Question: Help with starting a new PTO?

I’m a parent at a school in Florida. I was told there was someone who could help start a PTO at my school. We don’t have a lot of involved parents, and I need to know what the guidelines are for having a PTO.

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Advice from PTO Today

Elly writes:

You’re right, there is someone who can help start a PTO at your school—you! And your friends at PTO Today are right behind you. First off, Elly says you might want to look into registering your school for PTO Today Plus. Among the benefits of membership (access to group insurance discounts, discounts on all PTO Today products and services, multiple subscriptions to our print magazine, etc.) is an expert guide focused on starting up a PTO. This toolkit walks parent leaders through the key first steps, including incorporation, bylaws, applying for nonprofit status, and insurance.

If you’re not quite ready to join Plus, you can still create a PTO at school. The article “How To Start a PTO” goes through the most common steps. Elly recommends finding at least two other enthusiastic parents to join you in coming up with a blueprint for the PTO. All you need to do is write one or two bullet points outlining your PTO’s objectives. One of them should address getting parents involved at school. (As time passes, you can expand on those goals, but a simpler approach is better when you’re just starting out.) To educate and excite parents about getting involved at school, copy and distribute the “You Can Make a Difference” brochure from the File Exchange.

Another important first step is to write bylaws that will govern your group. You’ll find plenty of sample bylaws from groups around the country in one of our message board threads and in the Bylaws/Policies section of the File Exchange.† Feel free to make your bylaws more or less formal to suit your group’s needs. You may also want to ask your principal for some input; getting her support early on can be a huge part of running an effective parent group. She can probably help you identify some key areas at school where your PTO can make a difference, too.

Next you'll want to incorporate, which is a process that’s done at the state level. In your case, you should register with Florida’s Division of Corporations. And down the road, Elly recommends filing for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS to become a federally recognized nonprofit. Check out “501(c)(3) for PTOs” to find out how your group can go about filing and what the benefits are of doing so.

Elly knows this whole parent group business might sound like it takes a ton of time and piles of paperwork, but Elly is confident you can start one. Thousands of parents like you have taken the PTO plunge; and just like them, you’ll be doing terrific work for students and families in no time at all. Good luck, and come back to visit soon!

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