What comes to mind when you hear the word “bylaws”?
A file full of legal jargon that no one can understand?
A mind-numbingly dull document?
Something that your organization hasn’t revised since the new millennium?
All of the above?
Bylaws are necessary for the operation of our parent teacher organizations yet when is the last time you set eyes on them much less referenced them when a dilemma came up?
Luckily, it’s not hard to update bylaws or even start from scratch. And once you’re done, bylaws can be your best friend when it comes to sticky situations.
What is the Purpose of PTA Bylaws?
Bylaws for a nonprofit are considered a legal document that dictates how an organization should run. Think of it as the U. S. Constitution but for your PTA or PTO! It should set the rights and responsibilities of the board, the members, and the volunteers.
A good set of bylaws can help protect the integrity of your group and provide a map for navigating dilemmas that might come up. Having a document to refer to keeps the emotion out of decision-making and protects the group from personal priorities.
But, the main purpose of bylaws is to be used! Upon election, every board member should be issued a copy of the bylaws. The board should review them and familiarize themselves with their job responsibilities as well as any financial requirements set forth in the bylaws.
Keep a hard copy on site and bring it to each meeting. You can also provide a copy to the principal. Also, make a copy of bylaws available on your website for members to refer to.
Bylaws are NOT set in stone. Review them annually to make sure they are still relevant to your organization. Propose amendments as needed and set aside time every few years to do a deep dive.
What Should Be Included in PTA Bylaws?
Once you’re ready to tackle this behemoth, you’ll need to get specific. Remember, use language that you and the board understand and are comfortable with. This document is meant to be read, used, and understood.
There are many topics to cover and each set of bylaws is different but the following list will get you started with the basics:
- Name of Organization
This is the formal name of your parent group.
- Location of Organization
The city and state where your PTA or PTO is located (the school’s address will work).
Your mission statement, objectives, and who your group serves.
- Membership Requirements
Who can join? Students? Parents? Teachers? Community Members? Are dues required to join? How much?
- List of Officers and Their Duties
Your bylaws should stipulate who is eligible to be a group officer, how and when they are elected, removed, and any term restrictions. Be sure to include specific job descriptions for the President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer.
- Meetings and Voting
Specify meetings dates and times (for example, the 3rd Tuesday of every month at 7pm). Outline who is allowed to vote and how a quorum will be determined. Your group’s quorum number should be large enough to effectively reflect your group’s constituency, but small enough that your meetings will effectively reach quorum so votes can be made.
- Nominations and Elections
Outline who is on the Nominating Committee, when they will meet, and when they will present the list of nominees. Also include what type of vote will take place (a simple voice vote for uncontested slates or a majority vote for contested positions).
- Fiscal Year
Designate the fiscal year (most parent groups’ fiscal year is July1st – June 30th).
This is a potentially robust section that can also be broken down more under Treasurer responsibilities. When will a budget be determined and by whom? Will you roll over a specific amount of money for each new year? This is a good place for policies to protect your group against potential embezzlement. An example would be requiring check payments for more than $400 dollars to need the authorized signatures of two, non-treasurer officers. You may also want to include what happens to any remaining funds at the end of the fiscal year or in the rare instance when a PTA or PTO is being dissolved.
- Meeting Style
Will you be using Robert’s Rules of Order? Something else?
- Procedure for Amending Bylaws
Include information about when bylaws can be amended, notification guidelines for announcing the vote, and whether it requires a majority or two-thirds majority vote to ratify amendments.
- Conflict of Interest Policy
Often what gets a parent teacher group in trouble with its 501c status falls under conflict of interest. Having a strong policy will help your group make sure all its dealings are above-board. Purpose of Conflict of Interest Policy from the IRS.
Can Your Bylaws Tackle These Dilemmas?
Okay, it’s quiz time! Pull out your new shiny bylaws and see if they include answers to some of these common dilemmas:
The secretary wants to hold another position on the board.
As long as your bylaws don’t exclude it, it is possible for one person to hold two positions on the board, especially if there are vacancies that can’t be filled and your organization is smaller than usual. However, you may want to specify that the president can only hold one position if that makes sense for your group.
The executive board hasn't had a meeting in months.
Check that your bylaws include the frequency at which your board is required to meet. Otherwise they aren’t required to do so (monthly is typical, but make sure to include it in the bylaws!)
The Vice President never shows up to meetings or functions.
Your bylaws should include a list of responsibilities for each position on the board. They should also include how to remove a board member for failure to perform his or her duties.
Did your bylaws pass the test? Remember, this document is meant to be used and changed if needed. Keep notes throughout the year on any problems you come across that isn’t addressed in the bylaws and then go through the amendment process. Before long, you’ll have a great governing document that makes your job as a volunteer that much easier.