If one of the common reasons given for declining to join your PTA is not being able to afford it, there’s a way to address that concern! To ensure that anyone who wants to join PTA is able to do so, a local PTA may set up a membership scholarship fund.
A local PTA may set up a restricted line items in its budget specific to membership scholarships. This can be included in your PTA’s annual budget proposal to the membership, or it can be brought to the membership as an individual change to the budget. Either way, it requires a membership vote. Unused funds from this line item in your budget carry over from year to year and may only be used to cover the cost of PTA memberships.
Building a Membership Scholarship Fund
To populate the membership scholarship fund, a local PTA can accept designated scholarship donations (such as via a membership form or other communication) or use proceeds from specific events or programs of your local PTA when it is clearly advertised at the point of sale that proceeds from that event or program will go to the scholarship fund. IRS guidelines forbid a local PTA from using its general funds to contribute to a membership scholarship fund or purchase a PTA membership. Popular methods for building a balance on a membership scholarship fund include:
- Having a spot for a donation on your PTA membership form
- Advertising one specific event each year that raises money for the fund
- Using proceeds from a small, ongoing PTA program, such as a school store, popcorn sales, or spirit wear
- Having volunteers working the registers at PTA events ask customers if they would be willing to “round up” their total to the nearest dollar to donate to the fund
- Placing a “tip jar” (clearly labeled for the scholarship fund) near the register at PTA events
Using Membership Scholarship Funds
Money in the membership scholarship line item may be used to pay for partial or full financial assistance for PTA memberships. Encourage the use of a scholarship by anyone who feels they would otherwise be unable to join, and make it simple to request, such as just marking a checkbox on the membership form. Communicate the availability of scholarships in your PTA membership drive, and don’t be afraid to offer a scholarship in person when someone references a lack of funds as the reason they are unable to join.
We highly recommend that PTA membership scholarships be awarded on the honor system. Do not insist on vetting “need” through participation in the free/reduced lunch program or asking staff members to vouch for a family’s financial strain! People are much more likely to accept a membership scholarship when they can trust that use of the fund will not get tied back to them publicly. Therefore, you will want to keep use of the scholarship fund as confidential as possible. Ideally, the only people who should know that a member is requesting a scholarship are the treasurer (in order to track use of the line item) and, if applicable, the person who suggested using the scholarship or was otherwise involved in the transaction itself.
Believe it or not, it is much harder to provide scholarships than to fund them. Across all school demographics, it is almost unheard of for people to take advantage of a membership scholarship fund. Rather, there is a deep stigma associated with not being able to afford something and many people who could and should benefit from a scholarship must be convinced to use the funding. Initially, local PTAs often worry they will be inundated with scholarship requests and busy themselves determining a methodology for fairly allotting them. In reality, many PTAs are surprised to learn they have a carryover balance in their membership scholarship fund at the end of the year.