A little bit of long-term organization can prevent a lot of headaches.
For instance, say you're appointed to chair the fall fundraiser. But the previous chairperson has moved away, and everybody else who worked on it in the past has gone on to a new school. Where do you start?
Or you're the newly elected treasurer. The previous treasurer gave you a stack of bills and the group's checkbook, but no instructions about how to handle reimbursements. The carnival chair is asking for a cash box so she can make change; how much should money should you give her, and in what denominations? And for that matter, what do you need to include in the monthly treasurer's report?
Questions like these would be much easier to answer if previous PTO leaders had simply documented the group's policies, processes, procedures, and practices. It's not hard to create decent procedures manuals, though it does take a little time and thought. The best approach is to create a separate three-ring binder for each major PTO officer or function. That might sound like a big job. The effort is worth it, however, to give your future members the most valuable tools in the PTO archives.
There are many important benefits that come from creating procedures manuals. First of all, the very act of documenting how your group operates will require your leaders to evaluate—and probably improve—the practices of your group. Creating a procedures book means that your PTO doesn't have to reinvent the wheel every time there's a leadership change. It also means all the hard work your leaders did and the knowledge you all gained will benefit the group after you're gone.
When policies are documented, parent group leaders can use logic and precedent to deal with tough situations. Rules can be applied consistently. Decisions can be made without the influence of emotion or personal relationships. A procedures book can also transmit the values and time-honored traditions that are important to your group. Well-crafted procedures books can spare your future members the frustration, anxiety, and inefficiency that come from being tossed into a new situation with no life raft.
So how do you create a procedures book, and who gets one? First of all, each of your major leadership positions should have their own procedures book. There will be some overlap in the information, but each book will also contain information specific to that job title: president, secretary, treasurer, fundraising chair, volunteer coordinator, etc.
Your procedures books don't have to be fancy. They can be compiled in a simple loose-leaf, three-ring binder for ease in amending or copying the contents. As you build your procedures books, remember that these are different from the day-to-day files your officers need to do their jobs. The procedures books are reference books, to be read at the start of the job and then used when questions arise.
Start with a copy of your group's bylaws for each binder. Your bylaws are the foundation from which you grow the policies and procedures that help you carry out your mission. Everyone needs to understand the basic rules by which you govern yourselves.
Each binder should also include a robust description for that job. Even if you don't have all the other parts ready to be assembled right away, build a basic book for each function, and enhance the books over time.
Information for your procedures books
What to put in a good job description
List of duties
Major event timeline(s) for this job
For Every Leader
Your PTO's bylaws
Current list of officers
Current list of committee chairs
Current school staff list
This year's PTO calendar
This year's school calendar
List of committees with descriptions of each
List of budget categories with descriptions of each
Outline of all policies, such as:
how to memorialize a loss within the school family
how to handle unbudgeted requests for financial support
how to handle the press
criteria for selecting a vendor
criteria for bestowing awards or gifts from the PTO
other policies applicable to your PTO
For Plus members:
Budget Sample Categories
List of committees with descriptions of each
Criteria for selecting or approving committee chairs; qualifications
Sample committee sign-up forms
Committee chair orientation guidelines, including expectations for each committee chair
Procedure on how to prepare an agenda, with sample meeting agenda
Policies on how PTO paperwork is to be duplicated and distributed
Rules on which records must be retained and for how long (the PTO must also keep long-term files of past meeting minutes in accordance with IRS record retention rules)
For Plus members:
Policy on how email will be used to communicate PTO business
Guidelines for PTO website content and instructions on how to update the website
Policy about confidentiality of student information in PTO communications
Guidelines on how to create a good flyer, create a good newsletter, etc.
Schedule of distribution of PTO newsletters and other communications
Policy on how PTO paperwork is to be duplicated
Samples of past flyers, newsletters, and other communication tools
How to develop an annual budget, including timeline
List of budget categories and a detailed description of each
Instructions on the importance and use of standard financial transaction forms
Guide to completing the annual financial review ("audit")
Information about the PTO's status with the state and the IRS, including guidelines on how to complete annual IRS filings, if applicable
Policy on how to handle bounced checks submitted to the PTO
Rules on which records must be retained and for how long (the PTO must also keep long-term files such as past treasurer's reports, IRS forms, and audit reports in accordance with IRS record retention rules)
Fundraising Committee Chair
Criteria for evaluating fundraising companies
Policies about fundraising, such as:
Contact names and phone numbers
Contract-signing rules from the president
Work plans, schedules, etc. for previous major fundraising projects
Samples of past fundraising flyers and other paperwork
Which Fundraiser Is Right For You? (includes chart)
Creating a procedures manual will pay off by helping your group weather the inevitable changes in leadership to stay strong and healthy. That's not to say procedures can't be adapted and changed as the times change—of course they can. But having a starting place is simply invaluable. In fact, it's the best gift an incoming leader can get.
Too Much for You?
Does the idea of compiling a complete procedures book seem too overwhelming for your group? At its most basic, creating a procedures book involves purchasing a binder for each officer and committee chairperson. Each person three-hole punches printed items pertinent to the job, makes a notation about what it is (when necessary), and places it in the binder. At the end of the year, you have at least a basic reference to help the next person who does that job. Compared with starting from scratch, this simple organizational plan can be a godsend for any new officer.
Originally posted in 2005 and updated regularly. Darylen Cote contributed to this article.