Question: Legal to use PTO money for raffle prizes?

Can our PTO use funds for incentives such as gift cards to be raffled off during meetings? Our principal thinks that it is illegal or wrong. Is it?

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Advice from PTO Today

Elly writes:

The basic rule of thumb is that if no money is charged to participate, anyone may legally operate a raffle. However, if chances to win are sold to participants, the raffle is regulated by law, and the laws differ from state to state. Either way, you’ll want to check with your state attorney general’s office and read up on their policy regarding nonprofit gaming events.

If your concern here stems from whether it’s appropriate to spend your PTO’s money on parents, Elly says that modest giveaways (less than $20) are fine. Elly would prefer that you randomly draw names of volunteers who helped out during the month vs. awarding parents for simply showing up at your meetings, however. Elly also doesn’t recommend including your officers’ names in the raffle.

While there may not be anything illegal about raffling off gift cards or small tokens for parents at meetings, Elly does want to make a few notes about this practice and meetings in general. First, don’t go overboard trying to lure parents to meetings. Advertising “FREE RAFFLE” (in all its overemphasized glory!) on meeting flyers might come off as a desperate ploy to some parents. Second, Elly thinks your group would do well to promote the other incentives and benefits parents reap by getting involved—for instance, increasing their child’s chances of success in school, both academically and socially. That’s a gift to parents that won’t cost your PTO a dime.

Finally, Elly wants to caution your group about falling into the trap of thinking that large turnout at meetings means you’re successful. Don’t use monthly meeting attendance to gauge your group’s effectiveness; the hordes of families that showed up for your most recent movie night will tell you far more than the numbers at meetings ever will.

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