Some members of the board of our local unit suggested that the PTA set up a small emergency fund for families in need. We could have store gift cards, gas cards, and phone cards on hand to give to parents for emergency items, with the school counselor responsible for distributing the assistance. Is this something a PTA can do?
Yes, but there’s a couple of steps you’ll need to take before proceeding. Obviously providing assistance for people in need is a charitable purpose within the broad scope of permissible activities of a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, but you’ll need to check your unit’s Form 1023 or 1024, the form that was filed with the IRS to obtain your unit’s tax-exempt status. That document outlined specifically what activities your local unit was planning to undertake, and if the emergency relief fund wasn’t one of the items listed, you will need to update the form. The WSPTA office can assist with that process if you need help.
Second, you’ll need to amend the PTA’s budget to make provision for this new activity. Third, I’d recommend that the board adopt some parameters to give to the school counselor about how the assistance is to be provided, and a process in which the counselor reports back regarding how the assistance was distributed (omitting recipients’ names and other identifying information). Not only will this provide accountability for the use of the PTA funds, it will enable you to tell your community about another way in which you are serving the community.