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Don’t fear the budget – Four tips for PTA, PTO, or booster club budget brilliance

June 19, 2024

Don’t fear the budget – Four tips for PTA, PTO, or booster club budget brilliance

If being in charge of the budget for your PTA, PTO, or booster club feels scary because you don’t have an accounting degree, you can stop worrying right now! 

The truth is you don’t need to be the president of a bank to wrangle your organization’s budget. Follow these tips and you’ll be the super confident budget expert your board can’t live without. You can do this!

Tip 1: Learn the lingo

It’s important to talk the talk, especially if it’s your first time working with an organization’s budget. Since there’s typically a committee of three to five members, including the treasurer, it’s helpful for everyone to speak the same language. Learn some of the terms before getting started, including these:

  • Estimated income – The amount of incoming money expected, usually based on the actual numbers from the previous year
  • Gross income – The income for the year excluding council, district, state, and national organization portions of per capita dues
  • Per capita dues – Portion of dues specified in the bylaws as payable to the council, district, state, and national organizations
  • Carry-over funds – This is an amount of money set aside for the next fiscal year before fundraising activities start. It’s also referred to as “seed money.”
  • Commingled funds – Funds from two organizations deposited together
  • 3 to 1 rule – A general principle that says for every one fundraiser your organization runs, you should have three non-fundraising programs to match
  • Reconciliation of funds – The process of comparing the bank balance, checkbook ledger, and check register and making them agree

Tip 2: Time travel

Budgets from the past are going to be your best friend as you plan the budget for the upcoming year. Unless this is the first year of your PTA, PTO, or booster club, you can rely on last year’s budget for information you can use to plan a realistic budget (and to find out if there are carry-over funds from the previous year). 

Even better is if you can dig into budgets from multiple previous years. Put on your detective hat and look for patterns or changes year to year. Compare expenses from one year to the next. What were the reasons for the changes?

Check out amounts related to the annual fundraiser. Notice a downward trend? That will definitely factor into the budget you create. Plus, you’ll want to share that with your board and recommend shaking things up with a new or reimagined fundraiser. 

When you’re reviewing budgets from the past, it’s helpful to know the programming that went on for that year as well. If it’s not clear from the budget alone, look for other resources that can help paint the picture. Both of those pieces are important for determining your new budget.

Once you’ve looked back at the expenses and income for the previous year or years, you’re ready to get moving on the next step toward budget brilliance.

Tip 3: Know the plan

If your board hasn’t yet mapped out programming for the year or talked about its goals, it’s time to have the conversation. All of that information is key to putting your budget together. You need to know:

  • Which programs your organization plans to run – everything from events and enrichment activities to community impact efforts and more
  • What goals your organization has set for itself 
  • If the board is making significant changes from previous years

Understanding what the plan for the year ahead looks like informs the estimated expenses for your budget. Are there more programs than ever on the docket for this year? Are they higher cost activities than the ones run in the past? That must factor into your budget. 

Having a clear picture will also give you information about probable income streams, another key part of your budget. Is your PTO doing a restaurant night for the first time or your booster club running a new sponsorship program this year? Is your PTA doing something different with the membership drive that will increase the number of members? 

With programming set and the board providing projected expenses and income, you’ll be able to craft a budget that sets your organization up for success and flags any potential issues long before they become a problem. For example, if your income doesn’t cover your expenses, it’s time to think about adding a fundraiser or cutting a program.

Tip 4: Expect the unexpected

Lots of things can change over the course of a year. Expecting the unexpected is all part of going with the flow. So when it comes to your budget, having flexibility is the name of the game. 

Since you’ll be reconciling your budget frequently and will have an eye on those line items on a monthly basis at least, you’ll be the expert ready to raise a flag when the numbers tell you something needs to be adjusted.

You may find you need to reallocate resources as the year progresses or that you need to make changes to some of your programs or activities based on the budget. While the goal is to stay pretty close to the budget you create, it’s totally normal to need to shift and move things around as you go.

With a bit of preparation and planning, managing your PTA, PTO, or booster club’s budget can be easier than you expect. Get those old budgets, the upcoming year’s program, and get started!