Editor's Note: We admit it; this is a somewhat self-serving article about a PTO Today product. But PTO Manager is unique and designed specifically for the way parent groups work. If somebody else created it, we'd still want to write about it. Honest!

Until last fall, Pamela Lewerenz handled publicity and membership tasks for her parent group. The Pomfret (Conn.) Community School PTO had about 20 active volunteers, and fewer than 10 attended meetings. But since September, those numbers have more than tripled. A weekly email goes out to 125 or so people, and the majority of them regularly help at events and activities. For Lewerenz, the difference can be traced back to one thing: using PTO Manager software.

"What used to happen was, everyone would fill out these [volunteer interest] forms, and they would just sit there. No one would look at them again," she says. Now, Lewerenz inputs parent contact numbers, what events they'd like to help with, and more. "I set it up the same way that our paper looks like at our open house. So when something's coming up, to start planning an event I go in and call up the list and say, remember, you said you were interested in this."

PTO Manager is web-based, so it doesn't require software installation. It can be used on any computer, anywhere, by anyone who is given a password. It supports different levels of permissions, so people only see what you want them to see. And since the information is kept online, it reduces worries about whether a previous committee chairwoman passed along her records. Pertinent information about an event, such as how many volunteers were needed, is already there.

The program actually has two functions that can be used individually or together. Lewerenz's group relies on the first one, Volunteer Manager, which they use for emailing the weekly updates as well as reminders and event-planning messages.

Other features of Volunteer Manager include:

  • The ability to track the number of volunteer hours group members have worked and times of the day or week they are available. Parents can input volunteering time themselves, or access can be restricted so only officers can make changes.
  • Reports and spreadsheets that can be created with selected information, from events calendars to class contact lists.
  • Filtering functions so that chairpeople can see specific subsets of people, such as those who have not yet volunteered.

"Overall, it's really been a good system," Lewerenz says. "Things weren't followed through and got lost in the past."

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The second piece of the program, Finance Manager, complements Volunteer Manager with basic accounting functions. It allows users to create a budget with major categories, such as "fundraisers," then add subcategories like "carnival," "auction," or "wrapping paper." Budgets can be compared side by side with previous years and closed annually. The benefit of web-based software is evident here, as well: A treasurer can call up historical information even if she received few records from her predecessor. And groups can allow board members to view the data but not edit it (a "read only" format), which can help deter embezzlement.

Just as with Volunteer Manager, reports with relevant information can be saved and printed. Perhaps most important, though, is the ease of use. Besides adding deposits, withdrawals, and transfers between accounts, PTO treasurers (or anyone else who is allowed access) are able to reconcile bank statements with noted transactions.

PTO Manager was designed by PTO Today with help from parent group leaders across the country. Every part of PTO Manager can be customized to meet an individual group's needs. An updated version is scheduled to be available in April.

Lewerenz's new position with Pomfret's parent group is PTO Manager coordinator. She set up the program and trained other board members and committee chairpeople how to use it. Not everyone likes it, she says; some still prefer to plan their event, assign tasks, and track the progress on paper, in a notebook. But those who do use the program "all say that it made it easy," she continues. "They could just put in all the information and print it out. So if there are changes, they could update it and have a clean sheet of paper."