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Create a PTO Website That Works

Never created a website before? No problem! We'll walk you through the process, from getting a domain name to promoting and maintaining the site.

by Sharron Kahn Luttrell
PTO Websites

If communication is the key to parent involvement, then consider a website to be a virtual door that opens onto your PTO. Even if your group publishes a monthly newsletter, sends home notices, and submits items to the local newspaper, there's still room in your media mix for a website.

An online presence will not get misplaced, nor will it end up crumpled in a ball at the bottom of a child's backpack. What it will do is give parents instant access to the information they need, when they need it.

Getting Started

Put someone in charge. Behind every good website is a webmaster. Appoint a volunteer to take charge of your website. The person in this role will provide content (or solicit it from other parents and school personnel); maintain the site regularly (you should update it at least once a month—more is better); and train a successor.

The main requirement for a webmaster is enthusiasm. Experience and technical know-how certainly help but aren't strictly necessary. Carmon Brooks of Brownsville, Ky., thought an online presence was so important for the Kyrock Elementary PTO that she volunteered to create and maintain a site even though she had never done one before. She learned the basics from the school's technology resource teacher. Then, using a free website creation and hosting service, she put together a site.

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Secure a domain name and a host. If you don't already have a domain name and a server to host your site, then talk with your school technology coordinator about the best option for your PTO. These may include a fee-based web hosting service; your school district's own server; a community organization that's willing to give you space on its server; or a free service, such as Weebly or Google Sites.

Before settling on a host, decide as a group what you want your site to achieve. If your intent is to post basic information, such as events and a meeting schedule, and you have little desire to get fancy with your site, consider a free service or your school server. If you'd like to get more out of your site, then a web hosting company is probably a good investment.

A web hosting service will give you the most flexibility, and you'll have a better shot at securing a domain name that's easy to remember and reflects the name of your parent group (such as www.cloughpto.org for the Henry P. Clough School PTO, in Mendon, Mass.). But as long as you have a link somewhere to your school's website, users will be able to find you online, no matter how indecipherable your web address.

The Jamie McGee Elementary PTO in Bolingbrook, Ill., turned its site into a dynamic, interactive communication tool by moving it from the school server to an external host. The site features a bulletin board, which allows parents and board members to leave messages for one another online. It also has the capability to accept online registrations for PTO events and allows users to order school supplies and spiritwear online. McGee PTO President Michael Bielski, who designs websites through his firm TheBielskiBunch.com, has another compelling reason to take the PTO site off the school's server. After agreeing to host the parent group's site, the school administration had second thoughts when it realized the group needed access to the district's server. By then, the PTO site was live, but the group was unable to update it. The information quickly grew stale. "They never really envisioned us putting a site up there that we'd want to keep working with. They thought it would just be a page," Bielski says.

Before accepting space on a school or community server, find out about restrictions. And keep in mind that if their server goes down, you're out of business until it's back up. If you use a free web hosting service, make sure your school server will link to it. Brooks was surprised when, after she labored to create the Kyrock Elementary PTO site on Yahoo’s GeoCities service, she learned that nobody could access it because her district's server had blocked the server that hosted the site.

Creating the Site and Adding Content

As a parent group with a lot of information to share, you'll have no difficulty filling your website. The trick is to keep the content meaningful, useful, and fun while presenting it in a way that is easy to read and navigate.

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Comments

  1. avatar

    Posted by Judevan on Jun. 30, 2014

    This article is extremely helpful! I am not a board member, but I hope the newly elected members are open to creating a site.
  2. Posted by - Angélique on Aug. 26, 2013

    I created our website using my-pto.org. They are awesome - free service for the core (which provides more than enough capability for most PTOs imho), much more customization available than with the "template" sites but still starts you off with a core site that you can have up in hours just by updating the "template" content. They also have a bunch of fee based higher level services - ecommerce, advertising, etc. Great tutorials, super helpful support. You can tell I'm a big fan! I piloted a couple of other options, and quickly killed them once I got this site up. The out of the box templates aren't quite as smooth as some other options available, but with the customization options you can make the site be pretty much anything you want.
  3. Posted by - PTO Mom on Aug. 02, 2012

    We are in the process of setting up a PTO website and the one BIG concern is how to have the link with the PTO Directory (with parents addresses and emails) confidential. We are going paperless and having the directory secure is a big deal. How would you suggest we do this? How can we ensure the parents it's confidential?
  4. avatar

    Posted by Craig on Mar. 04, 2012

    Hi Debbie -- Sorry, that's not a service we're equipped to offer. However, there are lots of inexpensive web hosting companies out there. You might start by seeing whether your school uses a web hosting company -- perhaps you can use the same service.
  5. Posted by - Debbie A. Butler on Mar. 04, 2012

    Does PTOTODAY give free web sites and do they help you through setting one up for your school PTO group?
  6. Posted by - SAHMing on Oct. 17, 2011

    Our District gives us a spot on the school's website and we have a lot on it. It's FREE and if we have a major issue, we have the tech support of the district. It's a really great site. We offer tons of information, have links to other places, links to our Facebook page, calendar (which links to the school's calendar), all of our minutes, flyers we send home, etc.. Best of all it's FREE. That would be my first stop.. then look on. We're lucky to have such a great opportunity. The URL is not unique, but we are easily found through the school and can easily be googled. http://asd1.schoolwires.com/hmpto
  7. Posted by - Greg Uhrlen on Sep. 19, 2011

    At Farmer SEO, we have been building PTA / PTO websites for awhile and find that the template sites do not offer all the tools many organizations need to help in their fundraising as well as giving people the autonomy to makes updates on their own. Even though we create Joomla and Drupal websites, we prefer the WordPress model for ease of use for folks who will be updating the websites.

    A couple words of caution though; first, please make sure you have clearance from parents of any photos that may include children on your PTA / PTO website. Secondly, take a real close look at whether you want to open the can of worms involved with a forum. Slanderous comments can occur and legal issues are a possibility. Proceed with caution. Greg
  8. Posted by - David on Apr. 30, 2011

    I don't understand the need for free. Most groups want their website to show donors their mission statement, calendar, Form 990, 501(c)(3) certification, minutes, financial statements, success stories, BoD, a blog, slide shows, videos, etc. Spend a little money, do the website well, and the ROI will please even Zuckerman. I personally use iPage which is about $35/year, then perhaps $10/year for the domain, and various other fees for features. There are hundreds of features, such as premium web design, ConstantContact, WordPress, Quickbooks, Google, etc. Live a little. Pay for a great website.
  9. Posted by - James Adams on Jan. 22, 2010

    I took the tips from this article and created our elementary school PTO Web site. Please take a moment to see how we share information with parents, teachers and the community to support our school. http://www.wipto.org
  10. Posted by - Veronica Hugger on Oct. 01, 2009

    I highly recommend Google Sites -- it's free and collaborative, meaning user and ownership rights can be granted so many people can contribute to the site, either as contributors or editors. And the interface (the look and feel) is very easy and intuitive. Plus, with all the Google gadgets available, it's easy to add dynamic content to the site, like photos, calendars, comments, attachments, and more. And, again, IT'S FREE!! Here are two school sites I've done:
    http://www.galvestoncatholicschool.org/
    http://www.galvestonec.org/
  11. Posted by - Dana on Sep. 24, 2009

    Our PTO created a website through godaddy.com, we used their website tonight program, we pay about $50 year for the domain name and hosting serveice, but we like that there are no google ads. We have had huge success with the site. We also connected our site to a facebook page where "fans" can upload photos and share information. Great article!
  12. Posted by - Cindy Sawyer on Sep. 17, 2009

    Has anyone tried paperlesspto.com? It offers the ability to take credit card payments as well as manage e-mail communications, etc...
  13. Posted by - Lisa Gundlach on Sep. 11, 2009

    Hi Theresa-
    If someone in your group has the knowledge you can create a "free" website-- but you won't have unique domain name that way. To find out how other PTOs are doing their websites, you could post a question to our message boards here:
    http://www.ptotoday.com/boards/
    ~Lisa
  14. Posted by - Theresa Whittaker on Sep. 11, 2009

    Help, I am so confused. Do you have to pay for a website? I am trying to get one started for our PTO. I am very unfamiliar with the process.
  15. Posted by - Tee Ming Ooi on Jun. 29, 2009

    I created a social networking site for my child's middle school PTA recently and used the socialgo platform. It's free (but has Google Ads) and easy to use. In a few hours of experimenting, I already had something running.
    Instead of a just a website, I wanted a space where PTA members could interact online even if they are not able to attend meetings or volunteer at the school. Members can blog, post on forums, post photos/videos/music, join groups and "friend" other members. Bulletins can also be sent to groups and a calendar of events displays important dates.
  16. Posted by - Melissa Hathaway on Mar. 18, 2009

    Bill, you can host your own Wordpress self hosted blog and find the right 'theme' to fit the needs of your PTO website. The other option if you don't want to pay for your own hosting is to create a free one on wordpress.com. HTH!
  17. Posted by - Bill Paulson on Mar. 13, 2009

    I like the content suggested in this article. However, is there a web based tool that we can use to allow all of the content authors to publish their own content? I found one at www.powerpto.com. Is that the only one available on the market today?
  18. Posted by - Larry Holish on Feb. 26, 2009

    Nice introduction. I would like to add that there is lots of free, open source software that is available to help you get a PTO site up and running. We use Drupal (drupal.org) as our platform, which is offered by many web hosting companies as an easy "one click install" as part of their hosting package. Drupal has web-based configuration (no programming req'd) and all of your site's content is entered via the site itself, which means anyone in your organization with permission can help keep content up to date from their own computer. Drupal includes many useful community features including blogs, calendars, picture galleries, forums and user polls.
  19. Posted by - Melissa on Jul. 24, 2008

    I loved this article. We are in the process of creating a website for out PTO group and did not know exactly where to start. This article gave me great information and many things to think about.
  20. Posted by - Sandi Dale on Feb. 11, 2008

    Great article!

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