The definitive guide to the PTA
The Classlist guide to the PTA, Parent Teacher Association
Nearly everything you need to know about PTA meetings, fundraising and volunteers
You’re involved in your parent teacher association because you want to make a difference to your child’s education. But it isn’t always easy to run a successful parent group. Despite the best intentions, volunteer groups don’t always work well together. Luckily there are ways to ensure that your one does!
At Classlist, we have all volunteered on our own children’s school PTAs, so we know how to help. Our advice is to treat your parents association like a business. Here’s how:
In this post we’ll share with you;
- How to organise your parent association and run your PTA meetings like a pro
- The best school fundraising ideas, including second hand school uniform
- How to set up your school’s Classlist community so that it grows and grows
- How to communicate confidently with parents and staff
- How to recruit more parent volunteers to help at PTA events
What is a PTA and why does it matter?
What does PTA stand for? Parent Teacher Associations are the backbone of your school community as it stretches beyond the school gate and into the wider world. The incredible work done by parent volunteers in schools all comes under the remit of the parent teacher association, whether it is called the Parent Association (PA), Parents Association, Friends of, the PTA or the PTO (parent teacher organisation).
Here, parents bring their unique skills together to organise fundraising events, school community building events and also initiatives that help the school play its important role in the wider community.
Volunteering in your school’s parents association is a great way to get to know other families and to do your bit for the community.
It’s not just about raising funds to buy that much-needed electronic whiteboard, or to build a music room. It’s about bringing people together in a collective force for good.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill
Parent association volunteers don’t simply raise money for school. They also step in to help at social events that bring whole families together. They volunteer as reading helpers in school and they support parents who are going through difficult times.
Schools love their volunteer army of helpers who are also positive about their school and spread the word to other families.
And you might be surprised to hear how much children - especially primary school age children - love seeing their parents in school. A quick cuddle or a wave across the hall gives your child a little boost that will keep them going all day. You get to know the teachers and to see what goes on behind closed doors.
How to organise your parent association and run meetings like a pro
Set up your parent association for success
If you are the new chair of the parent association, set it up for success from the start. We advise treating it like a business - that way, you can be strategic about how it is managed and what you want to achieve this year. You’ll be able to track progress and handle any curve-balls that are sent your way! You’ll communicate confidently with parents and school staff, increasing your volunteer numbers and profits.
Set your goal: here are a few suggestions;
- Creating a positive, inclusive school community
- Providing extra opportunities for our children
- Fundraising for amazing equipment
- Offering the extras that enhance education
How do parent associations work?
Taking the business approach to run your parent association also means creating job descriptions for your volunteers! People are more likely to volunteer if they understand exactly what they are signing up for. It also means there are no grey areas or overlapping duties so no time is wasted.
We have helped you here with a few suggested job descriptions. You’ll want to tweak these to fit your school’s set up and requirements but here’s a good starting point!
Main duty: To have the final say on PTA decisions.
Key jobs: To make all committee members feel welcome and valued; to set the PTA agenda; to provide leadership; to co-write the annual PTA report.
Needs to be: Enthusiastic, calm; good at listening; decisive.
Main duty: To support the work of the PTA Chair.
Key jobs: To step in for the Chair when the Chair is absent; to work with the Chair to see the PTA runs smoothly and communicates well.
Needs to be: Supportive, enthusiastic; energetic; organised.
Main duty: To oversee the PTA’s financial affairs.
Key jobs: To manage accounts; do banking and maintain up-to-date financial records.
Needs to be: Reliable; organised; good with numbers.
Main duty: To keep up-to-date records of PTA activity.
Key jobs: To organise PTA meetings; to prepare and distribute agendas and minutes; to build strong relationships with key school staff – including the office staff and caretakers.
Needs to be: Organised; good at time management and friendly.
The Class Rep
Main duty: To support the parents in their class.
Key jobs: To organise class coffees, answer parent questions, send out weekly reminders to parents.
Needs to be: Be social and read the school newsletters.
The Risk Assessment Guru
Main duty: To make risk assessments of any proposed PTA events.
Key jobs: To discuss potential risks in any event with the PTA and help to consider ways of minimising or eliminating that risk.
Needs to be: Detail-conscious; logical and thoughtful.
The Grants Officer
Main duty: To investigate trusts and organisations who might donate money to the school.
Key jobs: To look for wider opportunities for bringing money into the school.
Needs to be: Good at writing; organised; ideally with a background in fundraising.
⭐️ Classlist top tip: Use whole school announcements to reach more parents at your school with your messages. Advertise PTA roles, skills or call out for small favours your PTA needs.
If you haven’t heard the term ‘class rep’ before your child starts school, you will soon be enlightened! It’s the role that everyone gets asked to take on at least once a year, if not on a rolling termly basis. Don’t balk though - being Class Rep can bring fantastic benefits in terms of making friends for you and your child as well as that warm feeling of giving something back.
- Class Reps help to spread the PTA load. Class Reps are committed to helping the PTA. With them on board, there are instantly more people to help at PTA events and make the committee a success.
- Class Reps are brilliant at building a school community. When one parent in every class takes on responsibility for bringing parents in that class together, parental engagement with the school rises.
- Class Reps help to find volunteers. Class Reps know the skills and abilities of parents in their class, so they can help find the right volunteers for different fundraising events, for example running the second hand school uniform shop.
- Class Reps help stop the PTA from seeming clique-y. If people know (and like) a Class Rep, that makes the PTA seem instantly more accessible. The more accessible the PTA is, the more people want to get involved.
- Class Reps improve communication. Class Reps are a simple way of helping get PTA messages out to the school – and a good way of keeping the PTA in touch with parental views.
Find two fun way to recruit Class Reps here.
How to run your PTA meetings like a pro
We’ve all heard horror stories of parents association meetings going on for hours. No-one wants to discuss bunting for 40 minutes! It’s true that the best management style is collaborative, but you’ll need to take control of the meetings so that everyone is heard and everyone listens too.
Before your meeting we suggest you;
- Write an agenda, with allocated time for each topic
- Share this via Classlist so that everyone has a chance to suggest additional agenda items before the meeting
- Share documents before the meeting using Classlist so that everyone can read the information before they arrive
- Assign someone to take minutes
As Chair, you aren’t there to do most of the talking, you’re there to manage the flow of the meeting and keep it ticking along.
Set the time and date to suit most if not all participants. You won’t be able to please everyone so go with the majority. Make this date a regular thing and schedule it into everyone’s calendars using Classlist’s events feature. We suggest a morning meeting with breakfast (Friday is the most common no-working day) or an evening gathering with drinks. Food and drink always help!
Be a great host, with a friendly welcome and introduce new people. Make it fun - just like you would for all PTA events!
Share the minutes after the event so that everyone know what is going on.
⭐️ Classlist top tip: ask your wider school community to vote on smaller decisions. That way you’re publicising the work of your association AND including everyone!
Click for more parent association management tips:-
The most successful school fundraising ideas
The best IRL and virtual fundraising PTA events
A huge part of the benefits of having Classlist in your school is having an easy events planner at your fingertips. Using Classlist you can announce events, receive RSVPs and ticket payments, recruit volunteers and share photos and successes.
But first you have to come up with a really good idea for your school fundraiser to boost your takings. We’ve reached out to our community and asked them for their best, most lucrative and most enjoyable in-person and virtual school fundraising events.
The general cycle of school fundraising events includes regular cake sales, a Christmas party, the summer fair, quiz nights and no school uniform day. Throw in a few additional new events and you’ll reinvigorate your fundraising efforts and rev up your community - all so important after the year we’ve had.
Here’s a selection of fantastic alternative school fundraisers;
- Sleepover at school
- Using technology to run the second hand school uniform shop
- Silent auctions
- Family fun run
- Freezing Fridays - sell ice pops
- Mothers and Fathers Day stalls
- Movie night
- Buy a popcorn machine - wheel it out at every event
Sell tickets for school fundraising events on Classlist and you’ll save hours of time and hassle
Here are 10 of the best virtual or online school fundraising ideas
Including How to run a virtual quiz night
Listen to Jenni Walker, Friends Committee Chair, St Edwards School, Oxford (Teddies) describe how she and her team adapted their approach to incorporate a highly successful online events programme. And the end result - significant positive parent engagement.
Download a free PTA Event and Fundraising Ideas Guide packed with a mix of in-person and virtual fundraising event ideas, tips and tricks.
Your guide to seasonal PTA events
- Summer fair checklist
- Summer fair stall ideas
- PTA Summer event ideas
- Halloween party ideas
- School Christmas fair
- PTA movie night
- School uniform sales
1. Double your event profits with match funding - ask parents if their employers run match funding schemes
2. Earn money as parents spend online, using automatic donations raised by Amazon Smile or Easyfundraising.
3. Ask parents to support with actions not money. Check out Ralloo, which partners fundraisers with brands willing to sponsor them in exchange for a bit of engagement, either answering a survey or tweeting about the brand.
4. Be entrepreneurs
Parents associations are making the most of the talents in their community, selling cookery books of favourite recipes, or books about fun summer activities for children. Put out a call to your school community for ideas on the Classlist app. You can set up a dedicated community group on Classlist for people who are interested in getting it off the ground. Or, put a call out to the school community for ideas.
5. Earn money when advertisers appear on Classlist
Classlist is free for parents & PTAs to use and is funded by select relevant parent-focused advertising on the app. PTAs who recommend local businesses to advertise on their Classlist site receive a percentage of the revenue if the advertiser goes ahead. Contact our friendly advertising team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. It could be a great new role on your PTA for the right person and a new income stream for your school.
Listen to Charlotte Bullock, Former PTA Chair and PTA member of Latymer Upper School, West London. During Charlotte's tenure as Chair she launched her community in record time, established a range of interest groups to bring parents and school staff together and ran a highly successful Christmas Fair.
How to set up your school’s Classlist community so that it grows and grows
Here at Classlist we know that the real experts on using Classlist – those with the best tips, tactics and conversation openers to get parents on board – are Ambassadors and Class Reps themselves. So we’ve rounded up our favourite tips from Ambassadors and Class Reps across the Classlist Network. We’ve also crunched our data to find Ambassadors who have overseen rapid sign up at their schools and asked them to share their approaches.
Tip 1 - Take a staged approach to sign up when you’ve already got an email class list in your hand.
Different messages to parents at different stages is the key here as you move from parents who are eager to sign up and try out something new to those that are more wary. Then use the same blueprint to move on to other year groups and the rest of the school.
One Ambassador signed up nearly 400 parents in under four months using this method for each class. This was with no school input at all - no messages sent out by the school.
It starts with an email to all the parents in your class saying ‘This year we are going to try using an online class list, I’ll be sending you an invite’. This first invite usually results in over a third of parents signing up right away. These are your ‘early adopters’ - parents who are naturally inclined to try new things out.
The next week, send an email to the remaining parents saying: ‘It’s fantastic, over a third of parents have already signed up. I’m aware these things can go into junk or spam - please can you check your folder. I’m going to send you another invite just in case.’ You will likely get another quarter or third from this. These are those busy parents who meant to do it but just didn’t have time or who like to see what other people think of something first before getting onboard.
So now you have two-thirds.
Then email the remaining parents one at a time, perhaps a couple of days or a week later with a message along the lines of ‘We’ve now got two-thirds of the class on. You’re one of the few parents who haven’t signed up. Just checking if you got the invite? Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.’ The message for these parents is that you don’t want them to miss out - no one wants to miss out, right?
The good news is, as soon as you have invited other parents they’ll receive your announcements and community events. They can opt out if they don’t want to. It is worth putting the effort into inviting parents to Classlist, because right away you have a mailing list of all parents.
Tip 2 - No existing email class lists?
Take notes from how this primary school signed up close to the whole school in just two weeks. Methodical and organised are the words of the day.
In this case the PTA worked hard to pull together a list of email addresses - by putting forms in book bags before they launched the site. They invited all the parents as non-members in one go. With such a large number of parents invited at the same time the eager parents had a good number of parents to message on the site straight away. In addition, all parents received the invite and as non-members would get updates from the Classlist site and messages from the PTA from the get-go, encouraging them to join.
Tip 3 - Persistence pays off. Be helpful and make sure to tell parents it’s not obligatory.
“People are really busy ... I don't feel guilty about sending lots of invites as long as the conversation around it is really positive.
“Use the reasons for why they might not have signed up so that you look helpful: I’m just checking if you got the invite, or if you’ve got some questions please call me, or if you’ve been having trouble then let me know."
Dixie Stafford, Chair at St Albans
Tip 4 - Work with the school to capture new starters
"We have collaborated with our school and created a sign-up sheet to go in the School New Parent Application Packs that are sent out to all pupils starting our school in September.
“It introduces new parents to our PTA and asks them to provide their email address on an info sheet that’s sent back to the school along with all the official stuff the school requires - so we can invite them from Classlist and they receive all our emails from day one.
“Hopefully we capture all the info for each new year from now on and Class Reps have their job made even easier!
“We also had new joiners and leavers since our initial joining/inviting to Classlist. We now have a process in place with the school office to capture this info and update Classlist accordingly."
Samantha Elswood, Valley End C of E Infant School, Chobham
Tip 5 - post regularly on Classlist to make it interesting when parents first log on.
Ask questions that people will answer. Set up a simple event such as a coffee or pub night. Ask some friends to answer your questions. Mumsnet started by the founders posting questions and answering them themselves!
Tip 6 - get parents from the new intake on board at the beginning of the school year with a ‘meet and greet’ event.
"I think a really good way is to get new parents at the beginning of the school year. Every year we have ‘Meet the Parents’ - the PTA will do coffee and biscuits for the new parents.
"If you can go round with a clipboard, and say to people this is how we communicate and ask them for their email address and send them an invite, then you've got them already.
"We've done a mixture of this and advertising in the newsletter and sending out flyers... but if you can grab a whole cohort when they come in, then they move up the school with Classlist."
Kate Fry, PTA Chair Newnham Croft Primary School
Tip 7 - work the playground before sending out an initial sign up newsletter through the school office.
“Explain to them how it is going to make it easier for them. If you try and explain that it's going to make it easier for you, then they are not going to engage.
“We actually worked the playground a bit before we even sent the letter out to let people know, and see how people would feel about an electronic communication system.
“They were really positive, a lot of [parents] organise the rest of their lives electronically now - rather than with pieces of paper.
“Word of mouth before we sent out the letters really helped.”
Karen Ner, East Coker Primary School
Here’s another great read about why a dedicated PTA page on your schools’ website is so important.
How to communicate confidently with parents and staff
Bringing all your communications into one place is a good place to start! Using Classlist gives you total control of the messages going out to parents. We’ve all seen miscommunication spreading like wildfire on social media. It’s not often malicious, but can lead to an enormous amount of time wasted for office staff.
Parents love Classlist because they know they will be able to find the information they need. You’ll know it has been reliably shared. You can also be careful not to bombard parents with messages and requests when you have oversight of the whole communication process. You want to keep them on side, after all!
We recommend that you use a calendar to ensure your messages are going out in good time, so that parents have fair warning for requests and events. Use our ‘schedule announcements’ tool so you don’t have to remember repeat announcements and the ‘replicate event’ option for regular events. It will save you time and hassle.
⭐️ Classlist top tip: set up groups so that only the people who need to know about certain events or requests are alerted. You can also remind parents to amend their preferences so they get as much information as they want.
We were thrilled to get this feedback from a happy customer
“We used to have a Facebook page, WhatsApp groups and email lists. Classlist has brought it all into one place.”
Zarifa Dewey, Chair of St Aidan’s School Association, Coulsdon
And here’s what Tamara Mehta, PTA Secretary of Kew House School thinks:
How to recruit more parent volunteers to help
How Classlist helps you recruit PTA events volunteers
In most schools, only a tiny minority of parents regularly put their hands up to volunteer. Less than 5% of parents take on the lion’s share of volunteering duties at school and fewer than 15% regularly dip their toes in the volunteer pool, according to our latest data. It’s a huge problem for parent groups.
Schools that use Classlist for parent association events and communications have a huge advantage. We’ve built volunteer recruitment into the app so that you can expect more from your parents. Using a simple nudge - for eg - requesting that people buying tickets for an event also nominate a time and a task to help - can increase your volunteer numbers significantly.
We’ve written at length about the problem of recruiting parent volunteers. There are other ways you can ensure new parents know about your work and feel compelled to join you! Don’t assume new parents will have any understanding about the parent association before their children start school. Get out there and meet the new parents so they can hear from you about why they should be involved.
You can read more about volunteering and building communities over on our community page.
There’s so much good you can do for your child and their school by volunteering on the parent association. We’re thrilled to have you here. Please use and share our resources to make your life easier and make your PTA more profitable.
Download the free Classlist app for instant access to a parent association events and communications tool that’s just for your school. It’s intuitive, inclusive and easy to use.
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