PTO Today

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PTO Today Blog

Ideas, news, opinions and tips about what’s happening in the parent group world

Back-to-School Basics: Plan a Fall Family Event

July 29th, 2014 by

Many of you are putting finishing touches on a welcome-back party to kick off the school year, and that’s fabulous. But if your group hasn’t been able to pull it off—it is often difficult to connect with parents in summer—don’t stress. Consider hosting a family event sometime in the fall.

A fall family celebration is a great way to help parents and children get to know each other and start friendships. It can be a more relaxed event than a welcome-back party because the hectic back-to-school weeks are done, and parents, as well as students, feel more settled.

A fall event lends itself to fun seasonal themes like sports, harvest, and Halloween. There are also traditional events, like a spaghetti supper, that you might want to start at your school. A potluck dinner is another good option because people truly enjoy being able to contribute and share their special dishes with others. Or you could try something like a chili cook-off to give an event a little friendly competition.

We have lots of resources, including our free School Family Night kits, to help you plan a family event. You can preorder our School Family Night kits now, and they will be available later in August.

To help spark ideas for creative events, check out these articles:

Our File Exchange has dozens of free downloads for flyers, invites, and volunteer signups on the Family Events section. You’ll find these will save you time and money as your plan your event.

Also, we have a collection of PTO Today and community ideas on our PTO Family Events board on Pinterest.

Good luck!

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One Minute Q&A: Can We Tweak Bylaws Before School Starts?

July 24th, 2014 by

Check out our latest installment in our One Minute Q&A video series. This week’s question: Can a group make changes to its bylaws before school starts?

After you watch our video,article on writing bylaws for additional information.

Our sample bylaws on the PTO Today File Exchange will help as well.

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Make the Most of Your Open House Speech

July 23rd, 2014 by

Your Open House SpeechIt’s coming. Sometime in the next month or two, your group is going to have the chance to make a first impression. It may be at open house night or at a welcome picnic, but you’ll have 3 to 5 minutes to introduce yourselves and invite folks to get involved.

My advice—smile. Make that speech all about the positive—how much fun you have, how much good work you do, how much the kids benefit from your good work. Avoid pitching your big fundraiser and avoid focusing on all the help you need. Both of those things go way better when you start with the fun and helpful stuff.

My second piece of advice is that there’s no law that your president has to give that speech. Do you have a volunteer or leader who is a natural in that setting? Use her instead. Your group is always best served putting the right people in the right roles. Just as you don’t have a treasurer who can’t add, don’t have a shy, nervous speaker give your welcome speech.

For more helpful tips, check out our brand-new Quick Tips video on giving a great open house speech.

Good luck!

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Back to School Basics: Put Some Pizzazz Into Welcome-Back Events

July 22nd, 2014 by

Last week, we talked about how a group can quickly pull together a welcome-back party and spend almost no money.

This week, we wanted to share some additional resources for groups that want to try a theme party or want to shake things up and try something new. We just published Plan a Fun Back-to-School Event, an article that will give you eight additional ideas for a back-to-school party for families.  For instance, you might want to try a tailgate party in the school parking lot, or give a standard picnic a boost by adding a barbecue to it. If you are really adventurous, try a pool party! You could work with a local municipal pool or private club. Whatever the event, encourage attendees to bring a snack or treat to share. This will make them feel more involved!

For planning purposes, check out the links to free flyers and invitations that you can print and use for your events that are included in this article.

To make your welcome-back party memorable, keep in mind that most families will want to make connections for their kids as well as themselves. So, try these ideas:

  • Ask your volunteers to help make introductions
  • Try to get attendees to wear name badges
  • Come up with a few team-based games involving kids and parents. Mix up the teams so attendees can get to know each other
  • Depending on the size of the group, you could try an ice-breaker game, like a beach-ball toss. Using a permanent marker, write getting-to-know-you questions, like “What’s your favorite movie?” on the beach ball. Gather folks in a circle and toss the beach ball. When a person catches it, they must answer the question closest to their right thumb. Then they toss the beach ball to another person.

Also try reaching out to new parents and ask them whether they’d like to help at the event. This can be a quick and fun way for newbies to start feeling like they are part of your community!


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Quick Tips Video: How To Give a Great Open House Speech

July 18th, 2014 by

One of the more dreaded jobs of PTO leaders is the big speech at the school’s open house or back-to-school event. In our latest PTO Today Quick Tips video, we have some helpful tips so you can handle this like a pro. The speech really doesn’t have to be something to just get through. If you can relax (because no one expects you to be perfect) and communicate just a few key messages, then you’ve succeeded. And you might find you enjoyed the experience, too!

For more help, check our story, Public Speaking: Overcoming the Jitters.

Good luck! We know you will be great!


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New Back-to-School Resources Can Help

July 16th, 2014 by

Countdown to back-to-scho0l time


It’s hard to believe, but some of you will be starting school within a month. And even those of you who have a longer summer are most likely — definitely, I would guess — already thinking about September.

We have lots of great new resources to help get you back into the swing of things. Our File Exchange is loaded with new back-to-school printables like parent group membership cards, tags for small gifts to give parents on back-to-school night, and more. Scroll down the page for some “older” favorites too, like our “10 Reasons To Get Involved at School” flyer and the “Our School Community” word cloud.

As well, each week we are posting new tips and ideas on our blog like our Back-to-School basics series and a One-Minute Q&A on topics like doing a welcome packet.

Whether you’re busy planning or not quite there yet, these resources can help you have a great start. Good luck!

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Back-to-School Basics: How To Avoid a Strike Out at Your First Meeting

July 15th, 2014 by

3 Tips To Make Your First Meeting a Success

The first PTO or PTA meeting is when a group introduces itself, welcomes families, encourages new volunteers, and set the tone for the school year.

Sounds like way too much to handle, especially if you are a new PTO leader. But, the truth is, when a group keeps things simple and is sincere when welcoming folks and asking for their help, then they’ve nailed it.

And the opposite is true: If a group gets caught up in presenting information, pushing its agenda, and talking way too long, then its first meeting will be, plan and simple, a dud.

So, consider these guidelines:

Say hello:
Score: You wear a name tag, walk up to people as they arrive, greet them, and have a short conversation.

Strike out: You create a leader cluster at the front of room while you wait for your attendees to assemble.


Make people comfortable:
Score: You sit with parents and try a fun ice breaker to help put everyone at ease.

Strike out: You and your fellow leaders sit at a head table and pass around an attendance sheet.


Provide helpful information:
Score:  You follow a simple agenda and explain things so newcomers will understand what your group’s priorities are.

Strike out: You talk at length and discuss issues using insider lingo as if everyone already knows what’s going on.


Help people get involved:
Score: You ask for help by clearly explaining what the volunteer assignment will entail and letting folks know you truly appreciate their assistance.

Strike out: You act like you’re doing the parents a favor by letting them work on a committee.


We have many resources on our site to help you with your first meeting. Here are just a few:


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One Minute Q&A: Can We Afford a Welcome-Back Party?

July 11th, 2014 by

Here’s the second installment of our One Minute Q&A videos. This week’s topic is welcome-back parties and how a group can put one together, even if it didn’t budget or plan for one!

After you watch our video, check out our Clip Art Gallery where we have all sorts of free images you can download and use to create a Welcome-Back Party flyer.

Good luck with your back-to-school events!

And, please  post your questions in the comments section here or email me at We will do our best to answer them!





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IRS Makes it Easier for Parent Groups To Get 501(c)(3) Status

July 9th, 2014 by

IRS Makes Big Changes, Good News for PTOs Great news from the IRS! (There’s a phrase you don’t hear too often!) The agency just introduced sweeping changes to the 501(c)(3) application process that make it significantly easier and less expensive for most parent groups.

Starting July 1, groups with gross annual receipts of $50,000 or less can apply for 501(c) (3) status with a new, simplified three-page form called the Form 1023EZ.

This new application is remarkably different from the 26-page Form 1023 that all parent groups (and other charitable groups) had been required to complete in order to be recognized as a tax-exempt organization.

What’s more, the filing fee is now $400 for groups with gross receipts of $50,000 or less. Previously, the $400 fee was only for groups with receipts of $10,000 or less. All other groups were charged an $850 filing fee. Now, only groups with income higher than $50,000 will be charged $850.

The 1023EZ must be filed online. The IRS has created a set of instructions on filing with the new Form 1023EZ as well as a worksheet that contains a series of questions parent groups are required to answer to determine whether they qualify to file a 1023EZ.

This is exciting news for parent groups and there are bound to be lots of questions because of the extent of the changes. We’ll be here to help you and we also recommend you go to the IRS website to find out more about how the 1023EZ process will work. Here’s the link:

For help on getting organized and obtaining 501(c)(3) status, check out our PTO Startup Toolkit.

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How Effectively Are You Communicating With Parents?

July 9th, 2014 by

Communications Tip: Use multiple channels

Can your parent group communicate too much? I suppose it’s possible, but I certainly see way more groups doing too little versus doing too much.

If all of your communications are asking for more volunteer help or for constant fundraising support, then your parents will definitely tune you out — and frankly, your group as a whole could end up in trouble.

These days, it’s pretty easy to communicate effectively. I bet well more than half of your families have one parent that is active on Facebook. Does your group have a Facebook page? That’s a great place to post photos from your events, highlight volunteers, and more. Email is a must for specific messages like volunteer reminders, schedule updates, and invitations. (Need a great free PTO or PTA email solution? Check out our Parent Express Email.)

And of course, your PTO website should be updated and helpful (and even fun). Make it easy for parents to find you and learn about you. And try to give off a very likable vibe.

You’re in the business of attracting parents to your group and your school. Using a variety of these modern communication tools well is a great place to start.

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