How Do I Start a PTO – Parent Teacher Organization?


How do I start a PTO – Parent Teacher Organization?

One way for parents to support their child’s school is to join their Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) or Parent Teacher Association (PTA). But what if your child’s school doesn’t have one? How can you start one? And what is the difference between at PTO and a PTA?

What is a PTO?

PTOs are nonprofit organizations formed by parents, teachers, and school staff to support their local schools. Whether it is recruiting volunteers to help at the school or fundraising to support programs and activities, PTOs are one way for a community to rally around a school.

As a state nonprofit organization, PTOs can apply for tax-exempt status from the IRS to aid in their mission of supporting their local school. This can help the group raise funds for its cause!

What is the difference between a PTO and a PTA?

While similar to a Parent Teacher Association (PTA), PTOs are often local organizations that focus on a specific school. Each PTO is an independent nonprofit corporation and must apply for tax-exempt status.

Each type of organization has pros and cons that groups must evaluate to determine which one is the best fit.


PTAs are part of a national network. Local PTAs may pay dues to a national office and may join a national initiative while also advocating for the specific local school.
PTAs have a broader mission of advocating for children that utilizes statewide and nationwide networks. Local PTAs are able to tap into this network where they have access to numerous resources and partnerships that focus not only on their own local school but also on larger public policy issues that affect children.

PTOs generally are not part of a national network and therefore, do not pay dues to a national office.
PTOs can also focus only on specific issues that relate to their own community and not necessarily on statewide or national policy issues.
However, PTOs must take a different route to form. Instead of paying dues and applying through a state PTA, PTOs must create a new nonprofit organization (see below).
How do I get started?

If your group would like to form a local PTA, you can visit the Parent Teacher Association’s website to learn more.

Forming a PTO is the same process as creating any type of tax-exempt nonprofit organization. Here are some steps that will guide you in starting your new nonprofit PTO:

Make a plan. Who will you serve? What is your mission?
Select a name. Usually, school-based PTOs simply call themselves “(Name of School) PTO.”
Recruit an initial board of directors. Who is a part of your initial planning team?
Draft and file documents to become a state nonprofit corporation (or other appropriate state entity).
Prepare internal governance (bylaws) and hold an initial meeting.
Apply for an EIN (similar to a social security number, but for a business).
Apply for 501c3 tax-exempt status with the IRS, so that you can raise funds for the school and your projects.
Apply for state exemptions and other needed permits.
Learn More:

The Cullinane Law Group works exclusively with the nonprofit tax-exempt sector, including PTOs and PTAs. We offer a quick and affordable solution for starting a new PTO for your school.

One recent PTO recently said:

Even the best PTO’s experience a high turnover rate. Ours was no exception. Somehow, as the years went on, operating as usual, I found out that our PTO never filed the paperwork with the IRS that was needed to obtain a 501(3)(c) non-profit declaration. Wanting to save our PTO’s money I looked into filing the forms myself. It was overwhelming – 23 pages of budget analysis, past, present and future expectation, Bylaws, Conflict of Interest policy, and more!! Our board members and I agreed that we, as parents with jobs, kids, and no experience in non-profit law, needed to seek professional help through an attorney. Mollie Cullinane was the first person we reached out to. She was absolutely amazing! She is warm, friendly, uplifting, and positive. Our IRS application was mailed off yesterday and I feel like such a weight has been lifted and I can breathe easy again! I’m so pleased that our PTO chose Mollie and would definitely recommend her to anyone else that needs non-profit legal help.

-Alisa Copeland, Lago Vista Elementary School PTO President


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