The savviest parent volunteers know that tech innovations are transforming the way PTOs connect, communicate, and tackle big events. Apps are designed to make everything from planning to fundraising faster, easier, and more fun.
After checking with our readers and Facebook fans and doing a little digging on our own, we’ve sifted through dozens of contenders to compile this list of cool apps for PTO leaders. We’ve made picks for apps with capabilities that range from sharing last year’s spring carnival files to tracking who’s bringing what dish to the teacher appreciation luncheon. Bonus—all these apps are free!
1. File Sharing: Dropbox (iOS, Android, and BlackBerry)
The days of playing pass-the-binder are over; instead, successful groups rely on electronic documents and file-sharing apps like the mobile version of Dropbox. Dropbox functions like a virtual file cabinet, allowing users to share records, build archives, and instantly collaborate on everything from basics like meeting minutes and volunteer records to event planning. Any approved user can access your PTO’s Dropbox from any device.
Dropbox is ideal for small groups; remote file-sharing means busy officers can get things done without calling a meeting. “Even if I’m at work and someone has a question, I can easily just check our working files,” says Lynda Aucompaugh, president of Coxsackie (N.Y.) Elementary PTO. When it comes to managing the school’s 20 annual events, she says, “Dropbox makes it a cinch to find last year’s file and check on anything from what vendor was used to when the flyers should be printed.”
2. Improving Payment Options (and Sales): Square (iOS and Android)
How many times have you heard “Sorry, I don’t have any cash” at a school fundraiser? If your PTO could accept credit cards, sales would undoubtedly increase. Now you can up the intake on your next fundraiser with Square, an app that turns your smartphone or tablet into a virtual cash register, which makes everything from your monthly meeting to that next big event into a fundraiser.
That’s exactly what happened for the Coxsackie PTO earlier this year. After the group introduced Square during a September PTO meeting, they sold 16 volunteer T-shirts right away, something they never would have been able to do without the app. “Now,” says Aucompaugh, “we don’t attend any function or meeting without it.” After you register for Square, you’ll receive a card reader to plug into your device. The app handles the transaction and deposits the funds into your group’s bank account. The app and card reader are free; to process transactions, most users pay a percentage of each purchase.
3. & 4. Tackling To Do Lists: Cozi (iOS, Android, and BlackBerry) and Remember the Milk (iOS, Android, and BlackBerry)
These two calendar/listmaker apps are good enough to recommend to any busy parent, but what makes them perfect for PTO parents is that you can easily separate and sort your PTO tasks into standalone categories. Try Cozi for an overview of your family life, work life, and volunteer life; the app emails you every Sunday with a color-coded snapshot of your upcoming schedule. Remember the Milk shines when it comes to logistics-heavy events, like that big auction or the end-of-year carnival. Create and share detailed task lists for your whole committee. The app even harnesses your phone’s GPS to help plan your route when tackling those lists! Both apps sync with other calendars.
5. Sign-ups: Clipboard by VolunteerSpot (iPad)
Scrap hard copy sign-ups and take everything from event staffing to potluck planning mobile with Clipboard. The app converts your iPad into an old-school clipboard with great high-tech upgrades—you can access your sign-up sheets, enlist volunteers, and generate reminder messages. If you’re looking for something similar but aren’t ready to go mobile, an alternative is SignUpGenius (signupgenius.com). Lauren Baird, treasurer for the Rowland Elementary PTO in South Euclid, Ohio, says making sign-up sheets digital has worked well for her group, increasing overall volunteer participation and avoiding duplicate dishes for potlucks, bake sales, and teacher luncheons. “You know who is bringing what, and besides brownies, not much is repeated,” Baird says.
6. Classroom Communication: Shutterfly (iOS)
Pictures are worth a thousand words, but with mobile access to Shutterfly’s share sites, you get pictures and words. Classrooms at Oak School in Hinsdale, Ill., use Shutterfly to share candids, contact info, and important reminders. PTO treasurer Deanne Bauer loves how simple classroom communication is with this app; for example, she says, “If Mrs. Meyer’s class has a field trip, we’ll get an auto reminder of where they’re going and what to bring; we can even can download a copy of the permission slip through Shutterfly. And parents get a peek at trip photos, too.”
7. Taking Minutes: Evernote (iOS, Android, and BlackBerry)
If you’re too tied up taking minutes to fully participate in PTO meetings, check out Evernote, an app with manual, voice, and photo capabilities that makes recording and sharing meeting minutes a snap. Secretaries who like to record meeting proceedings can use the app’s voice recording function and leave the tape recorder at home. You can also integrate pictures, videos, and links into your minutes, as in: Here’s the banner we’ve designed to promote the car wash.
8. Volunteer Recognition: Reward Volunteers (iOS)
Disgruntled or unappreciated volunteers are the biggest pitfall for any PTO. Keep your volunteer pool feeling enthusiastic with Reward Volunteers. Users can download the mobile app, log in through Facebook, or use a widget embedded into a parent group’s website. The app allows volunteers to do more than just log hours—users can share photos on Facebook or email friends to show how much hard work they’ve done. The app even generates a thank-you message and enters top volunteers into monthly prize drawings. It’s a nice way to recognize existing PTO volunteers and to show other parents how much fun pitching in at school can be.
9. RSVP (Respond, View, and Pay): Evite and PayPal (iOS, Android, and BlackBerry)
Use Evite to create invitations, manage guest lists, and track RSVPs from your phone. Having the number of gala attendees on your phone while you’re ordering the tables isn’t the only benefit; Evite has teamed up with PayPal so you can sell tickets, too. When Oak School organized their new parent social this fall, they used the duo to make RSVPing and buying tickets simple. One drawback: Users can make PayPal payments on Evite.com, but not through the Evite app.
10. Text Messaging Apps
More parent group leaders are using messaging apps to stay in touch with each other and with their school communities. Apps like Facebook Messenger, Remind, and GroupMe haven’t replaced group emails and flyers, but they have become another way for groups to communicate with parents. Read "Text Messaging Apps for PTOs and PTAs" for more information and links to specific messaging apps popular with parent groups.