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:
- Does the school budget provide funding for the activity?
- Does the school hire staff for the activity?
- Does the school collect fees for the activity?
- 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.