Question: PTO Start-Up

Just last year I joined our PTO program. I went in with great enthusiasm knowing that I couldn't wait to be part of this program. The first meeting had 4 people and myself. We grew it over the year (the "officers" not having really any experience from what I can tell). Over the year I became very involved, we did some bake sales and the yearly fundraiser. Once I found out about this website I started searching more and more and found out that I don't believe our PTO is at all set up in any way. We get together, raise money, and spend money but have no by-laws, or meeting notes, we have a bank acct and EIN but I don't believe we have a 501c but are using tax exempt status. I had thought about trying to become an officer but now believe it might be too risky to even be a volunteer (in this day and age, can I be sued for volunteering???). Most of our members I don't believe have the time or inclination to put into helping us become a better organization. I have the time but I am basically scared out of my mind as to how I would even start trying to get us set up properly. I have read this site and it is informative but I'm not sure I could essentially "do it on my own" as I think would be the case. Any advice from anyone who has been in this situation would be helpful. Thanks!

Asked by Anonymous



Advice from PTO Today

Rose H writes:
Hi there!

Your concern for the group is evident and commendable!

We do have many resources on this site to help. It sounds like you have been doing research already. You mention you do have the time to work on this a bit. Try getting in touch with the board, raise your concerns and offer to do the legwork of at least getting the basic information to them. There are a number of projects that can be undertaken, one step at a time, for the group. We have information on the site about meeting minutes and bylaws that essentially offer you a step-by-step, easy to follow instructions on how to get it done.We have information on the 501c(3) process as well. But, much of this depends on how receptive the board is to making these changes.

The one thing that should be looked at with a little more urgency is the matter of insurance. I'll point out that groups are able to obtain insurance through PTO Today. It is something that group should give serious consideration. Here's the link to our insurance information:

Here are some other helpful links:

Your Group's Legal Status

501c(3) for PTOs

How To Write PTO Bylaws

How To Take Meeting Minutes

One other thing to mention. Have you checked our PTO Today Facebook page? We have really wonderful and helpful community members on Facebook -- many of whom have likely walked in your shoes -- and they are always willing to share their experiences and give good advice. Check out the page:

Good luck and please stay in touch!


Community Advice

Anna1123 writes:
Thanks for your help. When you say "board" do you mean a PTO board? I've talked to some of our "officers" and it sounds like they are up for the change but again time and willingness will be the key.

Advice from PTO Today

Craig writes:
Anna -- I want to make a point about the "risk" of volunteering. Rose suggests insurance, and that's a good idea for any group. However, you're not at any personal legal risk because your group hasn't filed for 501c3 tax-exempt status, hasn't filed tax returns, etc. Any penalties would be levied on the group only.

Your situation is actually quite common. You've been operating at a low level and haven't been organized enough to put some of those things together. The IRS won't penalize you for that as long as you initiate the process. Before worrying too much about that, I'd recommend focusing on building parent involvement in your group. By getting more parents involved, you can spread the workload and have time to devote to getting your tax status buttoned up.

The beginning of the year, when parents and kids are the most enthusiastic, is the best time to get parents involved. Good luck, and please keep us posted on how it goes.

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