Question: Is thank you gift giving to officers a problem for our non-profit status?

After motion from a member to do so, our PTO just voted to give large gifts of 'thank you services' to our outgoing officers, using the PTO $ to make these purchases. I know the intent was 'appreciation' but isn't it improper ethically to spend our $ on essentially ourselves--things like tanning and manicure and dinner certificates. Gifting to volunteers I'm worried makes them paid employees no matter how you word it. Does this create a problem with our PTO's non-profit status? What do we do about it if the $'s already been spent/gifted? In that past, thank yous consisted of potluck lunch and cards the schoolkids made for the volunteers with donated supplies. No PTO $ spent. Also, if this needs an objection raised, what is best wording to use so as not to end up labeled an unappreciative negative nellie? After all, the officers in charge OK'd the expense on their outgoing buddies, they probably won't like it being suggested crated a problem in doing so.

Asked by Anonymous



Advice from PTO Today

Rose H writes:
Hi there. It does seem that there's a bit of a conflict of interest here if the officers essentially voted to give themselves gifts. You raise some good concerns and it seems like the way the group used to do things with a potluck lunch was a far better way (and an approach we hear lots of groups take). So, if you wanted to raise an objection, you could raise concerns about how this would be perceived and how there could be a very good argument made that this kind of appreciation gift to officers really doesn't square with the overall mission of a PTO, which is to enrich the school environment for the children. Good luck!

Community Advice

Galaxy200359 writes:
One of our PTO mom's was having brain surgery I ask if the PTO could send flowers from the PTO and they said it couldn't be done because the money is for teachers and the children so I put the question to have a fund set aside for giftds or flowers and for this we get donations to have a yard saleor an extra fun raiser to put toward it or what you can think of putting toward it.

Advice from PTO Today

Rockne writes:
There are really two questions here: what is legal and what is smart and best practice?

It is legal for non-profits to spend dollars on fairly minimal gifts for outgoing officers, for example, or on flowers for the wake of a member. Things like that. What defines minimal is often a common-sense test. A $100 gift card to a restaurant from an org with a $20,000 budget is not going to lead to hot water. It's perfectly legal. Same thing for flowers for an officer who lost a loved one or paying for a meal to be catered for the family of a member who just had surgery.

But the smarter concern is around perception and the impressions that your group leaves with members and supporters. I think your old habit of hand-written cards and a nice potluck fits a lot better with the messages your're trying to send as a group. It pays to be especially careful with impressions the further up your chain of command you go. Just as the General should always eat last (or the Mom gets the least attention paid to her at birthday time), your President and Board should likely get fewer $$ spent on them at appreciation time than your average members and volunteers (even though they give more time and likely more passion). Sends a much better message.


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