Aside from leaders and volunteers for your PTO, having current set of Bylaws and Standing Rules is absolutely essential to keep your group running!
But are you confused about the differences between the two?
Is the thought of writing a set of Bylaws and Standing Rules super overwhelming?
I totally have you covered in this post!
I’ll cover not only the differences between Bylaws and Standing Rules, but also how to draft a set for your PTO in an approachable and non-overwhelming way!
What are Bylaws and Standing Rules anyway?
Bylaws and Standing Rules are the legal governing documents for your organization.
Think of them like a Constitution and Bill of Rights for your PTO.
Cause that’s kinda what they are!
One big mistake some PTOs make is to mix up the purpose of Bylaws and Standing Rules and treat them as one in the same.
They each serve a distinct purpose for keeping your group running efficiently and properly.
Without these documents, your groups is likely to devolve into hot mess at some point, guaranteed!
Maybe not in your time with the PTO, because you know how to run a group.
But at some point, someone is going to come along with the best of intentions, but they’ll have no clue and will try to make it up for themselves.
And that’s when the trouble will come!
So head off that trouble by literally mapping out a guide for them to follow in the form of your PTO Bylaws and Standing Rules.
The Purpose of Bylaws
The purpose of Bylaws is to give your members the opportunity to come together on a basic set of agreements about how the group will be structured and will function.
Bylaws set the rights and responsibilities of the PTO’s Officers, members and volunteers.
PTO Bylaws are similar to the U.S. Constitution: They rule over everything else – within the organization, that is!
Of course State and National rules, laws and regulations still apply.
But internally, they win out over everything else.
Bylaws are reserved for items that aren’t going to change very often, if at all.
The process for amending bylaws is a multi-month process and is pretty involved, so that’s why you don’t want to have things that may change frequently in your bylaws.
Those sort of items belong in a different document entirely.
The Purpose of Standing Rules
The purpose of Standing Rules is quite different from that of Bylaws.
And what standing rules your group needs depends on your group.
They’re more like a set of family rules that helps your household stay sane.
As such, they’re easier to update and amend than Bylaws.
You don’t have to provide the notice that’s required for bylaws amendments.
In fact, you don’t have to provide any advance notice: add the proposed changed to your meeting agenda and you’re good to go.
How to Write Bylaws and Standing Rules
The Bylaws and Standing Rules should provide an answer for just about every thing you could want to know about your PTO or how to do something.
They should mimic what I mentioned above: a guide for your entire group.
Sticky issues like who are considered members, who gets to vote and how money is to be handled within the group should all be covered in detail.
Sounds pretty overwhelming!
But follow the formula outlined here and it doesn’t have to be.
Let’s get to it!
Wait, you just said that these are legal documents.
Does this mean we need to hire an attorney?
How about using fancy schmancy language?
I don’t think I can do this.
Whoa there, take a breather!
You don’t need to hire an attorney or even use fancy words to make your Bylaws and Standing Rules legit!
You totally can do this!
In fact, the best Bylaws and Standing Rules are written in plain English so they’re easy for anyone to understand.
You really don’t even have to use formal English to make your document official.
Value readability over formality.
The last thing you want is a set of Bylaws and Standing Rules that no one understands!
Always keep this in mind during this process: Keep things simple!
Specifics to Include in the Bylaws
Ok, I’m ready to tackle this monster project. What should I actually cover in the Bylaws?
Here’s a run down of the major topics that should be addressed in your document.
The questions or statements below the topics are a prompt to help you form the actual wording for each section.
Note that you may need additional topics covered in your Bylaws, but these are the basic set to consider.
- Name of Organization
What will your group be called?
- Location of Organization
What’s the City and State your PTO will be located in?
- Purpose of Organization
Who will your organization serve (students and staff of your school)?
[You don’t have to be super specific with your purpose. You can say something like to “support the families of and benefit and enhance the educational environment at Bluestone Elementary School.”]
- Membership Requirements
Is payment of annual dues required?
Are all parents/guardians of students enrolled automatically granted membership?
- List of Officers and their duties
See this post for recommended positions.
What’s the term for officers: One year?
Will there be term limits for officers?
How are vacancies to be handled? Appointed by President with approval from board or general membership?
- List of Executive Board and their duties
Will all officers serve on the Executive Board?
If not, who will?
- Membership Dues Amounts
Specify the amount of annual dues, if any.
- Meetings and Voting
Specify the meeting times and dates (1st Thursday of the month, for example).
And note how much notice is needed to cancel a meeting or call a special meeting.
How is notice of meetings or cancellations to be made?
Who’s eligible to vote?
Will you use quorum to determine whether or not a motion passes?
If so, how is quorum determined?
- Nominations and Elections
Spell out who heads the Nominating Committee, how many members are on it and when the process begins and when the slate of officers is to be presented.
Also state when elections are to be held (April Meeting, for example).
Can a voice vote be held to affirm an uncontested slate?
Who is eligible to be nominated? Only members in good standing or anyone?
Is a paper ballot required for contested positions? Will a simply majority be enough to
- Provision for Committees
Is the President the de-facto head of all Committees?
Does the Executive Board have the power to form special committees?
Does the President appoint Committee Chairs and then the Executive Board Approves?
- Fiscal Year Determination
Spell out the annual fiscal year term.
[Most PTOs have their fiscal years run July 1- June 30.]
- Financial Matters
Will your group set a Budget?
Who will be involved in setting it? The incoming/outgoing Presidents and Treasurers plus the Principal?
Will it be presented at the first meeting of the year for approval by the general membership?
Does a certain amount of money need to be rolled over to the next school year?
For more on setting a PTO Budget, read this.
Who will sign the checks?
Who will review the bank statements?
Find more information on safeguarding your PTO’s money right here.
Will the Executive Board approve expenses and expenditures made on the PTO’s behalf?
Can small budgeted overages be automatically paid by the Treasurer as long as the amount is equal to or less than 10% of the budgeted amount? [This type of provision cuts down on needing to vote on unanticipated small overages].
Are receipts required for reimbursement?
Will your group have a Debit Card?
If so, who gets to use it and for what purpose? What controls will you have in place to ensure it’s being used properly?
- Parlimentarian Statement
Will your group follow Robert’s Rules of Order?
- Reference to Standing Rules
Incorporate your Standing Rules into your Bylaws with a simple statement that the Executive Board may approve a set of Standing Rules.
- Procedure for Amending Bylaws
What is the process for changing or updating the bylaws?
- Conflict of Interest Provision
As required by the IRS
- Dissolution procedures
What will happen if your PTO folds?
Where will the money go? If you intent to get 501c3 status, IRS requires funds to be distributed to another qualified 501c3. More information for getting that non-profit status here.
Specifics to Include in the Standing Rules
Now we turn attention to the Standing Rules for your PTO.
The requirements for what Standing Rules your PTO needs will vary wildly with your group!
As with the Bylaws, the Standing Rules should be a living breathing, working document that your members look to for guidance.
It’s not possible to anticipate every specific Standing Rule need for your group, but here are some suggestions for topics to cover:
- List of Committees and their purpose
[Common committees include: Nominating, Hospitality, Communications, Yearbook, Corporate Promotions, Staff Grants, Staff Appreciation, among others. Look at what programs your schools does that aren’t covered by a particular officer that could be done by a Committee or ways to make the officer positions less overwhelming by parsing out a portion of the work as Committee work]
- General Procedures
Should all Flyers have the PTO logo on them?
How are flyers and communications approved to go out? First to the President and then to the Principal?
- Executive Board Procedures
How will the Executive Board operate?
How often will the Executive Board meet?
Are the Executive Board meetings open to all or closed to non-Board members?
- Statement that Bylaws Trump Standing Rules
To ensure there’s no confusion, include a statement that the Bylaws of the organization are to be applied first, and only Bylaws are to be followed in case of conflict between the Bylaws and the Standing Rules.
- Procedure for Amending Standing Rules
Spell out the process to follow to update or change the bylaws.
Don’t make the mistake of duplicating items in your Bylaws and Standing Rules!
There’s no reason to have things in both places.
In fact, it’ll make updating them more complicated.
It’ll also make it more likely that your Bylaws and Standing Rules will conflict at some point.
And that’s a hot mess to get straightened out, so don’t duplicate them and you’ll be fine.