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Organizational Management

How to Start a PTO: 19 Steps to Set Your School up for Success! 

Author: Marlena Moore
November 16, 2023
🕑 9 min read

A PTO is a great way to establish a strong relationship between teachers and parents. PTOs are easy to establish, and we hope this blog post removes any mystery of starting a PTO at your school! 

What is a PTO? 

A PTO is a Parent Teacher Organization. In a PTO, parents and teachers come together to support and enhance the experience children have during their education. The activities the members of a PTO participate in vary and include things like 

  • Create and plan fundraising campaigns for the school 
  • Assisting in field trip planning 
  • Organize donation events for students in need 
  • Volunteer time to help out at student activities and events 
  • Donate school supplies to classrooms 
  • Boost community engagement to the school 
  • Organize and execute school events like book fairs or family night 
  • And much more! 

What’s the Difference Between a PTO and a PTA? 

A PTO (parent teacher organization) is different from a PTA (parent teacher association) in a variety of ways. The main difference is that a PTO is an independent group whereas a PTA is part of a national organization.  

A PTO will solely focus on their local school or district, contributing to the unique needs of their area. They are in complete control of their fundraising efforts and the decisions of where to allocate those funds.  

A PTA will put their energy into making changes that impact schools beyond their local community. Members of a PTA are part of the National PTA, which requires dues to be paid and must abide by state and national group rules.  

How to Start a PTO in 19 Steps 

Now that you’ve got all the info on what a PTO is and its importance to your local school system, you’re ready to start your own! By following these 19 steps you’ll be on your way to success. 

Connect with a group of parents 

If you’re looking to start a PTO, chances are other parents in your school system have the same goal. Reach out to other parents, start with your child’s classroom first to connect with other parents, you likely already have their contacts or easy access to them. Then branch out, putting the word out to other classrooms and even other schools in your system. Reach out to teachers to spread the word to their students’ parents. 

Draft your mission statement 

Your PTO’s mission statement will highlight the goal of your group. Are you looking to raise money? Create better programs for the children? Your mission statement should be short and to the point. Check out these tips for writing a mission statement.

Lay out your goals and plans (including benefits and activities) 

Similar to your mission statement, discuss with all the members of your PTO on what you hope to accomplish. Create a comprehensive list that clearly lists your group’s goals and activities the members will commit to.

Brainstorm fundraising ideas (plus a fundraising policy!) 

The most common goal that your PTO will have is to better your local school and improve the quality of children’s education. Fundraising will be one of the biggest ways your and your members will contribute so come to the table with some great fundraising ideas. Don’t forget to establish a fundraising policy that your future members and school officials will review!

Bring everything to your principal 

The principal at your local school will need to review all the information you’ve put together first before officially approving your PTO. It’s also important to use this time to establish a strong relationship with the principal – this will make your PTO more effective!

Elect your officers 

You’ll need a great team in your PTO to run effectively and reach your goals. Having an election for roles like president, treasurer, secretary and more is the best way to put the most passionate parents in positions where they can bring the most to your school. Here’s a great resource on board member responsibilities to inspire you.

Draft your rules and bylaws

The bylaws of your PTO are the official rules of how your PTO is governed. These rules will cover everything your organization does like the responsibilities of officers and members. In these bylaws you create, address the following: 

  • Officer roles and election processes 
  • Frequency of meetings  
  • Yearly dues 
  • Core goals of the PTO  
  • Benefits and expectations of members 
  • Fundraising policies and procedures 
  • Policy for adjusting bylaws in the future 

A more comprehensive and helpful guide for drafting your PTO bylaws can be found here! 


Once your PTO has become established and your members are ready to take the next step in establishing yourself professionally, incorporation is key! Incorporating is how you can protect your officers and members from being personally liable in the event of a lawsuit against your organization. To do this you will need to follow a few simple steps: 

  • Register in your state (search your state’s name and incorporation to find the right website for your location!) 
  • File articles of incorporation 
  • Pay the associated fee for registration (this will vary based on your location) 

Apply for an EIN 

An EIN is an employee identification number. This is assigned by the IRS when your organization is established as a legal business entity. This will allow you to open a bank account for your PTO and file for tax-exempt status. Applying for an EIN is free and super simple! Once you apply, you will receive your EIN immediately, here’s where you can apply online.

Apply for 501c3 status 

501c3 status will establish your PTO as a federally recognized tax-exempt organization. Applying for this status is a bit more of a heaving lift compared to incorporating, but worth it in the long run! Being a 501c3 organization proves that your PTO takes its mission seriously, allows those who donate to your fundraising efforts to receive tax benefits and opens the door to grant opportunities.  

To apply for 501c3 status, you will need to fill out IRS form 1023 or 1023-EZ. If you need help, you can phone the IRS Tax Exempt and Government Entities Hotline.  

The application process can be lengthy (anywhere from 3-12 months to receive a decision), so start as early as possible. To make sure you complete everything correctly the first time, read through these 13 common reasons why applications are rejected. It’s also important to note that there are fees for filing for tax-exemption. Don’t forget to incorporate first before applying for 501c3 status! 

Open a bank account 

Your PTO will need a bank account for all your operational and fundraising needs. You will do this using your organization’s EIN.  

Register with the National PTA (if you decide to become a pta and not pto!) 

If you’re looking to form a PTA instead of a PTO, you’ll need to register with the National PTA. This will make your local organization part of a larger society and you will impact more schools than just your district. Keep in mind you will need to register with your state and gain tax-exempt status from the IRS to join your state’s PTA. There are other rules and regulations you must follow and yearly dues. The National PTA has great resources on starting a PTA, benefits of being a member, general governance and more!

Get liability insurance 

Liability insurance is something you may want to consider for your PTO. Most schools won’t protect a parent organization under their policy, so it’s a good idea to obtain insurance on your own. Consider a policy that covers the following: 

  • General liability: covers third-party injury and property damage claims – incidents that could happen during PTO-sponsored events. 
  • Excess accident medical: provides medical coverage for participants at PTO-sponsored events 
  • Directors and officers liability: covers any claims made against the leadership of your PTO – claims could be whether a decision made by an officer negatively impacted a local business. 
  • Crime insurance: provides protection for anything related to embezzlement, theft or other loss relating to funds your PTO has. 
  • Property insurance: covers any physical property your PTO may own. Ex. Merchandise, materials for fundraising events, technology (computers, printers etc.) and other property you may utilize for the PTO’s activities. 

Check out this great resource from PTO Today for PTO insurance: do you need it? 

Start up your committees 

Committees are a great way to help your PTO reach its goals. In these committees, parent members will be involved in the cause they care most about. For example, if one of your members is very passionate about tutoring programs, they may want to be a part of a school programming committee. Here they can help plan tutoring events at your school and bring new ideas for education opportunities. Consider these committees for your PTO: 

  • Fundraising 
  • Community outreach 
  • Membership recruitment 
  • Administrative 
  • Events and activities 
  • School programming 
  • Scholarship and financial 
  • Student health and education 

Choose the right membership software 

Membership software is key for your organization to run as efficiently as possible. A membership management software, or MMS, will allow you to manage your PTO members and give them a great user experience as well. WildApricot (that’s us!) is a great tool for PTOs. WildApricot will do all your administrative work for you, here’s what it can do for your PTO: 

  • Member portal: this portal will be the hub for your parent members. Here they can see everything related to your PTO including newsletters, upcoming events, member directories and pay their dues.  
  • Website builder: easily create a professional website where you can host a news section, notices, resources, an event calendar and donation pages. Visitors to your PTO’s website can easily see the impact your organization is making and contribute to your cause. You can also build registration into these pages for upcoming events! 
  • Payments: Instantly process online payments, fees, and donations coming from your members’ dues and contributions from fundraisers.  
  • Reporting: utilize the reporting features to see your PTO’s financial reports, analytics, and membership summaries.  

WildApricot has a free 60-day trial so you can test these features out for yourself! 

Start a free trial of WildApricot today. Click here

Get ready for the big announcement! 

Once you’ve established your PTO, it’s time to get the word out! Draft an announcement letter to share with the teachers and staff of your PTO’s school. In this letter share your goals and mission statement of your organization. It may be helpful to put together a little slide deck that covers everything that you can’t put into a letter. The best place to direct people who are interested in your PTO will be your website! This is where you can share helpful resources (like an introductory presentation), upcoming fundraising events, highlight your members and share accomplishments.

Looking for a way to easily build a website for your PTO? Try a 60-day free trial of WildApricot or check out the 10 best membership website builders!

Hold your first meeting 

The first official meeting of your PTO will be one of the most exciting steps you take. This is where you can share all of the information about your PTO. Confidently and enthusiastically share your hopes for the organization and the impact you plan on making for your local school. Make sure you make the proper preparations by printing out agendas and providing any supplementary materials needed for your kick-off meeting.  

This meeting will generally be informational and a way to grow your membership but if you’ve already established a strong group, you may want to use this time to elect officials and adopt bylaws. Avoid making your meetings longer than an hour, in-depth discussions about specific topics can be handled by committees or subsequent meetings.

Recruit new members 

Recruitment can be done in a variety of ways, but the most effective is to create a welcoming and engaging environment. Focus on your mission and share your impact with the community – seeing your work will encourage others to join. Make your events easy to participate in and sign up for, avoid being exclusive. Having all the information about joining your PTO in an easy to find place, like your website, will eliminate any barriers to entry. It’s a good idea to share information about your PTO during back-to-school night, parents are already thinking about what the school year will look like and joining the PTO may be right for them!

Begin fundraising! 

The fun really starts now! Create your first fundraising effort by starting a campaign or planning an event. Share all the details of how to get involved and contribute on your PTO’s website, newsletter and in your community. Utilize digital donations to make things easy for individuals to contribute. Consider creating a fundraising thermometer to track your progress, plus it’s a fun way for others to visualize your PTO’s fundraising progress!

Check out this resource for tons of fundraising ideas to get your PTO started! Don’t forget to share with the community when you reach fundraising goals or conclude an event!

Launch Your PTO 

Time to launch! We hope you’ve found this list comprehensive and helpful for starting a PTO at your local school. The impact your PTO will make is going to create a better environment for current and future students in your area.

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