Parent Group structure. What should this organization look like? While this could vary from school to school, I have developed a standard structure that you could use as a starting point.
The Executive Board
Most executive boards have the same positions – President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary. There were a few that also included the Past President, which I think is a great idea to help with transitions and provide a level of continuity to the group. This does not have to be an official board role, but is beneficial to both the new President and School Principal.
The Parent Group President works in partnership with the school principal. There are some schools where the Parent Group is very influential and there are others where it is less involved. Either way, the principal and Parent Group president must be on the same page with the overall purpose, role, and scope of the Parent Group organization. This needs to be documented, communicated, and reviewed frequently to help protect against issues that can surely arise from both parents and faculty.
I hear from many Catholic schools that their partnership with the parish can always be improved. The school is typically one of the biggest missions of the church, yet there are times when it may not feel like they are coordinated or supported as such. To help bridge this gap, its imperative that the Parent Group organization have some level of representation on applicable parish committees to help identify opportunities for coordinating efforts.
Recommended Parent Group Org Structure
The purpose of the following organization chart is to create a starting point for Parent Group Leaders. The goal is for you to tailor this to your needs. Following the org chart are detailed descriptions of the recommended set of committees, which is the primary execution arm of the Parent Group. This is where the work gets done.
The real meat is in the committee roles. I’ve seen some Parent Group Organizations that stop at the Board positions and everything else is up-for-grab by volunteers, while others are far more formalized with established roles for almost any event the school organizes throughout the school year. I reviewed hundreds of sites dedicated to Parent Groups and dozens of documents outlining the Parent Group organization and responsibilities. The ones I found most compelling are below.
To identify, manage, and execute events designed to raise money for the school (use of funds should be agreed upon between School and Parent Group Leadership and should be communicated to the school community).
- Works with school business manager on setting fundraising goals for each year
- Identifies primary fundraising events for the year and goals for each
- Creates fundraising calendar at beginning of year for communication
- Identifies leads for each primary fundraising event
- Provides overall direction and support to each event lead
- Helps identify overall local business sponsorship opportunities across events
- Helps promote event to school community
- Identifies and utilizes appropriate tools to track involvement and success metrics
- Analyzes results, works with Principal and Parent Group President on what works
- Oversees efforts to engage alumni and to maintain an alumni database
Some schools may employ a full-time Business Development or Director of Advancement that address some of these functions; therefore, the scope of this committee depends on how much is already being performed by school leadership.
To promote school community volunteering and to provide an easy, transparent, consistent, and secure way for prospective volunteers to engage.
· Promote benefits and value of community volunteerism at the school
· Provide overall direction to the community regarding volunteering eligibility
· Set forth volunteering purpose, goals, and metrics
· Work with other committees to identify volunteer needs, both upfront and throughout the school-year
· Create and communicate guidance for how volunteering is conducted at the school
· Establish how goals are set, how results are tracked and communicated
· Provide mechanism for event owners to create volunteering requests and ability to track metrics
· Support event owners in identifying volunteers to meet their needs
· Set guidelines for how volunteering metrics are tracked (e.g., hours, credits, points)
Room Parent Coordinator
To partner with classroom teachers in promoting classroom level events and communications to parents of that grade.
· Coordinator: Identify room parent reps for each grade
· Coordinator: Document role of room parent rep, purpose, schedule
· Coordinator: Disseminate key information that should be communicated by the room parents
· Coordinator: Represent room parent interests at Parent Group meetings
· Room Reps: Work with teacher to identify classroom events for the year
· Room Reps: Communicate, according to schedule, with families in that grade
· Room Reps: Organize classroom events and identify volunteer needs
Social and Community Events
To identify, manage, and execute events designed to promote stronger school community bonds.
· Identify all events for the school year in coordination with other committees
· Create a social and community events calendar at the beginning of the year
· Identify leads for each event
· Identify costs for each event and work with Exec Board on funding strategies
· Support leads in identifying volunteering needs for each event
· Help promote overall event to school community
Marketing and Communications
To partner with the school to market and communicate school value with the goal of increasing enrollment through acquisition of new families and retention of current families.
· Work with school principal on overall marketing plan and schedule for the school
· Identify parent support and involvement in marketing events
· Promote parents to follow school on social media
· Promote parents to write-up positive reviews on relevant school review sites
· Oversee a parent ambassador group to help with open houses and other events
· Help school run digital media ad campaigns to promote school and marketing events
· Create and distribute a Parent Group specific communication
· Ensure that all events, traditions are attended where someone is capturing photos and videos
· Maintain a media asset area where school can utilize media in marketing campaigns
· Help secure parent, teacher, alumni, and student testimonials
Some schools may employ a full-time Marketing and Communications Director that address some of these functions; therefore, the scope of this committee depends on how much is already being performed by school leadership.
To partner with school leadership and school technology resources (e.g., technology integration employee, technology teacher, school technology committee) specifically on the integration of technology at the school that is meant for school-parent adoption (i.e., this does NOT include learning technologies employed by teachers in the classroom, but rather software used by the Parent Group or software employed by school front office).
· School-Related: Work with School Leadership on establishing a technology vision and plan for the school
· School-Related: Help the school identify network, hardware, space, software, and device needs
· School-Related: Help the school with roll-outs and overall user adoption of new technologies by parents
· Parent Group: identify, select, and implement technologies that better enable committee functions
· Parent Group: Work with school leadership on funding (e.g., technology fee, Parent Group fee, part of tuition)
Some schools may employ a full-time Technology Integration Specialist that address some of these functions; therefore, the scope of this committee depends on how much is already being performed by the school.
Grounds and Facilities
To partner school leadership in developing and monitoring long-term facility maintenance, capital improvements, security, space utilization and emergency management plans for the school.
· Design and monitor long-term maintenance plans for the school
· Design and monitor a long-term capital improvement plan for the school
· Outline and recommend procedures for use of the school building during non-school hours
· Assesses future facility needs in light of curriculum and enrollment goals
· Reviews space utilization plan in light of the school’s strategic plan
· Create and manage an Asset Schedule for the building, equipment, and systems
· Review plans and propose improvements for environmental health and safety
· Review plans and propose improvements for student transportation and traffic safety
· Review plans and propose improvements for property security and crisis management
· Recommend required expenditures for facility maintenance, repairs, and improvements
· Work with Technology Committee to ensure school infrastructure can support future needs
Businesses that have paid employees have a difficult time identifying effective organization structures. This is exponentially harder when trying to organize volunteers that can change from year-to-year. That being said, this is not an unsolvable problem. Take this template of an organization structure, meet with your principal and tweak it for what you think best serves your needs. Having a documented organization structure provides clarity to your volunteers, thereby making it easier for them to operate. The structure also needs to match the skill sets in your school community. Know the talents and intellectual capital in your community and structure around those talents. People are more apt to volunteer what they are good at. It takes special people to volunteer for Parent Groups which is why I believe this type of structure will work.