• TIPS FOR STARTING A NEW PARENT GROUP

    (Adapted from guidelines/information provided by PTO Today)

    In adherence to the Buffalo Board of Education Policy 3170, the district will provide support to schools in establishing a parent group. It is imperative that the school principal or designee works closely with parent group officers to plan activities that support school goals and needs; however, the school-based parent group is a financially independent group.

     

    FIRST STEPS

    • Gather a small group of like-minded parents. Seek out other parents who share your vision of starting a parent group. Get together in a relaxed setting and share ideas about why you want to start the group. Write them down so you can use the ideas to develop a list of benefits. Be open with discussion. Talk about how much time you are willing to devote. Be sure you know where everyone stands.
    • Develop a purpose or mission statement for your parent group. This is a broad description of what you see as the core reason you’re forming a group. Here’s an example you can start with: The purpose of the parent group is to enhance and support the educational experience at [Our      School], to develop a closer connection between school and home by encouraging parent involvement, and to improve the environment at [Our School] through volunteer and financial support.
    • Brainstorm a list of benefits and a preliminary list of activities. Benefits include ways in which the school, students, and parents will benefit from the parent group. For activities, jot down a few major ideas. Be sure to emphasize building parent involvement over fundraising. The most      important thing your group can do is get more parents connected with the school. Once you do that, everything becomes easier. Write down your ideas; you will use them to develop your kick-off letter, your fundraising plans, and your future committee structure.
    • Brainstorm fundraising ideas. There are dozens of possible fundraisers spanning a wide range of activities and products. Most involve many volunteer hours to coordinate and implement.
    • Adopt a fundraising policy. Keep in mind that fundraising shouldn’t be your number one goal. Having a reputation as “just a fundraising group” can kill your chances of attracting volunteers and new leaders. Here’s a sample fundraising policy for you to consider: [ABC Parent Group] will    strive to raise funds to cover its annual budget and no more. ABC Parent Group will limit our fundraising programs to two per school year, unless we fail to meet budget. ABC Parent Group will strive to use the money raised in one year to benefit the school in the same year, other than a practical amount of funds to carry into the start of the next school year.
    • Write it all down. Document the details of your plan, which will in turn drive all your efforts during start-up. Make your plan easy to read and clear. Document minutes of all your planning meetings, especially when you adopt bylaws and policies, and elect officers.
    • Meet with the principal. Present your ideas, plan, and your desire to work together. Then listen. Keep in mind that you are not creating the principal’s personal fundraising team. You are forming a partnership with school.

    THE BASICS

    • Draft a set of basic bylaws. Bylaws are the core rules that govern your organization. They address the makeup of the executive board, how officers are elected, how often meetings are held, and similar nuts-and-bolts questions. Think about how you want your group to run, then look    over a lot of other groups’ bylaws before adopting yours. Read the samples carefully and discuss the implications of each article with your founding group. Adopt bylaws by general agreement (acclimation) of your founding members/officers. Be sure to include a procedure to amend the  bylaws later. Note that bylaws address the basics of how your group will run. As you organize, you’ll also want to create a set of policies (or standing rules). These are more specific, and you don’t need an amendment to change them. For instance, your bylaws might say you have a      general meeting a minimum of four times a year; your policies might dictate that a meeting is held on the first Wednesday of each month.
    • Obtain an employer identification number. Fill out IRS form SS-4 to obtain your group’s own employer identification number (EIN). You can download the form from the IRS website or apply online. This is a simple, quick step, and it’s free. But you’ll need an EIN to open a bank account.  By the way, the EIN (which some people refer to as a “tax identification number”) is simply the way the IRS identifies businesses. It doesn’t mean you have to be an employer.
    • Open a checking account at a local institution using your EIN. Shop around for the best rates.
    • Adopt a set of financial controls. One of the most important things you can do is put procedures in place to protect the money you raise. Keep in mind that while you currently may have the world’s greatest treasurer, someday someone else will hold that office. It’s a lot easier to put      proper financial controls in place now than it will be later.

    BUILDING SUPPORT

    • Prepare to announce your Parent Group. Write an introductory letter for your teachers and parents. Develop a kick-off presentation for your first meeting. Be confident but not cliquish. People want to be part of a strong, well-organized group that gives the impression that it is not going  to waste their time or money. Be sure to convey that in your public presentations, but also be sincere in your welcome to the whole community. If you let your enthusiasm show, people are sure to respond.
    • Open the doors to the school community by holding your first meeting. Bone up on good meeting habits and basic parliamentary procedure. A working knowledge of a few basic principles of Robert’s Rules of Order can really help. Keep in mind that your goal is to inform and build            enthusiasm. This is not the time to get bogged down in details. Create a printed agenda and follow it. Limit the meeting to one hour at most. If issues become contentious or inspire a lot of discussion, appoint a committee to study them. The purpose of this meeting is to rally support.    If you’re ready, you can adopt bylaws and elect officers. Or you can put that off until a subsequent meeting if that makes more sense for your situation.

    AS YOU GROW

    • Start building involvement. Going forward, the most important challenge you face is to build parent involvement. A group with three or four dedicated volunteers can make a significant contribution to a school. A group with a few hundred parents who feel connected to the group and the  school can have a dramatic influence on the overall effectiveness of the school and the success of students. The most effective parent groups create the kind of supportive atmosphere where teachers and students alike can do their best work.

    The most important keys to building involvement: be truly welcoming and not cliquish; avoid earning a reputation for focusing only on fundraising; create family events that help parents get comfortable with the idea of coming to the school. And keep in mind that there’s more power in 400 people donating two hours of their time than in four people donating 200 hours each.

     For questions regarding how to start a parent group, please email opfe@buffaloschools.org or call 716-816-4751. Thank you.