Back-to-School Organization Tools and Tips

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Use our checklist to stay in control and hit the ground running this school year.

by Terri Frank


The start of the school year can be stressful, and it doesn’t help if your paperwork, contact information, and planning documents are scattered all over the place—or worse, you can’t even find them.

Do yourself a favor and take time now to find an organizational system or structure that works for you. There’s no one system you have to adopt; instead, you can create a hybrid structure with tools that work for you and your board. The key is to create a system with tools you’ll all actually use and goals you can achieve. Here’s a checklist to help you get started.

To Do List

Whether you use pencil and paper or update a note on your phone, try to get everything down on one list. It’s OK if it’s long—knowing you haven’t missed any task should ease your anxiety. Plus, nothing will be more satisfying than crossing things off that list!

You don’t have to tackle every item on the list before school starts. Start with a few short tasks that can be done relatively easily. For example, update your website and social pages, and reserve meeting space at the school for the year.

Don’t be shy about passing on a few to dos to your board members. They signed up to help, so let them.

Challenge accepted! Concrete steps for a great start to the school year

Information Storage and Sharing

The use of online storage increased when COVID-19 school closures changed how parent groups could meet and share information. Many leaders began using Google Drive or Dropbox, which each offer some level of free storage. Others use Microsoft Office 365. Whichever digital product you choose, make sure your board is comfortable using the platform.

Look for a product that offers a shared calendar, email addresses, and folders for meeting notes, files, contact lists, spreadsheets, and more, making sure all the files can be accessed easily by the board members and committee chairs.

Some groups like a binder system for each board member and committee chair. Binders are a great way to keep notes, hard copies of flyers and other documents, and contact information. Consider keeping paper versions of online files as backup in case the power goes out or the passwords to the online files are lost.

Procedures Book: Your PTO’s Instruction Manual has a detailed list of what to include in binders or online folders. 

The PTO Record-Retention Rules list will tell which files you should keep and for how long and which files are OK to purge.


Keep a calendar that can be shared with your board members and committee chairs. A central place to store event and program dates and details is helpful for everyone. Make sure to either limit editing capabilities or set careful ground rules about making changes to dates.

The Parent Group Planning Calendar is a great guide for national holidays and other observances during the school year to help with your team’s planning. 

Project Management

Some groups use online platforms like Google Workspace, Slack, Trello, or to keep track of progress.

Calendar reminders can also help you track to dos and remind you about deadlines. Try to review all projects once a week to stay on top of things.

Volunteer Management

Appoint a volunteer coordinator to manage people willing to lend a hand. Ask the coordinator to send committee chairs a list of helpers so they have a base of people to call on before they start the search for volunteers.

Use SignUpGenius, Google Forms, or another online platform to schedule and organize volunteers.

Keep in mind that personal requests are still the most effective way to recruit volunteers rather than mass emails or general newsletter notices, so make time to meet school parents and let them know all the different opportunities available to help.

Group Email Accounts

If you haven’t already, create PTO emails so officers don’t have to use their personal accounts. Many groups have a main PTO email and then officer-specific emails that can be passed down when new officers take over the roles.

Don’t share passwords with too many people, but have yourself and one other board member know how to retrieve them when they’re inevitably forgotten.

Communicating With the Principal

Talk with the principal about her goals for the school year and share your group’s goals.

Decide where and how often you’ll meet for updates and information sharing.

Put group event dates in the school calendar and make sure there are no conflicts.


This is a great time to find and read your group’s bylaws! If you don’t have bylaws, make it your first priority to develop a set. Rather than reinventing the wheel, use our sample bylaws as a guide.

If you only have a paper copy, ask a volunteer to put them into an electronic format so you can share, update, and save them easily. Share them with your officers and committee chairs and keep a copy on hand at every meeting.

Robert’s Rules of Order

Read up on the parts of Robert’s Rules of Order that are relevant to a PTO so you can keep your meetings running smoothly. Have a general understanding of motions, voting, amendments, and other procedural points. You don’t have to follow each and every rule, but a basic understanding will help meetings run efficiently.

Team Communication

Get all the contact information for your officers and put it into your cell phone.

Make sure your team is communicating. As a group, choose a system that gives you the flexibility and immediacy you need to share information or get input. It could be text, email, or a private Facebook group. Whatever you choose, make sure you can have group discussions and post photos, flyers, or other visuals you need to share.

Communicating With School Community

Ask the principal to include an email opt-in form from your group in the back-to-school handbook or parent information packet to make it easy for parents to share their contact information.

Have a volunteer sign-up sheet front and center at your back-to-school event table and encourage people to list any activity or event preference they have.

Identify a chairperson to handle communicating with the school community and ask parents how and where they like to get their news (social media, newsletters, website, group app, etc.).

Talk with the principal to see how you can work together to maximize the communication opportunities, like announcements or the principal’s email updates.

Create a content calendar that lists the key communications you want to send to families and schedule the first two months’ worth of messages.

The First Board Meeting

Share your goals for and vision of the year, your event calendar, the full roster of contact information, and other important information with your officers. This will help them feel connected and informed and be more likely to support one another’s events.

The First General Meeting

This is usually the best-attended meeting, so give yourself enough time to write and practice your killer welcome speech introducing your group.

Ask members to act as greeters and intentionally reach out to new families to make sure they feel welcome and get the information they need.


Review the preliminary budget for the year with your board.

Find out whether an independent review or audit has been performed; if not, schedule a review before school begins.

Update the signature cards at your PTO’s bank. Try to coordinate early because the bank might require past signers to be present.

Lock in key dates for renewing your insurance policy and your incorporation with the state. If you’re a 501(c)(3) organization, determine when your annual information return is due to the IRS.

Check in with the fundraising chair and make sure the first fundraiser of the year is ready to go.

Investigate financial tools like Finance Manager with your treasurer to simplify money management tasks while keeping your budgeting process more transparent.

Fall Cleaning

If it’s been a few years since the PTO cabinet or closet was used, and even longer since it’s been cleaned out, it’s time to take inventory and declutter. Purging tattered decorations and discovering office supplies you didn’t know you had feels great and helps with your budget.

Daily To Do List

This list is just for you. Keeping a daily list of what needs to be done for your PTO helps you see how you can fit those tasks into your work and parenting duties. Seeing the big picture will help you prioritize your PTO work.

Originally posted in 2014 and updated regularly.


# eric s 2016-08-09 01:18
#6 is key for me. I need a daily to-do list.

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