Recruit some outside help. If your Internet volunteer is not a skilled web developer, recruit someone who is. Ask a web-savvy teacher, parent, or even teenager to create templates and train your PTO webmaster to use them. Free web hosting services also tend to be user-friendly for inexperienced webmasters, providing simple templates to build pages.

Display the name of your group prominently on each page of your site. Colorful fonts work well for school sites, but make sure they are easy to read. If you have a logo for your group or your school, include that, as well.

Keep your homepage fresh by using it to showcase recent accomplishments and "breaking news." If you enjoyed record turnout at your first annual Family Fun Festival, post a brief article and photos on the homepage, where users will see it first. Top it off with a splashy headline. If your group sponsors an opera performance in the school cafeteria the next month, post pictures and a write-up. If you have room on your site, create a "Past Events" or archive page and move old articles and photos there. Also reserve a spot on the homepage for fundraising results and upcoming events.

Your website is the perfect place to integrate a volunteer management software system. A program like PTO Today's web-based Volunteer Manager can be linked in, allowing parents to review all of your volunteer opportunities and share interests and availability right online. If you don't use volunteer management software, at least link to the email address of your volunteer coordinator to make it easier for people to enlist.

Other, less newsy information can be accessed from the home page via a navigation bar. Sections may include:

About Us. Who you are and what you do may seem obvious to you, but not everyone knows what a parent group does. Brooks, who is now developing the website for the PTO of the Edmonson County 5th/6th Grade Center, where her son is a 5th grader, plans to include what her group is not. "Another feeling around here is that 'PTO' is another name for a clique," she says, explaining that she will post a "mythbusters" list which, among other things, states that "a PTO is…for everyone."

Board Members. Include titles, names, and contact information. If you're not comfortable including members' telephone numbers, email links will make it simple and convenient for users to reach individual members.

Meeting Schedule. Don't worry about posting a year's worth of meeting dates on your site. A simple "Third Thursday of every month, at 7:30 in the media center" will do.

Volunteer Acknowledgements. Your website is a great place to thank all of your volunteers by name.

Pictures. Photographs will draw users into the website and entice them to read about the events illustrated. If confidentiality is an issue, identify children only by first names and last initials or leave the names out entirely. Brooks runs all photos by school administrators, who keep a list of parents who have OK'd the publication of their children's photos.

If you have room, you might also want to include the following on your site:

Newsletters. The Highcrest Middle School PTO in Wilmette, Ill., decided to save $6,000 on annual printing costs by making its 25-page monthly newsletter available exclusively online. You may not be willing to give up your hard-copy newsletter, but it's easy enough to post an electronic version on your site, as well.

Meeting Minutes. Yes, some people do read these. It's a way to keep people informed who aren't able to attend a meeting.

Bylaws. Like minutes, posting bylaws provides a good resource for someone who wants to use them as a reference, even if they're not read in full each week.

Fun Stuff. The McGee Elementary parent group borrowed a running joke from David Letterman when it published the "Top 10 Reasons To Be Involved." (No. 7: "I like field trips, too!")

You might also create other reasons to visit your site. The Highcrest Middle School PTO sponsors after-school clubs during the year. Acceptance is on a first-come, first-served basis, and the clubs are so popular that not every child who signs up is guaranteed a spot. Soon after sign-ups are completed, the PTO posts on its site the names of the children who got in to each club.

When writing for the web, keep it short or break up your text with subheads. Reading online is uncomfortable for many people. Make it easier for them to find what they're looking for by marking key words in a bold or colored font.

Promoting Your Site

After putting so much effort into creating and maintaining your PTO site, you want to make sure people use it.

Advertise your web address on all notices that the PTO sends home. If your address is one of those headache-inducing strings of letters and characters, give out your school's web address instead and instruct parents to click on the PTO link. Or create a shorter web address that redirects automatically to the main web page.

Write an article about your website in the school or PTO newsletter. Include instructions on how to submit items. Ask that your web address be included in the school handbook. If the handbook has an entry for your parent group, put it there.

Ask your webmaster to give a presentation about the website at one or more PTO meetings. Maria Bettini-DeBoer, the webmaster for the Highcrest Middle School PTO, did this at her elementary school PTO's first meeting of the year, and she used the opportunity to ask parents to submit articles for the site.

Keeping It Going

As with everything else a PTO does, continuity is critical to the success of a website. A site with old information and broken links is about as useful as a mailbag with a tear in the bottom. Unless a transition plan is in place, the website will become frozen when the person in charge moves on to her child's new school. You'll lose your audience, and your group's image will suffer. A case in point: When Carmon Brooks left the Kyrock Elementary PTO board to become president of the Edmonson County 5th-6th Grade Center PTO, the website she had labored so hard to create withered away.

The Jamie McGee PTO has addressed this problem by putting the website in the hands of its three-person publicity committee. While one committee member maintains the site, the others provide the content. When the webmaster moves on, this guarantees that someone familiar with the demands of the website is prepared to take over.

The Highcrest Middle School PTO has made the webmaster a board position, ensuring that there is always one person involved with the PTO who is charged with keeping up the site. "It's key to make it a board position. Your responsibility for that job is to keep it maintained for the school year and to make sure it's turned over," says webmaster Bettini-DeBoer.

Despite the setback with Kyrock's PTO site, Brooks is focusing on the 5th-6th Grade Center parent group's web presence. Even if just a few parents use it, the effort will pay off, she says.

"Many parents work and have access to computers at work. If they can pull up a web page, it will really help. That way, they can come home and know what to talk with their children about," she says. "At the end of the day, if parents are still not involved, I will rest easier because I have tried everything to get them involved."