Shaking hands over a successful relationship

Working Together for Success

Getting the School/Booster Club Relationship Right

It’s an age-old question in the world of schools and booster clubs. Who’s in charge?

Schools want to control boosters; boosters want independence. Schools need the money, but fear getting too involved with booster club activities will subject the school to liability for booster activities. How do you get the school/booster club relationship right?

I recommend a three-step process. First, start by understanding what, legally, is a booster club? Second, look at how similar organizations operate. Third, share your new understandings with school officials, and together with the school, develop boundaries for your school/booster club relationship.

What is a school booster club?

A school booster club is a group of volunteers, usually parents, who join together to provide support to a school or specific school activity. The support provided usually includes recruiting volunteers and raising money. Because booster clubs are operated by volunteers, for a nonprofit, charitable purpose, legally booster clubs may be considered nonprofit organizations.

Parent Booster USA, the leading organization providing information and support to schools and their booster clubs, suggests that school booster clubs be incorporated in their state as a nonprofit corporation, and registered with the Internal Revenue Service as 501(c)(3) public, charitable, tax-exempt organizations.

School booster clubs - operate like foundations

Loosely defined, a foundation uses their funds to make grants for specific charitable purposes. Similarly, booster clubs raise funds to support specific activities such as sports, band, arts, academic endeavors, or in the case of a PTO (Parent Teacher Organization), the entire school. It’s a best practice to operate your booster club like a foundation. Foundations typically receive applications from nonprofit groups requesting financial support. The foundation reviews and approves applications of the nonprofit groups that the foundation believes best support the foundation’s mission and current goals. The foundation (the “grantor”) then makes grants (donations) to the nonprofit groups (the “grantees”) to conduct the activities the foundation approved.

Similarly, best practice is for school booster clubs (the “grantors”) to operate like foundations by (a) getting input from the school (the “grantee”) on their greatest needs, and (b) determining the amount of funds the booster club has and wants to grant to the school for specific programs or activities. The involvement of school booster clubs, in most cases, is limited to raising support (money and volunteers) and granting it to the school or school program. The school develops and operates the program or activity, including the school (and not the booster club), contracting and paying for, any goods and services purchased.

This is not, however, how many booster clubs and schools operate. Often, sometimes to avoid school business and contracting procedures, booster clubs are asked to contract and pay for goods and services directly. When the booster club is the “owner” or sponsor of the activity, having the booster club contract and pay for the goods and services makes sense. More often than not, however, the booster club is supporting a school sponsored activity for which donating the funds to the school, and having the school handle the purchasing, is the better choice.

How do you know if an activity is one for which the school, rather than the booster club, should handle the purchasing? The school is likely the responsible party, and the “owner” of the activity, if you answer “yes” to the following factors:

  1. Does the school budget provide funding for the activity?
  2. Does the school hire staff for the activity?
  3. Does the school collect fees for the activity?
  4. Are school forms (e.g., permission slips, volunteer screening) used for the activity?

Some situations are trickier than others to determine who is responsible. Take the case of the Spring band trip to Disney World. The school provides funding for the band, including paying the band director’s salary, and funding for music and instruments. The band director applied to participate in the Disney World parade, selected the music, and rehearsed the band. The band boosters developed and managed fundraisers for the trip and collected student fees for the trip. Volunteers who chaperoned went through the school’s standard background check and volunteer approval process. Students completed the school’s standard permission slip. Whose activity is the band trip?

Often, the band boosters are asked to arrange, contract and pay for transportation and accommodations for band trips like this. The question is, should the boosters be responsible? School business offices have extensive experience, and detailed procedures, for contracting for goods and services. Volunteer boosters are lucky if they have someone with experience and expertise to review and negotiate contracts.

Communicate and set boundaries

The key to getting the school/booster club relationship right is the same as with most other relationships – communication and setting boundaries. Every booster club should have a non-voting, school advisor (e.g. the principal, coach, band director) who comes to its meetings. Discuss with your school advisor the goals and priorities of the booster club and ask what the school’s greatest needs are. Talk about how you will operate together and decide when it is appropriate for the school to contract, and pay, for goods and services, and when this responsibility should rest with the booster club. If communication breaks down, consider bringing in another party, such as a school business officer or other school official. Use this article as a resource and continue to talk about how your booster club and school can best work together. Keeping the lines of communication open will benefit everyone, most importantly the children.

FEATURED BLOG

Running an Effective Meeting

Sandra Pfau Englund

Aug 30, 2019

Booster club bylaws often reference Robert’s Rules of Order as the “rules” for managing a meeting. Have you ever read Robert’s Rules? It’s a good way to get a good night’s sleep!

O.k., so, having no rules leads to muddled, oftentimes chaotic meetings. On the other hand, using strict Robert’s Rules of Order can result in confusion or imbalance, dominated by those very few who understand Robert’s Rules. According to Sandra Englund, founder of Parent Booster USA, it’s far better to use a simplified form of parliamentary procedure. Using Sandy’s Simple Parlipro for Nonprofit Organizations, you provide a solid framework for your meeting that encourages everyone to participate and stops any one person from controlling it.

Meetings should not be all about the rules. According to David Gillig, Senior Vice President of Children's Hospital and Health Center in San Diego, a meeting should be 80% inspiration, learning and fun, and 20% business. Busy parents are more likely to attend if they feel as if they will gain something for themselves, and their kids, out of the meeting. We recommend that you start the meeting with something fun or educational — our parent engagement blog talks more about this.

Place reports at the end of the meeting; consider providing digital or written copies of reports that parents can read outside of the meeting. No one wants to sit through standard reports. One exception is financial reports. Always include the treasurer’s report. The treasurer’s report should include a written budget and a report that shows how money was raised and spent. Making bank statements available is a good way to help ensure accountability. You can read more on financial accountability here.

It’s good practice to put start times for each item on the agenda. This helps ensure that the meeting stays on track and flows effectively. It’s particularly important if you are discussing any controversial issues in which it is more likely that someone will filibuster! Having a rule that each person gets an opportunity to speak once, before anyone is given a second opportunity to speak, helps encourage more participation.

Below is a sample agenda to help you get the most out of your booster club meetings. Start your meeting by reviewing the agenda. This is where you can explain the “rules” you’ve set for the meeting, including for example, that you will work to stay on-time to help ensure that the meeting starts and ends accordingly. You can also mention here, or just before the Q&A time with the principal, that each person will be provided the opportunity to speak once before anyone speaks for a second time. The report time is kept brief to allow the bulk of time to be given to the information provided by the principal. Minutes need approved; although a little unusual, we included approving the minutes at the end to allow more time for the more important matters up front.

ABC Booster Club
Agenda
[DATE]
1. Call to order & Review of Agenda 6:00p
2. Guest speaker – Principal Melissa Everly discusses school remodel plan 6:05-6:25p
3. Q&A 6:25-6:35p
4. Financial report 6:35-6:45p
5. Other reports 6:45-6:55p
6. Approve minutes from prior meeting 6:55p
7. Next Meeting 6:59p
8. Adjourn 7:00p

Planning and structuring your meeting for success if the key to having an effective meeting.

YOU SUPPORT THEM, WE SUPPORT YOU

With PBUSA membership, we file all the IRS and state paperwork. We keep your booster club up and running year after year.

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