The Ultimate PTO MARKETING Checklist for Getting the Word Out

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GET THE WORD OUT BETTER THAN EVER AND YOU'LL RAISE more money through all your fundraisers, increase participation in all your events, and make it impossible for that one parent to complain “I never heard anything!”

Comprehensive, cover-all-your bases PTO marketing and communications downloadable checklist. By getting the word out to families using all your communication channels, you’ll get better results from your fundraisers and more participation in events and more volunteers. #pto #SchoolVolunteersShare

Comprehensive, cover-all-your bases PTO marketing and communications downloadable checklist. By getting the word out to families using all your communication channels, you’ll get better results from your fundraisers and more participation in events and more volunteers. #pto #SchoolVolunteersShare

Anyone who’s ever thrown a birthday party knows the important stuff about marketing and communications. You have to reach your intended audience in a timely way and tell them why, when, where and how they should join the fun. You'll probably have to use more than one method, like email and phone, to reach everyone. You’ll probably also send a reminder and follow up with thank yous.

Successful PTO marketing and communication is very similar. It just involves reaching more people about more events using more options to get the word out. As a PTO President and Communications Chair, I kept a long checklist of the marketing and communications options used by our PTO. I had to. Because no matter how many times we held a big fundraiser or event, I’d forget at least one option, like arranging mascot appearances. Learn from my mistakes, folks! If you forget to schedule a mascot volunteer, you may end up doing it yourself. (Which, honestly, was pretty fun 😉).

You’ll find a comprehensive checklist of marketing and communications for PTOs below. Check it out and maybe you’ll find some you haven’t used yet, especially for bigger events, that might be a good fit for your school. You can also download it as a Google sheet, to keep with your PTO planning documents, using the link below the table.

Whatever options you choose, you’ll get the best results by delivering current content on a consistent basis. Families must trust that they can get up-to-date PTO information via website, email, social media, etc. If they tune out those sources because they think they're wasting their time, participation will sputter. Here are the keys to delivering current content consistently.

Keys to success for spreading the word about PTO activities

  • Make fresh content routine - The president or communications chair should review your website at least once a month and contact other chairs and coordinators for updated content as needed. A regular group email to Board members, the Principal, committee chairs and coordinators asking for new info, ahead of your regular email blast to families, helps keep key volunteers on the same page and prevents things from slipping through the cracks. Key items, like the calendar that you share on the website and by email, should be updated weekly. Outdated web pages can be saved for reuse another time, but should be taken offline.

  • Follow a messaging plan – You can effectively promote most events and fundraisers using simple messaging plan:

1) Save the date/“teaser” – Add all activities to your master public calendar as early as possible. Ahead of big activities (like a major fundraiser or social event) and events that have just been added to the calendar recently and details are still being hashed out, share “save the date” messages with families and give them a few fun details to start building interest.

2) Announce/invite – Kick off fundraisers, or invite people to take part in an upcoming activity, or let them know about an activity that the kids are participating in.

3) Update/thank – Update families on the results of an ongoing activity (like a fundraiser or charity drive), thank them for their support, and remind them of deadlines and other details. For events that unfold over several weeks, regular updates/thank yous will help strengthen engagement. Keep updates interesting by mixing it up a little. Include photos, or a fun graphic, and recognize some of your star helpers.

4) Final results/thank yous – Tell families how things went! Did your fundraiser help raise money for valuable learning experiences and resources? Was the dance a fun time for all? Give them at least a quick recap and thank them for their support, once again. It’s also a great chance to thank volunteers so they’ll keep responding to your communications, too!

  • Make it a team effort – Communications can be a very big job, especially for larger schools or any size school with a lot of activities. The good news is that it’s also relatively easy to break into smaller, flexible jobs that people can help with at school or from home. Put one person in charge distributing key updates to communications team members. The team members are then responsible for doing their part, whether it’s creating a flyer, updating the website, writing a brief email announcement, updating the sidewalk sign, creating a Facebook post, putting flyers up around town, dressing up as the mascot, etc. Avoid putting too much on one person’s plate. It’s better to deliver current info consistently, even if it’s only through one communications channel, than it is to have several less reliable channels.

  • Be selective – With limited budgets and volunteer resources, we have to be selective when adding new marketing and communications tools. If your group is already doing a good job delivering current content to families on a consistent basis using the Web and email, for example, adding social media or text messaging, or even both, might make sense.

If you have the volunteer power to add new ways of communicating, you will reach more people where they prefer to connect with you. That’s a recipe for stronger connections with parents and better engagement. Here is a comprehensive list of offline and online PTO marketing and communications channels and tactics for you to consider. If you have other ideas to share with volunteers, please let me know! 

PTO Marketing & Communications Checklist   Get the word out about PTO activities with these proven options. When you need to pull out all the stops, like when you’re promoting an event open to the community (e.g., Auction/Gala, Carnival), consider the shaded items.   Offline communications    Backpack "network"   Still one of the most effective ways to reach parents dealing overflowing email inboxes.   School announcements   Over the PA system, teacher announcements, etc. Good for creating buzz among kids that reaches parents too.   Meetings / events   Any event that parents attend (e.g., Back-to-School Night, PTO meetings); make announcements and distribute info)   Signs   Banners  Bulletin boards  Posters  Electronic displays  Sidewalk signs  School signs / billboards  Fence displays  Chalk  Every reusable, one-time use, outdoor, or indoor sign that you have access to, could make (or the kids could make!), or could buy if you have the budget.  Car magnets  Yard signs (at school, locally)  Putting 11 x 17” size magnets on even a small number of cars creates awesome mobile “billboards.” Good buzz creator and not as expensive as you might think.   Table / stand / kiosk   For information or sales, at school, locally. High traffic spots, like coffee shops and sports fields, are great for selling raffle tickets, other tickets, and merchandise. To max out sales, make sure you have a credit card option, like PayPal or Square, on a phone or tablet. Fewer people are carrying cash these days! If staffing a table in shifts is not an option, include an attention-grabbing sign and make it a self-serve information kiosk.   Special appearances   · Mascot appearances always get the kids excited. Scheduling them for drop off / pickup times, especially if a lot of students ride in cars, not buses, gets parents’ attention too.  · Get kids buzzing by arranging a surprise during the day, like a performance by some members of your school chorus during lunch (flash mob style), or a quick visit from members of a high school team or club (if they’re nearby). Have the performers (not boring old adults) remind the kids to “bring in your pledge forms”, or “come to the carnival”, etc., and you’ll create that reaches parents too.   T-shirts / apparel   · Nothing says, “Hey, this is a big deal!” like parents and wearing event t-shirts, especially if they’re waving signs at drop off / pickup. Put those t-shirts on kids and you have the cutest walking, running “billboards” ever.   Mail  (postcards, letters)  Ideally, your group could “piggyback” with a mailing the school is already sending to save money. Even if your group must pay postage, mail is still worth considering for your most important events. Your postcard or letter has less competition in mailboxes these days.  PTO list  School list – if separate   Assemblies   Whether you’re working with a fundraising company or doing it “in house,” kids love assemblies and telling their parents all about them. If your mascot has a few good dance moves and a thumpin’ beat, you’ve got instant excitement.   Local bulletin boards  (e.g., grocery stores, coffee shops, library, post office)  It’s worth keeping a list of your best flyer display spots in your PTOs files so you don’t have to recreate the wheel every event. Great volunteer job for someone who can only help outside of school or work hours.   Door to door  (e.g., leaflet drop, collections)  Kids should be supervised, of course, or parents can do this solo. Make it easy. Ask people to work their block or immediate neighbors. It really adds up.   Online/Mobile communications      Web   PTO website  Make it impossible to miss information about your most important events by displaying them prominently on your home page. If it’s an option on your site, displaying a brief announcement in a sidebar that shows with every page is ideal. That link should open an information page with more detail. Giving your event a dedicated menu button (e.g., Fun Run) also works well.  School website - if separate  District website  Local websites that list events (e.g. media, local government, clubs)   Email   PTO list  Email is “must have” tool in every parent group’s communications toolbox. There is so much competition for parent email inboxes, however, that you will not reach a big chunk of your audience if you only use email. School groups that use email service providers -- like MailChimp, Constant Contact, and others -- that track email opens, find that open rates for their regular email “blasts” and newsletters vary widely during the year. Reports of 30-70% open rates are common.  School list - if separate  District announcements  Friends of the PTO (e.g., clubs, teams, community groups)   Social Media  (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc.)  More PTOs are really getting the hang of using Facebook pages and groups to reach and engage more parents. Use of Twitter, YouTube, and other social media appear to be less popular, but also seem to be growing. The super duper ease of sharing, plus the eye-catching content you can share (like fun images and videos), make social media the ultimate “word of mouth” tool for parent groups. Please don’t feel the need to load up on social media channels, though! Feeding one channel, like Facebook, with current, regular, engaging content is challenge enough and will still pay off. If you don’t have a Facebook page or group yet,  check out some helpful tips and templates from PTO Today .  PTO account  School account  District account  Friends of the PTO (e.g., clubs, teams, community groups)   Text messages   In Facebook forums for PTO / PTA leaders, volunteers report very good results from adding text messages to their communications strategy with tools like Remind and GroupMe. For now, text inboxes are less crowded than email inboxes. Many parents are constantly checking them and say they appreciate the brief, timely reminders, especially when they’re on the go.  PTO account  School account  District account  Friends of the PTO (e.g., clubs, teams, community groups)   Media  (print, tv, radio)  School stories are usually good news stories. So, getting at least some free coverage is relatively easy, especially with smaller publications that match up well with your local target audience. Media outlets can almost always find space (online, in print, or both) for an interesting photo (i.e., one with smiling kids in it) and brief caption with “must-know” event details and your website address. To increase your chances, make sure you contact the media organization at least 3 weeks before you want the item to appear ( not  the date of the event).  PTO Today offers some helpful press release templates and tips .  Free coverage  Paid ads / inserts

If your group delivers current information on a consistent basis using at least one of the communications channels above, good for you! As busy as you are, that’s a great accomplishment. Hopefully other parents realize how lucky they are. Realistically, there will always be at least one parent who claims “I never heard about that!” That’s okay. Just invite them to join your PR team! There’s no better way to stay informed. ;)

I hope you found this comprehensive PTO marketing checklist that I put together helpful. With feedback from volunteers like you, it can truly be “The Ultimate Checklist."

So let’s hear it! What’s missing from this list? What tips and tools would you like to share with other volunteers? Please comment below or send me an email. I would love to hear from you!