Parents and teachers working together is key to building successful schools where students are equipped to learn and are enthusiastic about academic and extracurricular opportunities. This environment begins with a strong Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO). Unlike Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA), which are associate members of a national organization, PTOs operate independently, usually as non-profit organizations. About 75 percent of U.S. schools have PTOs instead of PTAs. Starting a PTO begins with a group of interested parents presenting their goals and ideas to the principal.

Speak with administrators, teachers, other parents and students to generate good information about the strongest needs and interests among all parties. From that information, determine which events your PTO would like to organize and for which purchases it would be responsible. Some possibilities are team spirit days, teacher appreciation weeks, movie nights, book swaps, school dances, talent shows, after-school workshops and field days.

Involve parents by scheduling an informational meeting. Invite them to come with ideas. Since schools usually support efforts to establish a PTO, you should not have difficulty scheduling your kick-off meeting on the premises. Notify parents of the meeting through the school website and marquee and by sending flyers home with students. Ask if a member of the administration can announce the meeting via mass e-mail and through an automated calling system, if your school has that service. Typically, PTOs meet monthly at a school.

Decide which fundraisers would best help your PTO reach its financial goals and cover expenses. Product sales, raffles and operating a school store are just a few ways to raise money for school events and teacher resources and supplies. Talk to PTO members at schools of similar size and demographics to yours and find out which fundraisers have been most successful for them. Use online sources to research and order information about the wide selection of large group fundraisers available.

Draft bylaws containing a mission statement that clearly summarizes the organization's goals and motives. The bylaws should also explain the policies on all orders of business, including electing officers, establishing committees and collecting membership dues. Include the organization's financial goals and provide a list of officers along with a description of their responsibilities. Prior to writing the bylaws, check with the principal to see if there are any school, county or state procedures and policies that must be followed.

Structure a budget that recognizes the cost involved for PTO-sponsored events as well as fundraising projects that will require an initial investment. Remember to include operating expenses such as office supplies, postage and bank fees. Show projected profits from fundraising efforts and member dues.

Create a calendar of suggested events that covers the entire school year. Consider student testing periods and teacher workdays when determining the best times to avoid events and fundraisers. Maximize profits by coordinating some events with seasons or holidays, such as flower sales near Valentine's Day. Schedule activities with convenience in mind. For example, a PTO bake sale could be held the same evening as a choral performance, or a PTO-sponsored book fair might be held the same days as parent-teacher conferences when many parents will be visiting the school.

Build a good relationship with the principal. When presenting your PTO model, stress partnership between the parents and school, ask for input and be open to all suggestions and changes the principal might recommend. Use appropriate software to make a clear, accurate and attractive presentation.

Consider your upcoming projects and events and begin recruiting parent volunteers to head committees and organize activities. Schedule another school-wide meeting for the purpose of electing officers. While those who initiate the formation of a PTO are frequently elected to offices, it is standard procedure to open the floor to nominations and allow a campaign period if more than one person expresses interest in holding a position. Remind nominees that serving on a PTO board is a time-consuming responsibility best executed by those who have experience in the office that interests them.