How Do I Start a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO)?

How do I start a Parent Teacher Organization?

One way for parents to support their child’s school is to join their Parent Teacher Organization (PTO). But what if your child’s school doesn’t have one? What is a Parent Teacher Organization? And how can you start one?

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 nonprofit, PTOs can apply for tax-exempt status from the IRS to aid in their mission of supporting their local school.

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.

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.

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

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 a nonprofit organization.  Below are ten steps that will guide you in starting your new nonprofit:

Step 1: Make a Plan

Step 2: Select a Name

Step 3: Recruit a Board of Directors

Step 4: Form a State Nonprofit Corporation – Prepare the Certificate of Formation

Step 5: File the Certificate of Formation with the State

Step 6: Draft Bylaws

Step 7: Hold an Organizational Meeting of Directors

Step 8: Apply for a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Step 9: Apply for 501(c)(3) Status

Step 10: Apply for State Exemptions & Other Permits

Additionally, you can visit PTO Today to access resources for starting a PTO.

Learn More:

The Cullinane Law Group works exclusively with the nonprofit tax-exempt sector, including PTOs and PTAs. Founder Mollie Cullinane enjoys volunteering for her daughters’ school PTA, and would love to assist with the formation of your school’s PTO or PTA.

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




  1. cecilia smith says

    I am a principal in Fontana, California andI would like more information about your services as I am looking to begin a PTO.
    Please email me any information you may have regarding the start of a PTO.
    Thank you,
    Cecilia Smith

  2. Kristi Lowry says


    I am looking to start a PTO/PTA at my children’s school. It is a very small public school, and I am really confused about which route I should take. PTO? PTA? Any suggestions?


    Kristi Lowry

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